Hack the deck – 7 ways to use The ECD with families

As we went into Covid-19 lockdown here in New Zealand a couple of months ago, we faced the reality of a new way of family life. Leading up until this point in time, we had been hearing so many heart-warming stories about people using The Emotional Culture Deck with their families. These stories have helped us feel very humbled and proud of what this little deck of cards can achieve. And when lockdown hit we wondered how the ECD might help families face the uncertain times ahead.

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So we swiftly hatched a plan to send out 100 Emotional Culture Decks to families around the world for free, to give them a chance to play and experiment with the game and hopefully generate a conversation that helps children and parents thrive in their family environment. 

The method is slightly different, but the goal is the same. Use the Emotional Culture Deck to foster as a communication channel between humans, making a tricky conversation just a little bit easier.  

Using the ECD deck with a family requires a slightly different approach to using the cards in workplaces!

Here are seven things we've learnt from our community who are using the cards with their families:
1. Adapt the game to suit your family

Adapting the game to different learning styles opens up a whole new way of using the cards. Karen got in touch with us to share how she's using the cards with her daughter Catherine. They are using the cards as check-in prompts to see how they really feel. Catherine sometimes struggles with language, so Karen adapted the words by saying them aloud or changing them when Catherine was feeling uncertain. Having these check-ins helped them to get to the root of an issue and help Karen understand and not guess what Catherine is really feeling.  

Karen also suggests drawing pictures that show emotions as visual prompts to go alongside the cards. Acting, singing and story-telling may also be ways to speak to the different learning styles of your family member.

2. Less is more

Depending on the age and attention spans of your family, it might work to split the game into smaller chunks rather than attempting the whole thing at once. One strategy is to focus on completing just one step per day over a week and a half giving plus your family members time to digest the information plus cater to the attention span of younger family members. 

Lotty, whose part of our Pro Elephant Rider team, used this method with her children of varying ages. 

My younger kids wouldn't sit for long and focus so we've done it as an activity we build on each day - keeps their attention and in the zone. Kids under 9 have short attention spans!

Stick to a set agreed-upon time limit to give little ones a goal and make the process more manageable.  

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3. Match the pace of your family

Match their pace. Every human's brain process things at different speeds. Matching the pace of your family member, particularly children, will show them empathy through your actions and allow them time to process and formulate answers and insights. Be patient!

One of our Elephant Riders, Tubi, shared this tip with us. 

I am naturally a fairly quick moving person, so even laying out the cards, I tried to match my pace with hers. My daughter is a quiet talker, more of a thinker, so I let her lead the encounter more. 

Tubi found the simple act of laying down the cards at the same pace as her daughter set the scene for a positive session. Using the cards allowed them both to join the process on equal ground and lead to a genuine and meaningful conversation.

4. Simplify the game

Younger family members might not have the vocabulary to understand all of the words in the deck. Adam shared with us how he helped his seven-year-old son to define each feeling as he drew it out the pack and then sort into piles. He then filtered out his top five cards.  

Simplifying and defining using synonyms or using role-play to act out the emotions brings what may seem like a whole bunch of intimidating, scary words into the child's viewpoint and empowers them to lead the conversation on their terms, integrating their knowledge. 

Similarly, Adam shows how the simple act of sorting cards into piles gives the child choice, input and autonomy over the game.

5. Think big picture but take small actions

Adam also shared with us how he's using big and little feelings to get to the root of behaviour in his family.

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Firstly, Adam's family discuss strategies to deal with each big emotion and how to turn that emotion from a negative to a success. 

Secondly, we pinned up the top 5 of each. When he gets upset, we get him to go and point to the negative emotion he is feeling to help US help HIM to deal with the specific emotion rather than just label it 'anger'.

By simplifying the process of playing the game to a "pin-up and point" method, Adam's family can zoom out from feeling overwhelmed by the big emotion of anger and re-define in a simple way it to explore what specific feelings lie at the root of the problem.

6. Reframe the questions you ask

Adam explained that to introduce the game to his seven year old, he begun by asking "What do you feel you need to be successful today."

It might take several sessions of focussing on success and positive emotions to build trust and confidence to then be able to delve into some of the trickier, undesirable emotions. 

Joe also started playing with this daughter when she came home from school. Instead of asking the age-old question, "how was your day," Joe reframed the question and begun asking "how did you feel at school today?" His daughter then flicks through the cards and pick out all the cards that she felt that day.

7. Create the scaffold

By providing gradually diminishing levels of support to a younger family member, this will enable them to gain confidence and independence in using the game. To begin with, a younger family member may need a buddy alongside them to talk through the steps, answer questions and act as a translator for the tricky words. As the person gains familiarity with the game start to withdraw this support little by little and encourage them to experiment.

If you want to download and try the ECD Family Activities we’ve designed, click the button below. We’ve love to hear from you if you do try these activities with your family. We feel very grateful for the feedback people have shared with us so far as we look to design a family-specific version of The Emotional Culture Deck.

Click here to Download The ECD Family Activities


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