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In human services, there is an
adage that directs us to work with the individual in an effort to “maximize his
strengths and minimize his weaknesses.” 
In crisis situations, anger, fear, confusion, apprehension, depression,
despair, and so forth are interpreted as temporary weaknesses.  They have welled up in the individual,
temporarily overpowering his reasoning, thinking, and planning strengths.  Our faith in people leads us to the belief
that no matter how upset and overwhelmed the individual feels he has more than
enough strength within him to cope with his situation.  Understanding and using “communication color”
leads to reducing and minimizing the temporarily disabling effect of crisis
color.  Understanding and focusing on “communication
content” directly enhances the individual’s capacity to deal with his world.

Mrs. M, age twenty-nine has eight
children.  The oldest child is fourteen,
and the youngest is seven months.  Six of
the children are normal and have no particular physical, emotional, social, or
adjustment difficulties.  Her twelve-year
old, however, has a chronic kidney disease, requires regular medical treatment,
and has to have her activities carefully supervised and regulated.  The seven-year-old is in the second grade, is
mildly retarded, and has been diagnosed as a hyperactive child.  Mrs. M deals quite well with the mild
retardation, but to her, the hyperactivity roughly translates into “a walking
disaster.”  The little boy has an
extremely short attention span, cannot sit still, is always into everything,
seems unable to follow directions or accept limits, still wets the bed and
occasionally “messes” himself during the day, and seems to require more time
and attention than all of the other children put together.

Mrs. M has been married, this time,
for a little over a year.  Her first marriage,
when she was fourteen, lasted only a few months.  Her second marriage lasted a little over four
years, and her third marriage lasted about a year.  She and the children live with her present
husband in an older, three-bedroom house that has inadequate plumbing and
heating.  The girls use one bedroom, the
boys another, and the baby has a crib in with her and her husband.  She and her children have received welfare
help in the past but presently live on the income her husband earns working in
a factory.  He also has to pay thirty
dollars a week child support to his first wife for the care of their two
children.  Mr. M’s two boys from his
first marriage spend every weekend at the M’s house, plus six weeks in the

As we look at several messages from
Mrs. M, two responses are suggested to each message.  The messages communicate a certain content
and express Mrs. M’s thoughts and ideas about several things.  The two responses following each message also
communicate certain content.  In
addition, the responses tell Mrs. M something about your assumptions about and
attitudes toward her.  Looking at each
response, does it convey a “faith in Mrs. M?” 
Does it support and encourage her inner strength and capacity?  Does it tend to increase or decrease Mrs. M’s
ability to cope with her situation?

Message:  Sometimes I just can’t cope with all those
kids.  There are so many of them.  There is always one of them getting into
something or wanting something or fighting or screaming or something.

Response 1: Did you think about the
kind of hassle it was going to be before you had that many kids?

Response 2: I don’t see how you do
it.  I would be “up the wall” if I were

Message: I’m not very smart.  I’ve only got a seventh-grade education.  I’m no psychologist or nothing, but I think
there’s really something wrong with my seven-year-old.

Response 1: The doctors have told
you that he is a little retarded and that he is hyperactive.  He would probably be easier to deal with if
there weren’t so many other children.

Response 2: You seem to know quite
a lot about kids and being a mother.  The
seven-year-old has some special problems, but the rest of the kids get along
real well.  You have a lot of firsthand
experience with little kids and should be a pretty good judge of a child with
special problems.

Message: My husband doesn’t want to
accept responsibility for the kids and won’t help me with them.  I don’t know why I put up with him.  He just wants me for someone to sleep with.  I don’t know—I shouldn’t say that.  He works hard and does try to pay the bills,
and I guess he is entitled to a little freedom and happiness.  He goes out and has a good time, and I’m
always left home with those kids.  I need
a little fun too.

Response 1: You should put your
foot down and insist that he help you. 
He took on the responsibility for you and the kids when he married you,
and you should make him do what is right.

Response 2: It’s a lot of
responsibility for him and for you.  You
take care of everyone, but who takes care of you?  There ought to be some way you could get some
time to yourself and get away from the kids, the house, and all the
hassle.  Is your husband ever willing to
watch the kids so you can get out by yourself for a little while?

Message: We never have any money to
do anything.  There’s the heat for the
house and all those doctor bills.  It
seems like I never have ten cents extra to do anything.  Sometimes I think it would be easier to get
welfare again.

Response 1: What would that do to
your self-respect to go back on welfare? 
Maybe you can think up some way to cut corners or to buy less expensive

Response 2: I can see how there
wouldn’t be any extra money.  You must be
a magician, taking care of your house and family on your husband’s income.  I think you could probably give me a lesson
in money management.  Your kids are
always so clean and neat looking and seem so healthy and well fed, and your
house always looks like you really make an effort to take care of it.  How do you do it?

Message: I think part of my trouble
with my husband is our personal relationship. 
There’s all those kids, and I think if I got that way again I’d just

Response 1: Why don’t you get your
tubes tied or tell your husband to have a vasectomy?

Response 2: I can see how you might
worry about that and might feel a little uncomfortable with your husband.  Have you talked with him about your worries
of getting pregnant?

Message: I’ve kinda gotten away
from church these past few years, and I miss it.  The kids need that; I just can’t get them all

Response 1: You should bring them
up in the church.  That is your
responsibility.  You live close enough to
the church that you could walk from your house. 
Just get the kids up and over there on Sunday.

Response 2: Have you talked with
anyone at church about the problem? 
Maybe someone there would be able to help you round up the kids and get
them over there.  I see your minister
once in a while.  Would you mind if I
mentioned your problem to him?

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