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Only as we abandon our preoccupation with the control of deviance can we nurture the unmet developmental needs that drive most problem behavior.  A growing research base shows that successful psychoeducational programs must nurture belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in troubled children.  Of course, other underlying physical and safety needs exist, but from the perspective of psychosocial development, these are four anchor points.

Belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity define social and mental health.  As such, these are universal needs for all children and critical unmet needs for damaged children.  Many students come to school already having experienced this “circle of courage” in their lives.  Many others, however, come to us discouraged, with long histories of unmet needs.


Instead of belonging, they are guarded, untrusting, hostile, withdrawn; or they seek attention through compensatory attachments.


In place of mastery, they have encountered perpetual failure leading to frustration, fear of failure, and a sense of futility.


Not having learned independence, they feel like helpless pawns, are easily misled or seek pseudopower by bullying or defiance.


Without a spirit of generosity, they are inconsiderate of others, self-indulgent, and devoid of real purpose for living.

Recently, one of our graduate students surveyed high school students and asked them to “grade their schools” according to the criteria of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity (Odney & Brendtro).  Some of their comments will be used to introduce the following sections.  After hearing their voices, we will identify a range of intervention techniques for mending broken circles of courage.

Fostering Belonging

Some of the teachers think they are too cool to talk to us.  If you’re walking down the hall, the teachers will put their heads down and look at the floor and keep walking.  -- Helen

Pioneer Native American educator and anthropologist Ella Deloria described the central value of belonging in traditional Indian culture in these simple words:  “Be related, somehow, to everyone you know.”  Treating others as kin forged powerful social bonds of community that drew all into the circle of relatives.  From the earliest days of life, all children experienced a network of nurturance, wherein every older member in the tribe felt responsible for their well-being.

EDMS 512, Hood

Summer 2006

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