Emotions are tied to our sensory and social feelings. They allow us to fully experience the various aspects and events that happen in our life. But, while these emotions are important they can be hard to navigate, especially for children. Unlike adults, children don’t have the years of experience controlling their emotions. They also aren’t yet aware of what is acceptable and what isn’t in many situations.
The majority of adults have learned coping mechanisms for their emotions. These come in the form of taking a deep breath or going for a walk. Children, on the other hand, don’t have this form of emotional regulation. Couple this with the fact that, as teachers, we don’t know what challenges they face at home means that they’re more likely to lash out or react in a disruptive way.
Luckily, there are some tools and techniques that can help students identify and regulate their own emotions. Let’s have a closer look at emotional regulation and some of the tools that can help with the process.
The Importance of Teaching Students to Manage Emotions
Emotional regulation is a person’s ability to regulate emotions in order to spend less time in a reactive state. Instead of emotionally reacting to external stimuli, for example, lashing out, we are able to act in a way that aligns with our beliefs and values. By regulating our emotions, we are able to react in a way that represents who we are as people.
But, why is this so important for students? Well, aside from reducing disruptive behavior and equipping them with the skills they need to become productive members of society, emotional regulation puts them in a better position to give their full attention to their individual and academic goals. With these skills, they have more energy to focus on tasks, even in challenging situations.
Teaching students these skills makes them more resilient, thus priming them for learning, and in turn, success. As they continue to learn about social-emotional development, they acquire the skills they need to become fully functioning adults.
Helping Children Identify Emotions
Before children can use the tools that will help them better manage their emotions, they must learn how to identify them. Joey Feith highlights the Zones of Regulation in his article as a framework for self-control and self-regulation. These zones help students recognize when they are in different emotional states. The four zones are as follows:
However, in addition to the Zones of Regulation technique, you must also use visual tools to encourage them to think about how they are feeling at any given time. You must also always be approachable. You can do this by acknowledging and validating your students’ emotions, even if you think they’re unreasonable. By avoiding judgment and validating their feelings, you will help boost their self-esteem while also lowering defiant behavior in the future.
Essentially, by validating their emotions and showing them that you’re aware of them, you’re telling them that their emotions are important. They, in turn, learn that emotions are not dangerous. Over time, they gain better emotional awareness and learn to take control of how they feel.
Tools That Can Help Students Manage Their Emotions
While teaching students how to identify emotions is important, you also have to equip them with the tools to regulate them. There is no use in teaching them how to identify them if they don’t know what to do with this information after the fact. The first and most obvious step to teaching emotional regulation is giving them a safe space to talk it out. Aside from allowing them to identify triggers, it also gives them more time to process the situation.
You may also want to consider creating a space for them to take some time out when they experience these emotions. For example, in a TED talk by Olympia Della Flora, she shared an experience about a student who would lash out, causing the school to go into lockdown mode for more than an hour at a time. Instead of disciplining this student or expelling him from school, she created a separate space with her faculty where he would be able to go to calm down.
In addition to the above, there are various other activities that can help teach self-regulation skills. For example, some schools now use yoga poses and brain breaks. They also use visual check-in charts and create calm down kits that children can turn to when they feel a strong emotion that is causing them to act out.
Implementing the right techniques and strategies to help students with emotional regulation can be challenging. With this in mind, it’s important that you leverage all the resources available to you. By working with a team of professionals with knowledge and first-hand experience educating kids on emotional regulation, you can equip them with the skills they need to succeed at school and later in life.