(Psychological) Games in Schools

10th March 2014  |  by Greg

Being the grown-up

It’s hard being the sensible one all the time, but as teachers, that’s what we’re expected to be. In the face of illogical behaviour though, it can be a battle to keep frustrations inside. It’s so tempting to try to control or throw a tantrum.

In 1964, psychiatrist Eric Berne wrote a book which attempted to explain social behaviour by way of games. Games People Play is as relevant today as it was then, because we’re all still playing them.

Every time we interact with someone emotionally we are, unwittingly, playing a kind of game with them, and as Berne points out very wisely, if we are trying to win then we will end up losing. Our aim, he says, should always be win-win.

Do you fancy a trip to the movies?

Let’s say your partner wants to go to the cinema, but you don’t. The game has started. Now you’d think that the game was about who would win the tussle over whether you go to the flicks or not, but that’s just one game. Let’s now say you begrudgingly agree to go to the cinema but complain all the way there, determine to hate the chosen film and complain all the way back home too. You made sure your partner lost, but you lost too. In this game it was lose-lose.

When we interact with children and young people, it’s hard not to take on the role of parent or child, instead of the state that transactional analysis (TA) describes as the ideal, the adult. The video below explains the difference between these roles, or ego states and you’d be hard-pushed not to recognise yourself (and those around you) taking on these states.

Next time you have an emotional interaction with a family member, friend, colleague or stranger, remind yourself of the ease with which you can be pulled into a game, a game where you play the role of a controlling parent or petulant child.

Advocates of TA will point out that the child and parent ego states have their uses at times, but that the real aim is to be the adult, the one whose behaviour is based on looking rationally at a situation and deciding on the best course of action, rather than responding with predictable and time-honoured game strategies.

Games in a school context

There are quite a few phrases that you’ll hear in schools that might suggest a parent-child transaction:

“Stand up straight while I’m talking to you.”

“How dare you speak to me that way!”

“Now you listen to me young-fella-me-lad.”

The next time someone says something to upset you, remember to only play the game if you want to. You can decide to play. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a reaction. I’m simply suggesting you think about that reaction logically and in advance. It’s hard being the grown-up, but we have to act like adults if want to help develop the adults of the future.

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