What happens to our brains and bodies when we experience strong emotions?
Would your students be able to answer that question? It is important for our students to learn how to stop strong emotions from creating problems both for themselves and others, just as it is for adults. They must be able to recognize when strong emotions threaten to take over and learn how to calm themselves down.
When emotions are strong, it is often hard to think straight and to make good decisions. I have a hot temper. I get this. I can empathize with my students who get angry quickly. I come by it naturally. Strong feelings like this can lead some of us to react aggressively. You may struggle to make good choices when experiencing overwhelming feelings like sadness, jealousy, or anxiety. Being able to recognize and label those feelings in yourself to control your actions is very important. As important as self regulation is, some kids don’t just know how to build the skill. It must be taught.
Teach your students to recognize physical and mental signs of how they are feeling. Our bodies give us clear signals when we are in danger of losing control, hearts beat faster and our breathing gets more rapid. It can also be hard to think straight. These are some signs that show students that they need to pay attention to their body and regain control. The earlier they notice those signs, the sooner they can manage their emotions.
Pause – Use your signal
When you want to stop a movie, you press pause. We can do the same thing when we need to redirect our emotions when we are at risk of losing control. While people don’t have human remote controls like with our TVs, we can have a signal that is a reminder to pause our actions. The best thing is a word said out loud or in our heads. A shorter signal of two or three words is better than a long sentence. My personal favorites are Calm down. Stop. Chill. Keep it cool.
Think twice – Use your brain
Too often our first thoughts are emotional reactions , actions we may later regret. Therefore, we need to take the time to think twice. When we take time to figure out what is really going on we can make a plan for dealing with situations and avoid assumptions rather than just reacting. What does thinking twice look like?
- Asking yourself questions
“Is that the best idea?”
- Telling yourself what you need to do to think clearly
“Wait a minute, let me think this through really carefully.” “I just need to calm down.”
- Naming your feelings
“I’m getting really angry.”
Calm down if necessary
There are a variety of calming down techniques that students can use. It is very helpful to teach them multiple strategies so they can find one that works for them.
The last step to emotion management is taking the time to reflect. How did you do? What worked? What didn’t work? What could I do differently next time? Asking these questions are important for students to learn what works for them and how they can improve their ability to stay in control. I created a sheet to allow my students the chance to work through managing their emotions. This is geared towards 6th graders and seems to work well for them to process through and be reminded of all the steps.
One last thought to leave you with. If someone can make you really angry and upset, then that person has control and power over you. For our older students, this is a powerful piece of knowledge since they are seeking to have more control in their lives.