NUMBER 996 • 5 JULY • RELATIONSHIPS
There is plenty of rhetoric about the importance of relationships, but this can be a vague concept. In common usage, relationships refer to intimate bonds with relatives, friends, and sexual partners, but not to treatment interventions. A general perception is that building relationships is a slow, intense process. Since busy professionals such as teachers serve large numbers of students, they would seem to have little time for “relationship building” with individuals. Simply, it is seldom possible to invest huge amounts of time in individual children as one might with one’s offspring.
Even if one does not have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with numerous children, brief encounters can provide powerful teaching moments for developing meaningful connections. “Connections” are positive emotional bonds. Humans are highly social beings who scan our interpersonal world in search of connections with those we encounter. But some children have learned that adults are dangerous, so building connections with them does not come easy. Fortunately, we now know a great deal about how to reach these attachment-wary kids.
Connections depend on the emotional brain more than the logical brain. Two thirds of the meaning in social interaction comes from nonverbal emotional cues like facial expressions, tone of voice, and gestures. Emotional messages are instant and powerful; even first impressions can lead to a quick connection or a hasty retreat. Words do not have very much impact on connection except when used to send positive emotional messages like “Wow you are great!” or negative emotional messages like “You are such a jerk!”
Connections involve rhythm and harmony. Like a rap song, connections follow a tempo and tune. Recall an awkward encounter where you were out of sync with another person. Persons can be skilful with words but tone deaf to emotional cues. We recall young persons in residential programs who initially could not connect with professional counsellors but quickly warmed up to cooks. Therapy using “techniques” can interfere with the natural process of building connections. Research is clear: Positive connections require mutual Trust, Respect, and Understanding. Like the acronym, TRU, these cannot be faked.
LARRY BRENDTRO and LESLEY DU TOIT
Brendtro, L. and du Toit, L. (2005) Response Ability Pathways: Restoring bonds of respect. Cape Town: Pretext Publishers, p.56