The Power of the One-On-One

Last Sunday, my son Sam went up to his elementary school for a socially-distanced meetup with his Kindergarten classmates, who to that point had only been iPad avatars. While I usually jump at the chance for his little brother to experience the super-combo of socialization and outdoor activity, I suggested Andrea take Sam on his own so I could take James, with whom I’d been having a tough time connecting. Three hours later, I said, incredulously, “Why don’t we do this more often?”

Anyone with children can relate. It’s something that comes up frequently in conversations with other parents: underappreciating the value of exclusive time with their children. We notice the small things in these interactions that are hard to pick up with other kids or partners around – the nervous laughter, the furrowed brows, the long pauses, the seemingly out-of-nowhere questions that reveal something important. It’s as if we can actually hear our kids thinking.

Turns out there is some logic around why one-on-one interactions are so powerful. “Relational Load” is a phenomenon that suggests that the more people involved in an interaction, the more taxing it is. Consider that in a one-on-one, you are only tracking the communication between you and one other person. Once you add a third person, the “load” increases to three, because now you’re tracking your communication with each person, plus their communication with each other. At four the load becomes six, at five it becomes ten, and by the time you get to eight people, the load is 28! No wonder you are so exhausted after a staff meeting or your student is exhausted after a day at school.

The one-on-one loses much less in a virtual setting than the large group interactions. My one-on-one conferences with students have never been more productive, honest, and focused. With no other students present, they have no choice but to engage. This is in stark contrast to my larger online presentations, which are essentially me trying to entertain a giant black hole.

So for your student, if they’ve had enough of you (or even if they haven’t), encourage them to reach out to a teacher or counselor for a one-on-one. They could also connect with an aunt or uncle or anyone else in a mentoring role who can provide that increasingly rare jewel we call “undivided attention.”

TOP: James and his grandma in a one-on-one

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