Spotlight On: Generous Assumptions

21 October 2022


This article first appeared in Queenwood Weekly News on Friday 21 October, 2022

There is complexity and intensity in childhood friendships. The strength of social connection has a profound effect on happiness, and in turn a child’s capacity to learn. Sustaining a culture of kindness in a school provides the foundation for all to flourish.

At the Junior School, through the common language in Dana Kerford | URSTRONG (K – 6 annual workshops) as well as Personal Development/Health and Wellbeing sessions (formally taught each fortnight) and integrated into Assemblies and conversations, the girls are introduced to developmentally appropriate, K - 6 friendship strategies. By weaving the URSTRONG friendship framework (no friendship is perfect; every friendship is different; trust and respect are the two most important qualities of a friendship; friendships change and that’s ok) and the ‘zones of friendship’ (green being the healthy zone and the red zone ‘friendship fires,’ requiring attention) into conversations at School, we empower our students with the skills, language and self-confidence to recognise and develop healthier relationships. The girls develop the capacity to manage conflict between friends and differentiate everyday disagreements from ‘mean-on-purpose’ actions.

Recently we’ve introduced the concept of generous assumptions into dialogue about friendships. Essentially having a generous assumption about someone means expecting the best of them, ‘giving them the benefit of the doubt’ and responding to them accordingly.

A generous assumption about someone could prevent unnecessary conflict in friendships and create more empathy, respect, compassion and love. When you make a generous assumption, you stop, focus, filter your feelings and imagine stepping into someone else’s shoes, rather than reacting in anger. The Grow Your Mind School program describes this as activating your Sifting Sooty (the Reticular Activating System in your brain), which is what helps you to focus.

It is important for the girls to understand that mistakes in relationships are inevitable. These actions may create feelings of anger which set off the ‘guard dog’ in your brain. It is at this point that you need to focus clearly by thinking carefully about the person who’s caused the upset; and to think how you may mend this relationship rather than damage it further. Responding with an open mind or kindness might act as a circuit breaker and stop the harm caused by their initial harmful action.

Actions that may set off your ‘guard dog’ in your brain:
Another person:

  • Whispers or laughs with someone else
  • Plays a game or sits with someone else
  • Runs into you in the playground
  • Knocks something off your desk
  • Invites another friend to their house
  • Makes a remark about a situation, a person

A generous assumption in the above situations could be:

  • The whispering and laughing was not about you and it really isn’t something to be worried about (if a one-off)
  • The game or seating arrangement may have started spontaneously; you weren’t around when the game started; you were playing with someone else; it’s time to build your friendship group
  • It was an accident (it was not a deliberate action)
  • The object was knocked off by mistake
  • The invitation was issued as two friends met when out shopping, walking etc...they live near each other, they’re widening their friendship circle
  • The remark may have been an observation, a commentary without a negative intention

Putting a generous assumption into action:

  • Ask if everything is ok; smile; check-in later with friends; ignore unpleasant comments (if a one-off); take the opportunity to sit/play with others; seek assistance from an adult if help is required, and to understand and respond to the situation

When we make generous assumptions we respond with positivity. We give others a second chance.

By empowering our girls with a common language of friendship which encompasses the capacity to make generous assumptions, social connections are strengthened, happiness ensues, and we’re setting up our girls to flourish.