In this blog, we will begin to explore emotions – the often hidden driving force behind our choices. Students will be able to apply their understanding of assumptions and how to edit them to manage their emotions rather than being managed by them.
We will focus first on helping students become aware of their emotions. This will support the SEL competency of self-awareness and the fulfillment of the first objective, to “Demonstrate an awareness of personal emotions”.
Students can be helped to understand that feelings are natural and valid. They can learn that although we are always feeling something, we are not always aware that we are indeed experiencing an emotion. It is often easier to identify our emotions by the affects they have on our bodies and voices. We can help students look for clues in their physical responses to become aware of the emotion they are experiencing.
You can start by explaining that emotions can affect our posture, the tension in our bodies, and the looks on our faces. You can have students name different emotions, and starting from their faces and moving down to their feet, encourage them to show that emotion throughout their bodies.
You can discuss and have students experience the subtle effects that emotions can have on our bodies. You can ask them to express a message using their bodies alone, such as “leave me alone” or “are you serious”. You can then discuss the ways we express those messages, such as by turning away, crossing our arms etc. They can then be encouraged to pay attention to their bodies and the messages they are giving to better understand how they might be feeling.
You can also have students understand that emotions sometimes lead to our breathing a little faster, butterflies in our stomachs or headaches. They can then become aware of these physical affects when they occur and explore the feeling that might have led to them.
Emotions affect our voices as well, influencing volume, pitch, speed, and inflection. You can ask students to say the phrase “Who, me?” in two different contexts. They can say it first as if they have won the lottery, and then as if they have been called on in class and have no idea what the answer is. You can help students recognize that the first was fast, high and loud, while the second was slow, low, and quiet. They can then be encouraged to pay attention to how they are sounding to find clues to their emotional states.
Once they become aware of their feelings, students can begin to explore the choices they have with regard to those feelings, including how to experience, express, and handle those feelings. This correlates with the second area of competency in the SEL standards – self-management. This will fulfill the first objective of this competency, which is to “Regulate emotions and behaviors by using thinking strategies that are consistent with brain development.”
Students can be helped to understand that feelings are strong, and often, without our awareness, propel us to make choices to decrease more difficult feelings and increase more positive ones. These choices do not necessarily lead to our desired outcomes, nor are they always in our best interests. An example of this is attempting to feel less sad or angry by stuffing the feeling down.
This is partly based on the assumption that one must not let one’s feelings out or it would be awful. Students can be helped to edit the illogic in that assumption and understand that if we let our feelings out, it might be just fine and lead to feeling better.
This understanding can lead to action if students are given opportunities throughout the day to acknowledge and express their emotions appropriately. Options can include a regular check in time at the beginning of the day. Another option is an anonymous feelings box, where students can write about their feelings without identifying themselves. The feelings and issues that arise can be discussed as a class during regular class meetings.
You can utilize expressive arts tools both to support students’ emotional expression in class as well as offering them tools that they can use to do so on their own. Drawing; journaling; reading and enacting stories, and listening to and writing music are some examples of these tools.
You can also help students handle more difficult and pervasive emotions by having them brainstorm and write down a list of adults they could go to for help. This may include parents, other relatives, teachers, or guidance counselors. This coincides with the third SEL objective of the self-awareness competency, which is to “Demonstrate awareness of and willingness to seek help for self or others”.
In order to further reinforce emotional awareness and management, the topic of emotions can be brought into other subjects. Students can examine characters’ emotions in stories and plays and how they affected the plots. The emotions of historical figures can be explored along with the affects they may have had on the world. Additionally, the physiological affects of both our emotions and of not expressing those emotions can be discussed from a scientific perspective.