Today, I wanted to share the process I follow with my students to work on managing their big feelings and emotions. ❤️
My biggest tip is to focus on preparing your students for big feelings. Our students need to learn how to regulate through big feelings and they learn to do that through our support, modeling, and guidance through these tricky and often overwhelming situations.
Here’s the steps and strategies I use when supporting students through big feelings:
1 – Support
When our students’ bodies experience a big feeling, they need to know that we aren’t scared or upset with them. Modeling that big feelings don’t scare us is important for our students to learn to not be afraid of their own big feelings.
We are there to help and support them through their big feelings. This is a huge part of co-regulating (with the goal of building self-regulation skills). Validate how your students are feeling and focus on maintaining your connection with them through the tricky situation.
Say: “How can I help?”, “I’m here for you/with you”, “It’s okay that you feel upset”, “I feel you. I’ve been there. I understand.”
2 – Build Awareness
After we’ve provided support and validated our students feelings, we should work on building their awareness around their feelings and the situation.
Feelings, especially sudden, new, or big feelings, can be stressful and confusing. Our students may struggle to even notice a feeling until it’s completely overwhelming them. This is why it is important to discuss emotions and sensations and feelings at times when our students are calm, not in distressing and emotionally charged situations. Everyone learns best when they are already calm and regulated.
Build awareness around the sensations your student can feel in their body. For example, are their hands sweaty? Do they have a lot of energy in their body? Are their muscles tight? Is their heart beating fast? Are they hot?
For older students, I’ve found it’s really helpful to actually have students close their eyes and imagine their body feeling this way. Imagine that they are starting to feel hot, their heart is pounding, their vision is cloudy, their head hurts, etc… This can help make it more concrete and more likely they will recognize it in the future.
Say: “I wonder….”, “Something I’m noticing is….”, “What are your thoughts about….”, “When ___ happened, how did your body feel? What were you thinking?”
3 – Make a Plan
Once your student has a basic understanding of the sensations in their bodies when they are feeling a big emotion, we work together to make a plan for when this happens. We decide what to do if their body feels this way or when a certain situation arises.
In my summer therapy groups this past summer, many of the students in my group had specific plans for what to do when their face started to feel hot, or when they felt like running out of the room, or when they felt like punching a peer.
All of those scenarios more or less require the same process for change. ➡️ Our students need to recognize in the moment that they are feeling a certain way, think of a tool they can use to cope, and follow the steps to use the tool.
For example, one of my students had this plan:
“When I notice that I feel mad or like punching someone, do a body scan. My hands might feel tight. My arms might feel tight. My heart might be racing really fast. I might feel hot. When this happens, I should squeeze all of the muscles in my body, take a deep breath in, and let all of the air out slowly. Then, I can ask for a break out of the room to cool down.”
Say: “What will you do if your body feels this way?”, “What’s our plan?”, “What might help?”
4 – Follow & Update the Plan
Once we have a plan in place, the last step is checking in a couple more times to make sure the plan is working! Most of the time, we’ll need to make a few adjustments to make sure it is as helpful as possible.
For example, in the example I used above about avoiding a physical confrontation when frustrated, my student realized he had trouble noticing his body was starting to feeling this way. To improve our plan, we decided I could ask him, “What is going on for you right now?” if I noticed he might need to take a deep breath or take a break. That cued him to follow his plan above. This adjustment to the plan made a big difference!
Say: “How did you stay calm that time?”, “What helped/didn’t help?”, “Here’s my thoughts. I think _____ might help next time. What do you think?”, “I noticed… How can we solve that problem?”
One resource that has been a game changer in this process is my Emotional Awareness Tools resource. ⬇️
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Emotional Awareness Activities
Help your students understand their emotions, feelings, and body sensations with helpful visuals and teaching tools!More Info
Once your students learn the foundations of emotional awareness including how their body feels when they experience different emotions, the more prepared they will be to make and follow plans and strategies for self-regulation in the moment!
Hope these ideas are helpful for your and your learners!