things we can and cannot control

as an elementary school counselor, i get to engage with children in many enriching conversations. discussing life skills has always been a topic that i find incredibly valuable to dialogue with children. this month’s guidance lesson with grades 2-4 was on changes that happen in our lives.

things in our life are constantly changing. some changes we can control and some changes we can’t control. can you think of some things that happen in your life that you can or cannot control?

the class, sitting in a circle, passes around a container of dried lima beans, a can, and a bug cage. each child takes out a lima bean and, if they feel comfortable, shares with the group either one thing that they can control (putting a bean in the can) or one thing that they cannot control (putting a bean in the cage).


my behavior
my thoughts
my life
how much sleep i get
what i wear
my little brother
my dog


my mom and dad fighting
my grandfather dying
my parents getting a divorce
someone being mean to me
having to move
my little sister annoying me
my dog jumping on me
the weather

what has been most noteworthy to me in these revealing discussions is how much happens in children’s lives that they have absolutely no control over. in most classrooms the can would have 3-5 beans and the cage would be full. as an adult, can you imagine swimming through your days from one place to another, having to strictly follow and succumb to events in your life in which you have no control? can you imagine that feeling of complete helplessness, the extreme lack of control of the course of your day, your life?

then i start to think about adults… and the events, emotions, places of being in which we feel like we have no control. i was listening to someone explain the tendency of a child to just giggle uncontrollably when they are uncomfortable, anxious, or nervous. the child would giggle, giggle, giggle, until no breath was left… take a deep breath…. and then return to giggling, giggling, giggling. listening to this description made me think of addictions. how we constantly return to our addictions (our old habits) because they sooth us. they are often all we know as a means of coping with that which we are experiencing inside. and as is the nature of addictions, we fall into the habit of replaying the looping scenario of needing something and indulging in the addiction that provides that which we feel like we need (comfort, familiarity, calmness, numbness, security, support, companionship, etc.). this process becomes a fixation and often it takes such a strong hold on us that it seems as though we have no control over it. it is simply happening to us…. and we put a bean in the cage, feeling trapped and helpless.

in the guidance class, the next round of discussion is coming up with ideas of ways to respond to situations we can’t control. if many children mention that their parents argue a lot, the group shares suggestions of things you can do when you’re parents are fighting

go into your room and draw a picture that makes you feel good, go to a friend’s house, ask them to stop, go to your safe-secret space and relax there, make up a skit with your sister of what they look like when they’re fighting “they really look just like kids!”

this part is my favorite as i am always in awe of the children’s insight and their ability to help one another. we then pass the can around without the cage and re-emphasize things we have control of in our lives.

feel free to drop a bean in the can or cage if you’re so inspired.


Ashley, you are such a hero. I’m sure you realize how important the work you’re doing is, but I wish more people would. The lessons you’re teaching (and learning yourself, it seems!) about community building and supporting others and interaction are so, so significant. Thank you so much for posting this: you’ve given me hope.

GravatarYup kids, and adults too…in my work this is the essence of colonization: how little control we feel we have over our lives. Decolonization is the process of opening the space of options for that which we can control, and getting busy with doing that to make more of it.

GravatarIn a related vein, it’s true that kids seem to have so little control in their lives, but they have many more options that adults. For example, when I take my kids to Grandma’s house and we visit the sitting room, I can see about two options for the kids: sitting there quietly or leaving My kids on the other hand, have a million options. Grandma’s sitting room is a theme park waiting to be played in, but for me all of that is anxiety riddled. “Don’t touch, don’t jump, don’t knock over…”

The trick in supporting opening relationships is to negotiate in a way that leaves the kid’s options intact and both of our needs met. Kids will always win that negotiation, because in any negotiation, whoever has the most options wins. So as an adult, my kids are always challenging me to find more options, rather than limiting theirs.

GravatarDecolonization is the process of opening the space of options for that which we can control

YEAH! and so much of that work is an inner journey. internally we have to reframe, restructe a perspective that has been given many reasons, justifications, moments in history to believe that there is ‘no control.’ i see the role of those who already know this as one of acting as companions and role models for the a-ha that the open space already exists and there is room for us to have immense control. does this fit in with your mapping of decolonization?

Gravataras for the adults and the kids at grandma’s, isn’t that just a matter of perspective that the adults only two options? adults can go and ask questions about the trinkets and pictures and paintings and such. eh?

as for the anxiety… that’s so not a part of parenting that i’m looking forward to! doesn’t it make you just not want to visit places where there are so many child-instigated-disasters waiting to happen?

for me leaving the kids options in tack and meeting both adult and child’s needs is wrapped up in setting limits and offering potent choices. like you say the one with the most choices wins, and the key seems to be offering joices that are a win-win for both adults and children.

your kids are so lucky that they’ve got you for a dad!

Gravatarhi guys! this is brilliant ashley. and congrats on the new address! i’m posting here because i can! love from kathmandu. m

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