I found myself thinking about the new school year before the last school year ended. In my prior post, Helping Students Talk About Tragedies, I touched upon my concern over the violent climate of our times and our roles as SLPs in helping children process and express their thoughts and feelings.
As violence unfurled over the summer, my immediate thoughts were of the “how can I help” nature. Unfortunately, as more incidents occurred, the violence of the world seemed beyond my ability to instill change. However, isn’t communication pivotal to conflict resolution and peaceful negotiation? If language does shape thinking and behavior, don’t SLPs play a unique role in helping students become more compassionate communicators?
In his book Nonviolent Communication (NVC), Dr. Marshall Rosenberg states that creating a peaceful world involves eliminating language that blames, labels and demands and replacing it with language that encourages empathetic interactions. SLP Michelle Garcia Winner, founder of Social Thinking®, has always taken the helm of developing empathy skills, particularly with children high-functioning autism and Asperger’s. Many Social Thinking® principles and methods stimulate empathy, in particular perspective taking and thinking of others (you can read my post about the parallels between NVC and ST here).
Inspired to help my students learn to become more compassionate communicators, I created Peaceful Communication: Activities to Improve Conflict Resolution and Interpersonal Conversation. Geared to elementary students, Peaceful Communication has a Dolphin/Shark Language theme that will motivate students of a wide age range.
Shark Language labels, judges, blames and makes demands. In contrast, Dolphin Language focuses on sharing feelings, making requests, empathetic listening and perspective taking.
There is a simple, 8-page story that introduces the two types of language. I included a color and black/white version and a small take home booklet for children. You can also eliminate printing by downloading the packet and viewing it on your tablet or computer!
There are four skill areas taught in this packet. Here’s a quick look at each and the activities included:
SKILL #1: LANGUAGE THAT SHARES FEELINGS
In the “Blame Game”, students learn to take ownership of their feelings by differentiating blaming (i.e, “You make me so mad” or “We lost the game because of her!”) and sharing feelings (i.e.,”I’m angry that we can’t stop arguing!” or “I’m disappointed we lost the game”). I set-up this game up easily by attaching the included pictures to a small container (I got mine at the dollar store, but coffee cans, sand pails, disinfecting wipes or baby wipes containers work well too) for students to place cards into character’s mouth.
“Emotions Triangle” helps students to not only think about how they would feel in a variety of situations, but to understand that we all have different feelings! Simply place the Emotions Triangle on the table and distribute markers (I wish I had shark/dolphin pieces, but these little turtles worked just fine!). After reading a scenario, have students place their marker on the triangle to indicate how they would feel. I like to encourage placing markers between emotions to indicate combinations of feelings. To tie in with the Zones of Regulation® curriculum, emotions are in the Zones colors.
SKILL #2: LANGUAGE THAT TELLS WHAT HAPPENED TO CAUSE A PROBLEM
When using Dolphin Language to interact with others, students are taught to focus on observations. For example, instead of labeling and saying “You’re mean” (Shark Language), Dolphin Language encourages subjective observation: “You told me I couldn’t have a turn in the game”.
After making simple shark/dolphin response sticks, students differentiate the type of language being used. This is a great opportunity to role-play the situations and contrast tone of voice and words spoken.
SKILL #3: LANGUAGE THAT MAKES REQUESTS NOT DEMANDS:
This skill is huge for my students who are often abrasive in their interactions, especially when working together or playing games. Their demanding language causes others to become defensive and problem solving reaches an impasse. SHARK TANK is a card game that provides the opportunity to practice (ROLE PLAY!) and learn differences in tone of voice, word choice and sentence structure.
Skill #4: LANGUAGE THAT SHOWS LISTENING & CARING
In the “Shark Squish” activity, students listen to a statement and guess how the person feels and what they can say to that person. I like to also discuss what the person might need. Again, lots of opportunities for role playing!
You can take a look at this resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.