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Shiny New Pencil Case by Peter Leonard



As a child there was very little that gave me as much pleasure at the beginning of September as the shiny new pencil case as I prepared to return for another school year.


This sense of a fresh start every September has remained with me as an adult and not just because I have worked in settings such as education where 1st September is such a significant date. Before I went digital it also signalled a new paper diary which I always preferred to run along the academic year rather than the calendar one. For many of us this time of year signifies a new start post the traditional holiday season.


New starts can be exciting and motivating but they can also bring anxiety and even be terrifying. As the child of parents who moved frequently with their jobs, I never became easy with the whole starting a new school experience and fear was a familiar emotion for me.


At Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health, all our work is underpinned by the Nurturing Programme which provides adults and children with the understanding, skills and ability to lead emotionally healthy lives, build resilience, empathy, self-esteem and support positive relationships. The Nurturing Programme uses the following four constructs as building blocks of emotionally healthy relationships: self-awareness, appropriate expectations, positive discipline, and empathy.

Although the four constructs were originally developed within the context of parenting, they apply to all areas of our work. They are the building blocks for all emotionally healthy relationships and are particularly important in forming emotionally healthy relationships between parent and child, teacher and pupil, and manager and employee.


As we face to a greater or lesser degree depending on our context, the fresh September start I want to reflect on these four constructs and how they help us with whatever feelings we have, remembering that our feelings drive our behaviour – young or old!


Self-awareness

If you are facing a new start, or even a return to something very familiar, then what are you feeling? What emotions are rising to the surface? Whatever they are, remember that all feelings are valid. Being sensitive to what it is you need and taking responsibility for meeting these needs helps us to sustain our own self-esteem and behave in a more nurturing way towards others.


Imagine for example that you are starting a new job, try noticing and normalising the potential feelings of both excitement and anxiety. What might you be feeling particularly anxious about – a new journey to work, wondering what the workplace culture is like or what your new colleagues will be like?


Appropriate expectations

Having appropriate expectations of both ourselves and others around us offers both us and them the opportunity to succeed and gain confidence. If we expect too little or too much then feelings such as anger, unhappiness, frustration or even despair can arise. We know that feelings drive behaviour and the behaviour arising from feelings like this may not be the best either for ourselves or those around us.


Thinking again about the new job, what do you want to achieve in this role? Recognise and accept that this will take time and won’t happen instantly. How do I expect others to relate to me and what do I expect from a good induction process and support from colleagues – are these realistic?


Positive discipline

This is about establishing firm, fair, kind and consistent boundaries and this applies to all of us at any age not just when we are children. What are your boundaries going into a new setting? Maybe it is worth spending some time reflecting on your personal values and considering the boundaries which arise from these? Do you need to practise stating what these boundaries are or even what your behaviour needs to look like with the boundaries in place? Are you returning to a familiar context and there is a need to establish new boundaries or re-establish existing ones which have slipped.

What boundaries am I going to set for myself in my new job? How much do I want to share about my non work-related life? With a new team, do I need to think about my responses and whether I might wish to express an opinion on certain issues? Giving some thought to these will mean we aren’t taken by surprise and respond in a way we would prefer not to.


Empathy

This is the cornerstone of our Nurturing Programme and is the ability to understand another person’s feeling – to be tuned into their mood. An empathic response to another, to their excitement, their frustration, their sadness, their joy, to the validity of their emotional point of view, makes the relationship with them happier. Someone treated with empathy and respect is much more likely to respond in the same way.


It is probably helpful to think about how it might feel for others with a new person coming into the workplace. Will people be excited or wary? Try to be empathic as to how people might respond to your style, be aware of people’s (including your own) potential feelings about change.


Whatever your fresh start, or your familiar return or even your ongoing unchanging routine might be this September, I hope that using these four constructs to aid your reflection and help develop your emotional health gives you as much of a buzz as a new pencil case!


About the author

Peter Leonard is the Chief Executive at Family Links. Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health is a charity whose vision is for everyone to live an emotionally healthy life. They do this by promoting an approach to life and relationships that equips and supports families and communities to be emotionally healthy. They provide high quality training courses and resources for professionals working with people in a variety of settings including communities, education and the workplace. For more information, please visit their website and follow them on social media: https://www.familylinks.org.uk/

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