Inclusive Parenting: Harnessing Aggression to Strengthen Your Relationship

“I’m finished! I’ve been asking you to clean your room for weeks. Hand me your phone.”

“But I won’t be able to text or call anyone all weekend!! I took out the dirty laundry, I’ll do the rest next week!”

(It should be noted here that the room in question belongs to a 13 year old boy and the ‘straightening’ being requested is not military corners and white glove dust inspection. And this is the third ‘next week’ the task has been delayed.)

“The phone will be returned when the room is clean. The rest is up to you.”

“I want you to know I am going to have a very hard time forgiving you.”

“I’m willing to deal with that.”

It’s been another typical Friday night at my house. In fact, since he started showing the first signs of puberty, arguments in the house have occurred almost daily. Many include more ‘descriptive’ language.  These are the years my mother warned me about.

Talk about the teen years long enough and you’re bound to use the word aggression, generally as a complaint about the way teens display their anger. As a therapist, I’m often asked by parents to teach their teens to stop being aggressive. However, Philip Lichtenberg, gestalt therapist, argues that there cannot be human relationships without aggression. To aggress, he argues, is simply to assert one’s will or move forward towards a goal or need. Aggression can be inclusive or exclusive, that is, aggression can be energy directed at deepening relationships or at limiting them.

Exclusive aggression is characterized by one person diminishing or negating the other. The exclusive aggressor asserts him/herself as right and the other as wrong. In order for the relationship to continue, one person must accept being ‘less than’ the other. Inclusive aggression involves actively promoting both parties in the relationship. The inclusive aggressor clearly defines their position at the same time urging the other to do the same. When both parties feel they have been heard and have listened to one another, the relationshCaptureip deepens.

The negative connotation of the term aggression means that we seldom consider it as a tool in parenting. But when we think of aggression as the means for children to develop their unique identities and sense of self, it can be something we model for them and support as a part of their development.

Perhaps we can consider parenting styles to be inclusive or exclusive. Exclusive authoritarian parenting exists when the desires and needs of the parents supersede those of the child. Relationships between parent and child in these situations are strained and the child learns that the only way to assert them self is to exert power over another.

Inclusive parenting supports the independence of both the child and the parent and brings the two closer. Inclusive parents set clear boundaries while at the same time recognizing the importance of the child’s will. They model independence and respect.

The boy in question at the beginning of this article did not get his phone back Friday night. In protest, he watched movies on his loft bed surveying his mess. The mother poured herself a glass of wine and read her book. Eventually his need to text will call him down to finish the job. And when I return his phone, I will thank him. I suspect he may even forgive me.

Protection from Rejection

Jeff has been trying to find his soul mate for years now. What he wants more than anything is to find a partner with whom he feels he can just be himself and be accepted for who he is.  The problem, he acknowledges, is that when he meets someone new he doesn’t actually show the parts of himself he is less certain will be accepted.  “I’m just trapped in this circle where I wish I could find someone who will like me for who I am, but I’m afraid to show myself for fear of being rejected”

Worrying whether we will be hurt or disappointed makes sense.  Protecting ourselves from risk and danger is likely what keeps us alive.  But too much caution limits us and can leave us feeling, as Jeff does, that we are just going through the motions.  Surviving but never really living.  Sometimes the ways we have developed to keep others at a distance are so ingrained that we aren’t even aware we are putting our own needs aside.  Sometimes what we mistake for rational, acceptable even desirable behavior is actually a barrier to feeling closeness.

Most of us employ at least one of the following styles of self-protection.  Becoming aware of your patterns is a start towards recognizing and negotiating your needs.

projectorProjector: This person attributes their own thoughts, feelings and beliefs to someone else.   When they feel anger or frustration, they quickly make assumptions about the other person. To avoid getting rejected, the projector pushes people away, secretly hoping the others will guess what the projector wants and give it to them. Cost:  you are dependent on someone else’s ability to recognize what you need.

reflectionReflector: This person keeps everything inside, going over and over their concerns without confiding in others.  This person rarely asks for help because they don’t want to be let down.  Cost: often results in physical symptoms of discomfort including migraines, stomach aches and anxiety

sorryIntrojector: This person assumes they are responsible for everyone else’s feelings and reactions.  This person apologizes frequently. This person is often a peace keeper and a fixer, preferring to quickly smooth over conflicts rather than explore differences.  Cost: Over identification with the feelings of others can make it difficult to recognize one’s own true feelings and needs.

arrows shieldDeflector: This person is the master of redirection.  This person often talks excessively and makes self-deprecating jokes to take attention away from themselves. This person rarely examines their behavior or feelings and resists feedback from others.  This person is likely to only try to get needs met that will require very little conflict and will often redirect any attention they receive to others. Cost: While this person may have lots of acquaintances, relationships are likely to be mostly superficial.

Protective behaviors can be useful.  They give us time to assess relationships and flexibility to determine how and when to be more vulnerable.  Awareness of what styles we use and when so the choice to keep people at a distance is an intentional one, and one we can resist when we want to create more closeness.


