This paper was co-authored with Dr. Lilian C. J. Wong.
The Name of the Exercise: Connect-2
This is an exercise designed for children in primary and secondary schools to learn how to connect with people by offering and requesting help on a daily basis. With practice, this activity can naturally take place between two individuals, whether it is between two children, or between a child and an adult (a parent or teacher), forming a good relational habit.
Given the egocentric tendency of children, activities that require them to be sensitive to the needs of others will strengthen their capacity for empathy, and activities that involve giving and receiving help contribute to the development of compassion, caring, and ego formation. In fact, offering and requesting make use of most of the social skills that children need to learn, as seen in figure 1. Connect-2 teaches them the fundamental fact that in order to survive and thrive in a difficult world, we need to learn both social skills and virtues needed for interdependence.
Sadly, civilized conversation marked by calm rationality and good manners has become a lost art. What we usually see on TV is people shouting at each other or talking over each other. What we usually witness at home or in organizations are people arguing with each other, getting mad at each other over trivial matters. Even when family members care for each other, they still end up hurting each other, because of their inability to communicate their intention of trying to understand or help each other.
Interpersonal connections are deepened through conversations, self-disclosure, and mutual help. The social skills of offering and requesting help are essential in fostering interdependence. Deficiencies in these skills would create problems for children, even when they become adults. For example, if parents overprotect their child and offer to do everything for him/her in order to spare them from the unpleasant experiences of frustration and failure, it might result in the child developing dependent personality disorder. Similarly, allowing children to be in the driver-seat and yielding to all their demands without correcting them may result in oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) (see figure 2). A strong tendency to help everyone but not knowing how to say No, may lead to the unhealthy martyr syndrome. In order to learn how to get along with one another and work together, the ideal is to develop interdependence in children – equally high tendencies to offer and request help. In offering help, they learn empathy, sensitivity to other people’s needs, compassion, and acts of kindness. In requesting help, they learn humility and awareness of inherent limitations.
Ultimately, social skills are based on moral and spiritual understanding required of decent human beings. Without moral grounding and moral fortitude, we would not be able to overcome the evils of greed, pride, violence, and cruelty. If we want our children to learn how to enjoy peace and harmony in a world full of conflicts and tumults, we need to teach them how to connect with themselves, with others, and with God. We need to teach them how to carry on a three-way daily dialogue: between their bright side and dark side, between themselves and those who give them trouble, and between them and God.
Here are the 3 spiritual laws that govern people’s relationships and contribute to their positive mental health:
1) Love yourself by staying connected with your calling and becoming what you were meant to be.
2) Love others and make a unique and significant contribution to your family, community, and humanity.
3) Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind so that you can attain oneness with the Creator and his creation.
Connect-2 is simply one of the activities or exercises for children to learn these three spiritual laws as the foundation for their moral development and emotional-social intelligence.
The Theoretical Orientation
Not all people are friendly and easy to work with. Often, we may have to interact with people who have idiosyncrasies or ideas which are offensive to us, but we still need to develop the capacity to connect with difficult people and tolerate unpleasant disagreements. According to existential positive psychology (PP 2.0; Wong, 2019), we are more likely to grow as individuals and organizations when we accept the reality that people can be selfish and difficult and learn to manage unpleasant emotional and interpersonal conflicts.
Understanding each other and seeking common ground involve social-emotional intelligence 2.0, which focuses on the awareness and management of negative emotions within the self and others. Connect-2 is part of the building blocks of social-emotional intelligence 2.0 in children. Here are some of the essential skills for social-emotional intelligence 2.0:
- Be aware of another person’s emotional needs, especially negative emotions, such as irritation, frustration, or anger.
- Develop skills for understanding a person’s emotional needs or hot button issues and offer an appropriate response to reduce their negative emotions.
- Develop skills for offering help without undermining the other person’s sense of autonomy and self-esteem.
- Develop skills for receiving help with humility and gratitude.
- Develop conversational skills to increase mutual understanding and self-disclosure in order for deeper connection.
- Develop active listening skills in order to discern the speaker’s intention and correctly decode their message.
Connect-2 is also based on meaning-therapy which evolved from logotherapy and positive psychology and is based on meaning research. The motto for meaning therapy is: “Meaning is all we have, and relationship is all we need.” This motto indicates two important realities of being human. Firstly, we are a meaning-seeking and meaning-making creature, living in a world imbued with meaning. Secondly, we are a social animal, hardwired for social relationships (Wong, 2012, 2020).
Just as birds are born for flying in an open sky, so are human beings born for an environment of meaning and loving relationships. Behavioral and emotional problems are likely to occur in children and adults if their basic needs for meaning and relationships are not met. Therefore, meaning therapy teaches children and adults how to do things that are meaningful to them, and how to maintain good relationships.
Instructions for Delivery
Life is more fun if one knows how to get along with people and how to help one another. The Connect-2 is a daily activity of offering help for someone and receiving help from someone; this practice will help develop better relationships with one’s family and friends.
It is not always easy to help others. For example, if you offer to help, but fail to keep your promise, you can get others mad for letting them down. If you insist on helping people who do not want your help, they will see you as too bossy. See table 1 for some examples of the right way of helping others.
There are also the wrong way and the right way of receiving help (see table 2). If you do it the right way, you will learn humility and gratitude, and this will make you a good and happy person. You can talk to yourself first and try out several statements you can use for offering and receiving help. Then look for opportunities to use them. You can also keep a diary of “offering and receiving help” each day and write down the results.
Picture of basic social skills
The offer-and-receive help contingency table
Activities for teaching children the joy of helping others
1. Find someone who may need some practical help. Then, ask: “Is there anything I can do to help?”
2. Offer to help someone and have the joy of successfully completing the task. “Good job! Glad we did it.”
3. Offer some emotional support to someone who seems to be upset or sad by saying: “Are you alright? Is there anything bothering you?”
4. Cheer someone up by saying, “Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” “May I give you a hug?”
5. Contribute something to your family’s household chores by asking your parents: “May I help out with some chores?”
Examples of wrong and right ways of reacting to the offer of help
“I don’t need your help. I am not stupid!”
“Thank you, but I think I can manage.”
“I don’t need your help. I want to do it my way.”
“Thank for helping. Now I know how to do it.”
“Good, please do it for me, you can do it better.”
“Thanks for showing me, now, let me try it myself.”
“I can’t do it, would you do it for me?”
“Can you show me again? I will try it.”
- Wong, P. T. P. (2012). From logotherapy to meaning-centered counseling and therapy. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 619-647). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Wong, P. T. P. (2019). Second wave positive psychology’s (PP 2.0) contribution to counselling psychology. Counselling Psychology Quarterly [Special Issue]. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2019.1671320
- Wong, P. T. P. (2020). Existential Positive Psychology and Integrative Meaning Therapy. International Review of Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1080/09540261.2020.1814703
Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (in press). In L. L. Armstrong (Ed.), Experiential and Play Therapy Interventions for Virtual Therapy for Children, Youth, and Families.