Ben Rheinheimer | February 5, 2021
Recently I had the opportunity to virtually attend Simple Interactions Institute. It was a fantastic time of thinking more about the framework and connecting with people from all over the world who are being very intentional about creating strong relationships with children and youth. The last session of the series was titled “Simple Interactions + Anti-Racism and Equity”. We talked about the numerous ways that creating strong, intentional relationships can impact our efforts to break down racism. Through stories, we listened to the struggles and the possibilities that others have experienced. It was a session that created a strong sense of hope.
Early on in the session, I heard a statement that is still sticking with me. Often times with the Simple Interactions framework, we discuss the “Essential Question” which is the following: How does this (practice, program, policy) help to Encourage, Enrich, and Empower human interactions around the child? It is a great way to constantly remind us that our focus and energy is around improving those interactions. However, this time, the statement was worded a bit differently. In essence, the question became, “How does this (practice, program, policy) create a humanizing interaction.” The assumption is that every interaction we have with children has the chance to go one of two ways, humanizing or dehumanizing. It is a very heavy statement and I am still struggling to figure out how I feel about it. What I do know, is that it offers me a healthy challenge of reflecting on my interactions not after they happen, but rather before I even start. It is the classic “riding a bike” lesson. If you don’t want to crash you look to where you want to go, not where you have been or where you don’t want to go, like that tree or parked car. In order for me to get better at the interactions I have, I need to start the work of thinking about where I want to go with each interaction. So, I need to be intentional in making sure that the interaction is a humanizing one.
From the recent political schism that seems to be growing by the day to the proliferation of social media “trolls” who make it their job to push buttons, the opportunity for dehumanizing interactions is ever present. A dehumanizing interaction makes people feel invisible, unheard, or reduced base on one singular feature. At best a dehumanizing interaction will leave us annoyed or disappointed, but at worst, a dehumanizing interaction can create life-long physical, emotional, or mental damages. “It was just a joke” and “It’s not that big of a deal” cannot be used to justify the pain that dehumanizing interactions cause. Each interaction with a child or youth matters. At the same time, we have long known that we cannot place our children in a bubble and insulate them from the outside world. This unfortunately means that they will most likely experience dehumanizing interactions at some point in their life. Because of this, it is even more crucial that we as parents, guardians, educators, out-of-school professionals, community members, and friends be as intentional as possible in making sure our interactions with our children and youth are as humanizing as possible.
This is our challenge, to fully live into creating humanizing interactions with our children. So, what will you do today? Here are a few thoughts to get you going.
Make them feel visible – recognize their emotions or praise them on a job well done.
Make them feel heard – listen to a story without interjecting or correction.
Make them feel included – tell them why they are valuable to you.
When we get on that bike for the first time we wobble, feel vulnerable and unsure about our decision, and even topple over and suffer some growing pains. This challenge will be no different. When we focus on humanizing our interactions, we will probably start to more regularly notice the times we have fallen short. But keep looking forward at your destination, the destination of regularly creating humanizing interactions with the children and youth we work with. And know that the work you do to create these moments is not just important, it’s critical.
Ben Rheinheimer, Self-Efficacy Curator at ULEAD