The Emotional Weather That We Create
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the
classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or dehumanized.” – Haim Ginott
I have used this quote repeatedly and consistently while working with our staff to help kids who come to The Ranches. This awareness has led us to the point where we are having to always be aware of the weather that we create for the kids that we serve and care for.
While our oasis in the New Mexico desert is pretty easy to navigate, our societal weather is a bit more difficult to traverse. We are all a part of society, but it can begin to feel that we don’t have much impact on the emotional weather for those around us. For me, my focus is usually on my kids and the kids and staff of The Ranches. Those kids, however, will
soon be members of the broader society and have to deal with both the weather that they create and the weather of others.
Dealing With The Weather We Create And The Weather Of Others
I have noticed recently that we have, as a society, begun to quietly compete with each other regarding diagnosing other’s issues and identifying the negative behaviors of other segments of the population. It is as if we want to prove that we can spot the “problem people” first and, in doing so, prevent ourselves from looking stupid when those people turn out the be undeserving of whatever praise or position, they hold in our society.
Imagine, for a second, if Jesus had been like us and said, “I am sorry ‘ woman at the well’ but you are not worthy because of your political beliefs, your previous comments, your immature former beliefs and don’t even get me started on your social media posts. Your past prevents any future with me.”
Fortunately – for all of us – Christ never took our approach. He, instead, asked us to take his. We are to turn the other cheek, be slow to anger, treat others as we wish to be treated and be willing to forgive quickly and completely…even when it is difficult. I have observed as many are now guilty of trying to determine which people are deserving of grace, forgiveness, second chances and, most importantly, of love. This is, unfortunately, all based on the behaviors that we can see and the judgments and diagnosis we so quickly make.
In light of the current events in our country, how do you think that people reach the point that they no longer see those with different beliefs as having any value? Do you think it may have started with thinking that people with different views and beliefs are undeserving of the benefit
of the doubt, grace, forgiveness and love?
At what age do you think that people were when they began to see others who were different as a threat?
Do you think that the fear of others who were different may have started at roughly 12 or 13 years of age?
Thankfully, The Ranches has the opportunity to build relationships with kids who are in this impressionable age range. When we get it right – and we are constantly striving to get it right – we can address, influence, reformat and rebuild the views of young people so that they do not become like so many in our society who are dedicated to always distancing themselves from people who think, believe and even look, differently.
While we often couch our armchair diagnosis as being empathetic or protective of those that we love and principles that we care deeply about, most people are smart enough to know when we see them as a threat, even if it’s as an emotional threat. Others see the slight differences in how we treat different people and begin to try and protect themselves from these perceived threats.
I wish that we would just say what we mean: “I would like to be the first to identify that this person is, in my opinion, difficult, insincere, dishonest and undeserving of love.” Or “There is just something about this person that I can easily identify because I actively hate that same thing about myself.”
Imagine what it might be like if we started our relationship with every other person believing that they deserved grace and the benefit of the doubt?
These behaviors…this amateur diagnosing and prejudging creates emotional weather that is treacherous and difficult for those around us – particularly those who are different – to navigate. In our homes, in our jobs and (whenever they return) in our schools, we contribute to the overall weather. The greater our position in those places, the greater the impact we have on the emotional weather when we are present.
The Emotional Weather That We Need
Most people and almost all kids assume that others, particularly those who seem to have a better life situation, are living in the emotional weather that they want and need. That assumption seems to be demonstrably and incredibly false. So, I will backtrack a bit and talk about the importance of being in the weather that we need.
To describe the issue more succinctly; We all have an emotional environment that is our favored environment and there are a series of prerequisites that must be met to create that favored environment. This preferred environment is either similar to our childhood years or quite the opposite. Examples of this include quiet in the morning, not interrupting adults, “please” and “thank you” and “no sir” and “yes ma’am” and concepts like more doing and less talking. Many of us can remember the old “Calgon – Take Me away!” commercials and can imagine that the mom at the
center of those commercials was in the midst of some stormy emotional weather.
We, however, are working with kids and while we work with them, we (the staff) are all attempting to create emotional weather on our campus and in our cottages that match our favored emotional environment as closely as possible; even if it isn’t the favorite weather of our spouse or of other staff that we are working with.
In a moment, I will give you the weather that I most appreciate. (You’ll notice that I didn’t say “need” as one of the issues that I bring to the table – One of my weather patterns – is my belief that any need that I have is inconvenient and burdensome to others). Part of my weather is centered around not needing anything and being self-sufficient and self-contained. I get frustrated when I need keys, passwords, codes, ingredients for meals, explanations for med counts being off, recipes, gas in one of our vans, etc. I want all of those things to be readily available without having to ask, demand or go looking. The moment that I need something, my emotional weather changes. Here’s the thing…my kids and the kids at The Ranches know this about me and respond accordingly when it happens.
The weather that is best for me is one where adults rarely, if ever, freak out, adults work very hard to NOT make situations all about themselves and adults are self-aware and authentic. I have worked with more than a few people who were authentic to their ignorance and dysfunction but weren’t self-aware enough to recognize their ignorance or their dysfunction. These people are, in a word, tiring.
