Improving the Emotional Climate with More REFFF and Less CCCT

What is the “emotional climate” of a relationship, a family, a workplace, a couple, a parent and child, a school, or any other group? It’s how much people get pleasure out of being with each other; have fun with each other; create good feelings in each other; VERSUS how much they fight, argue, deceive, insult, hit, and otherwise do things that make each other feel bad. Being in relationships with a “positive emotional climate” is one of the strongest protective factors against mental health problems.

People can often purposely improve their emotional climates. In negative emotional climates, people tend to overuse the following 4 types of utterances. It’s not true that these are never appropriate. The problem comes when they come way too frequently.

Commands: Get over here. Quit doing that. Sit still. You look at me when I’m talking to you. Shut up.

Criticisms: You’re lying. You failed because you were lazy. That’s a stupid idea. That’s the way a loser acts. You don’t have any talent at that.

Contradictions: You’re wrong. No, that isn’t right. Where did you get that idea? It happened this way, not the way you said. That’s not true.

Threats: Keep doing that, and you’ll wish you hadn’t. You’re going to get punished badly unless you straighten up. If you don’t change your ways you’re getting kicked out of here.

So in trying to improve the emotional climate, see if you can cut back on these CCCT types of utterances. And see if you can increase the REFFF utterances. Here’s what they are:

Reflections: So you’re saying that by the time you start your homework, you’re already feeling worn out, huh? If I understand you correctly, you feel a great need to get up and move during the day, but they won’t let you – is that right? What I hear you saying is that you are worried about what will happen if I get sick or die and can’t take care of you. It sounds like you feel scared each morning when you think about how other kids at school might treat you. You’re really feeling proud of yourself for working so hard, and happy that it paid off!

Telling about your own EXPERIENCE: Guess what I saw on the drive: a black bear! I had a problem today, but I think I solved it pretty well – want to hear about it? I’ve been thinking about what the biggest goals of my life should be – want to hear what I’m thinking? I read something really interesting today: ….

Facilitations: These are short utterances that say, “I’m listening, keep going.” Uh huh. Yes. OK. I see. Right. Hum. Is that right. I hear you. Oh?

Follow up questions: What happened next? Please tell me more, if you’d like. How was that for you? How did you feel when that happened? How often do things like this happen? Is this the first time you’ve been able to do this? Can you say more about that?

Positive FEEDBACK: Interesting point! Sounds like a good idea! I’m glad you told me about this. Thanks for sharing that with me. Sounds like you made a good decision. Congratulations for that! Hey, you just did a self-discipline triumph!

Let’s give an example of the use of CCCT and REFFF.

Child: These kids at school just won’t let up on me. I can’t take this much longer.

Parent: I’ve told you before, don’t let them push you around. You have to stick up for yourself. (Command)

Child: Yeah, you’ve told me that, but you have no idea how I should do it. You don’t want me to get in trouble for fighting, either. You don’t really know what you’re talking about.

Parent: With that kind of talk, no wonder they don’t like you. You are talking like a brat. (Criticism)

Child: I get put down by the people at school, and then I get put down by you. This doesn’t help anything.

Parent: I know for a fact that there are people at school who are nice to you. And I only put you down when you need to hear it. (Contradiction)

Child: OK, right.

Parent: Don’t you get sarcastic with me, if you don’t want your phone taken away for a long time! (Threat)

Child: (Walks away and slams a door.)

Now it’s time for REFFF:

Child: These kids at school just won’t let up on me. I can’t take this much longer.

Parent: Oh? Please tell me more about this. (Facilitation and follow up question.)

Child: There’s this one kid who won’t let up about what clothes I wear. I don’t think clothes are important, but the kid seems to convince other people that people who wear what I wear should be looked down on.

Parent: So it’s not just this one kid, it’s the fact that the kid seems to influence other people to look down on you because of what you wear. (Reflection)

Child: People say I should just ignore him. But that just seems to egg him on to see if he can finally make me lose my cool.

Parent: So, the strategy of ignoring hasn’t worked so far. I can remember times in my life of trying that and not having it work also. (Reflection and telling about your own experience.)

Child: One idea that I had just a while ago is trying to get kids on my side. Trying to get a bunch of folks who are loyal to me. Maybe because we’ve done things together outside of school that are fun.

Parent: Sounds like you are thinking of a really creative option! (Positive feedback)

Disclaimer: REFFF has good results much more quickly for the child we just imagined than for most children in real life. But sustained use of REFFF can have some pretty dramatic effects.