Teacher Leaders Require Unique Training

CaptureIn our data-driven educational climate, schools are pressed to validate learning objectives. Measuring outcomes can diminish more process oriented student preparation, such as balancing self-directed learning in mixed readiness classes. Pressures of time, content, and method often leave teachers choosing between cultivating creativity and production.

Emerging teacher leaders navigate this challenge for themselves but also for their peers who need their support. In preparation for these challenges, teachers need a model of professional development that considers a range of factors including knowledge, interest, capability but also time, learning style, and modality.

The notion that children are essentially blank slates (tabula rasas) waiting to be filled with knowledge was the impetus for a pedagogical model of education in which the teacher (or state) decided what and how the child should be taught. Teacher education followed this model and mandated and prescribed training made up much of the current professional development model.

The seventies brought a new perspective on how people learn and how teaching should be provided. Andragogy recognizes the adult learners’ experiences as a central motivator for learning. Much of what is now referred to as learner-driven training was developed out of this model. However, despite the flexibility in delivery methods (on-line and in-person) little of the material is truly learner-centered and is still based on what has been determined to be necessary for teachers to master.

In the year 2000, researchers Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon coined the term heutagogy to describe learning that is not dependent on problem solving, rather is more pro-active and nature and builds on the learner’s skills and curiosity. Learners determine their own path through reflection, interest and collaboration with others.  The process of learning becomes as important, if not more, than what is learned.  Heutagogy leads to capable, creative, self-actualized individuals with a high capacity to work well with others and respond to rapid change.

Any model however has its limitations. Heutagogy, the polarity of state directed learning, which was limited with autonomy and creativity, may have opposite limitations. If teachers are engaged in self-directed learning, the potential for isolation, a lack of social learning, and a reduction in discriminative learning via debate is also possible.

With self-directed learning, educators will still need a model that allows for interaction when and if it’s needed, to account for their constraints of time and unique interests, capabilities, and learning styles. This future hybrid model of self-directed learning has not yet been named, but labtagogy may be a start (lab= to work with, work out, hard work; ‘agogue’= a person or thing that leads or incites action).

This future platform might capitalize on experience and knowledge across many disciplines that intersect with education, and may blur the line between educator and learner, expert and novice.  Growing self-directed, self-actualized teachers will require an approach to school leadership that is less top-down and that recognizes the potential for leadership across discipline, title and position.

How ready is your school for such a direction?


When the Bully Pulpit Breeds More Bullies

Capture“I’ll be glad when Trump is president and he sends you people back where you belong!”

The teacher was still red in the face, remembering how shocked and helpless she felt when she heard one of her students shout this at a group of Hispanic students in the lunch room.

A few weeks ago I wondered in a blog post how long it would be before the rhetoric of our leader hopefuls would trickle into the lunchrooms and play yards of our schools.  State policies on bullying focus on what happens inside the school building but bullying thrives because it is part of a larger system, influenced by family, community and national culture.

Teachers and staff often feel helpless to address this level of intolerance when they are aware that students are often repeating beliefs encouraged at home.  “How can I tell them what they are doing is wrong when they go home and hear a parent nodding in support of ‘what’s wrong with America’?”  So often, these kinds of comments go unaddressed or briefly reprimanded and nothing changes in the culture.

Of course, it isn’t only the Hispanic students who will suffer as the result of this comment.  Allowing the statement to go unaddressed sends the message that anyone who is different from the dominant culture of the school is not welcome.  Bullying targets differences, undermines students’ sense of belonging and works against goals for diverse learning environments.

But what of the point that students will hear these messages at home or in the community? One of the jobs of schools is to offer students the chance to experience different ways of thinking and relating to others and to prepare them to live and work with people different from themselves.  Holding up that purpose in the face of intolerance can be intimidating, particularly if a teacher does not have the support of administration to back her up.

What can you do when you hear intolerance at your school?

  1. Interrupt it immediately. Comment on the behavior and the impact it has on you. (Shaming or punishing the speaker is likely to have the reverse effect).  Try “That statement was hurtful and I am sad to see students treated that way in our school.”


  1. Stand your ground. Speak calmly but firmly.  Do not allow yourself to get pulled into a debate or discussion in that moment.  It is fine to assert that “This may be acceptable speech at home, but here, we treat each other with respect.”


  1. Be a broken record. Having a phrase at the ready can help you feel calm when addressing comments such as this. Decide with your colleagues what the message will be and use it every single time.


  1. Look for teachable moments. Interrupting comments immediately is the first step to addressing the culture in your school.  Look for opportunities to deepen students’ understanding and empathy through social emotional learning curricula and lessons.  Teaching Tolerance, out of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a wonderful resource for teachers looking to support student’s social/emotional learning and cultural awareness.  org


You may not be able to change what is taught at home and in the community, but you can create a place where students can experience a different possibility.