I also don’t do well with people who are emotionally fragile. Interestingly, a good number of the fragile people that I have worked with are mean, hateful and trying to convince the world of how tough they are. While this sounds like they don’t understand the definition of fragile, these people are just scared and trying to overcompensate for their insecurity with overconfidence. This is often couched in victimhood as they often believe that every system is rigged against them and that they are awesome and everyone else doesn’t “get it” or “can’t handle them.” These people are hard for me as they screw up the emotional weather that I need and also the overall weather at The Ranches.
As a result of these things, I work best with a small group of people who value me and are self-aware and authentic while not making things about themselves, blaming others for their mistakes or being the victims of their own choices.
This is what I need, and it is not the responsibility of my kids or the kids at The Ranches to provide it for me. It is my responsibility to actively create weather that is best for kids, best for other staff and, lastly, best for me.
When I am working with kids, I work to create weather for the
kids that is similar to what I need:
- It isn’t about me
- I will meet my own needs so that I can then meet yours
- My needs are not your concern because I am an adult with
- I will ask before I command
- I will assume that you, as a child, are uncomfortable with asking
for your needs to be met so I will try to anticipate and make
sure that you don’t have to ask – And I will not punish you for
- I know that control is the illusion of the stupid so I will seek to
influence instead of control
- I will tell the truth and expect the truth – Communication is
- I will always try to be cool…until you push the boundaries to
the point that I have to be uncool
It is my job to keep you safe and, since you don’t know me from Adam, I understand that I will have to start by convincing you that you don’t have to worry about me hurting you and that you are safe with me…and I will do this with my decisions and with displaying to you my ability to practice
- I will remain as consistent as possible so that you can predict
me as easily as possible
- I am old enough that my life is my fault, but you are young
enough that your life is your fate and not your fault
- I will do everything that I can to give you the necessary tools to
transition to adulthood where your life is a product of your
choices and is, therefore, your fault.
- I will try to remind you at every opportunity that I like
spending time with you. This may be in action more than
- I will reward what I appreciate because I know MY priorities
- I will not reward what will not serve you well in life
If we must have our needs met before we can find it within
ourselves to meet the needs of kids, we will have to learn to be
honest about what we need and find healthy ways to meet
those needs. If this is the case though, then it isn’t about the
kids. It is about you. It is time to grow…hopefully UP.
In Search of Safer Weather…
Mark 4:35-41 New International Version (NIV)
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Maybe tomorrow will be better…
Now that I have explained my views on emotional weather, I will close by discussing children’s need for safer weather. Safer emotional weather is what all kids come to The Ranches hoping to find. There just isn’t any way to get to The Ranches without having first navigated some pretty difficult emotional weather. From divorce to abuse to death , the weather has been tumultuous for kids prior to coming to us. As such, kids come to us hoping for safer weather.
Being that I went to the trouble of laying out the case for us being in control of the weather that we create, it is important that we take a look at the weather that we create – knowing that it resembles the weather that we feel that we need – and try to insure that we are creating safer weather for the kids in our care. Not safer for us – it still isn’t about us – but safer for the kids than the weather that they come from. My goal is that we will be a temporary safe port in their storm for kids. Temporary in that we are only a part of their life for a short time. Hopefully the kids in our care will be able to create safe and stable weather for their own children.
It is naive and ignorant to believe that all kids and adults seek calmer and safer weather as we have far too many examples of both adults and kids chasing after stormy relationships with stormy people. I am hopeful that we do not end up being another storm for kids to chase. I also want to teach kids and adults that storms are going to come. Becoming comfortable in storms does not mean that they should continue to live in storms. This is why I am dedicated to safer weather. But what does safer emotional weather look like for kids? In my opinion kids need the emotional weather to be safe and it starts with a few concepts.
- The expectations are clear and rarely change and never drastically change
- Expectations are applied to all
- Special treatment is earned and not a product of favoritism
- The adults are consistent and predictable
- Adults will keep kids safe from peers (siblings within families) and from themselves
- All will have enough to eat and someone will pay attention to the nourishment of kids
- Adults will pay attention to things that “set kids off”. From loud noise in the morning to bedtime stress, someone is always paying attention
- Despite kid’s feelings and reactions to rules, they are important and won’t change – They are also applied equitably; always
- Kids are heard
- Each kid is, in their own way, enough
- No kids are “too much” because we are the adults, and adults will not further a child’s shame
- Kids are not stupid, and it will be addressed if said – even when they say it to themselves
- No Adult will treat kids as a burden, an inconvenience or a mistake
- Adults will make it about kids even when some adults try to make it about themselves
- All Adults are honest
- Adults are self-aware
- Adults can handle conflict – even if kids make it personal and attack them or those that they love. They are adults and can handle just about
- Adults are helpers and teachers – all of them who work at The Ranches
- Adults will provide nurturing, accountability, discipline and protection
- Someone will always be paying attention to the kids and looking out for them
- We will intentionally choose to make every effort to never further a child’s shame or cause additional pain
When we recognize that we can create the emotional weather, that we are always creating emotional weather, that we tend to create the emotional
weather that we are most comfortable with and that kids need us to intentionally create safer weather, we can then be infinitely effective with an incredibly wide range of kids…of all ages.
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