What if we break their brains?

* this guy blows my socks off. again and again. today i had 3 pairs on, and he took them all off with one right-on-i-want-to-shout-hallelujah-and-buy-you-chocolate blog post. please read it. i write and ramble and post a lot of stuff up here. i think it’s all good. but i think this is really really great. and true. and could change things in all of our lives if we were willing to be brave like he is. that’s my two cents anyway. read it for yourself and see what you think.

Dallas Clayton

Dallas Clayton


Sometime around the end of the year it occurred to me that in the current school system children spend a fair amount of their days working hard at subjects like math, and science, English and history, maybe even arts and sports, but rarely if ever do our kids get to spend any substantial amount of time working on any sort of emotional development. Of course there’s the implied emotional development that occurs throughout life- learning what to do or what not to do through imitation or routine. That’s a given much like learning to speak. But if speech can be refined, vocabulary built, and language elevated what about a child’s emotional well being?

This of course is no new idea.  There are schools, and temples, massive well-landscaped gardens and volumes of books that address the issue head on. And as a tax payer I’m sure there are a multitude of arguments that could be made in opposition. Things along the lines of: Why should kids take time out of their allotted educational curriculum to focus on something as abstract as emotions? Who would be qualified to teach it? What would be discussed? What if we if we break their brains?

However when I took a moment to shift the idea toward an average cross-section of adults I knew, each with adequate reading skills, functioning math levels, a general knowledge of art, or history, even a basic athletic ability, the one commonality that seemed to hold true was an emotional deficit. With each person, over and over again, there was an inability to deal with some of the basic ideas that make us human.

Consider for a moment how many adults you know in therapy, how many on medication, how many with estranged relationships with their families, distorted views of their personality or even more simply how many totally ill-equipped to interact with strangers with any level of confidence. The number of socially inept, emotionally off-balance adults I know far outweighs the number of adults I know who can’t read, or do basic math. Even in my own life with as many advantages as I’ve had I’m still trying each and every day to enrich myself emotionally,in a way that leads me to wonder how it is I know the capitals of states I’ve never been to or the mundane likely-fabricated life details of presidents who died hundreds of years ago but I don’t know for certain what the best way is to deal with someone who is sad.

This isn’t to say that even if I were given a time machine and the ability to swap out two semesters of regional social studies for two semesters of team-building exercises I’d have turned out any better, but it seems plausible that spending thirty minutes a day working on emotional ideas might have the same effect as spending thirty minutes a day learning any subject that is completely foreign to us when we are born.

Take guitar for instance. With one thirty minute shot of guitar, maybe we’d have no retention at all. Maybe just a fun memory of the time we tried to jam, got confused and went off to play video games instead. But spread out over a period of ten to fifteen years those same thirty minutes a day might at very least produce a student who has a greater understanding of the basic concepts of music than one who has never held a guitar in his or her life. Whether or not he or she chooses to ever play the guitar as an adult, or use that skill socially is neither here nor there. It has been learned and the value of learning a new skill, especially in your formative years, is often beyond measure.

So this month I decided to test this theory. Treating emotional building blocks the same way you might treat guitar lessons. Take a simple subject, one that we all have issues with, myself included, and spend thirty minutes a day talking about it with my son.  I chose “Frustration” as the inaugural idea, because it is something that is quite common with both children and parents. For the past thirty days we’ve spent thirty minutes each day doing different exercises, working on different routines, and generally just bringing the idea of talking about frustration to the center of the table.

I haven’t done much in the way of research, just a few quick nods to the internet and a look toward my friends and all the issues that most frustrate them in their day-to-day adult lives.  Strangely enough a lot of the ideas I came up with would probably fall under the category of “things you might do at a company retreat” or “exercises from a corporate seminar.” Ideas most of my friends would find totally preposterous (see also, emotional development lacking in adults). But fortunately for me my work-partner is only seven and a half and acts much more like we all would probably act if we hadn’t spent so many years hiding behind walls. So for him these sorts of things are just as engaging and challenging as playing soccer, or reading a book. Full blown wonderment at times, confusion at others, and most often – joy when figuring out how to do something correctly.

At the end of each week I laid out a simple written test to review some of the concepts we’d learned and tomorrow as a result of finishing the final test there will of course be a fun reward for a job well done.

I don’t know exactly how any of this is going to work out in the long run. How each month’s subject will be chosen, or what will happen when we get there because at the end of the day I am in no way qualified to be teaching these sorts of things. But, much like most things a parent has to do- I’m learning, and figuring it out as I go. With any luck this idea of an “emotional lesson” will become just as commonplace in my sons life as stretching or talking and hopefully it will help push him to greater places both mentally and physically. As an added bonus, just as teaching someone to play guitar can reawaken skills that you didn’t know you had, or help you re-examine music in totally new ways, I’ve actually pulled a lot of personal emotional enrichment out of the past thirty days as well. Of course, how could you not get something out of spending some time each day having a dialogue with someone you love about how to become a stronger person?

Anyhow, I just wanted to share this idea because I know a lot of parents and teachers and even students check in here from time to time so I thought it would be nice to put this out into the world, maybe turn some gears, get people thinking. Like I said, I’m far from an expert so if you have any thoughts on all of this feel free to email me or if you want to take this idea and run with it on your own, feel free to do that too. After all, we’re all just trying to be better people right? Right.

Thanks for listening! – Dallas

Words + Photos + Credit

Unless otherwise noted, all original photography and text are property of Raechelle Kennedy. If you see or read something here and feel inspired to share it somehow, please be considerate and give the artist (me!) credit, or even better, drop me a note and make sure I don’t mind.
Thank you!

Here + There

Secondhand Sainthood and the gift of losing it all – Topology Magazine, December 2015

Ten Things Made – Topology Magazine, December 2015