• Aaron Daffern

Take CHARGE Day 10: Helping children through the emotional state

Updated: Jan 21, 2020

(To read Day 9, click here. To listen to this post as a podcast, click here.)

Take CHARGE of the Moment







In Day 6 and Day 7, we looked at the skill of empathy that allows us to improve our attunement. Day 9 (yesterday) and Day 10 (today) focus on the skill of adaptability. Whether we give students firm directives or two positive choices, we must remain flexible to meet the moment as it is. Every child and every situation requires something different, so the key to meeting their needs is a wide assortment of tools and the skill to wield them as needed.

Remember that students in the emotional state have connection as their core need. They are trying to answer the question, "Am I loved?" Connection, not punishment, is what students seek in this brain state. One key that is woven throughout these suggestions is that there is no script. Teachers should never try to move students through a set of predetermined behavioral steps because they'll fight them all the way.

Be consistent but not rigid. Consistency means working from a reliable and coherent philosophy so that students know what teachers expect of them and what they should expect from teachers. Rigidity means maintaining an unswerving devotion to rules that teachers set up, sometimes without having even thought them through, or without changing them as the students develop.

Using words to quiet emotions

In some situations students are emotionally upset, scared, or sad but are not acting out in harmful ways. With the goal of moving students up the ladder toward the executive state, or upstairs brain, one strategy to be familiar with is called name it to tame it. Simply by naming the emotion, a student feels her levels of fear and anger decrease. "Lauren, you look like you're feeling frustrated." Part of the upstairs brain takes charge with the labeling and processes the emotion. This allows the thinking, analytical part of the brain to take over and soothe the irritated, lower parts rather than letting the reactive, emotional downstairs brain dominate and dictate the person's feelings and responses.

If it's a fairly simple emotion brought on by a common occurrence, naming it begins the process of integrating the different parts of the brain. Sometimes, however, a much larger event has occurred, typically at home, that has caused a more powerful state of unrest. One of the best ways to promote integration is to help the child retell the story of the frightening or painful experience. The right side of the brain processes the emotions and autobiographical memories, but the left side is what makes sense of these feelings and recollections.

Storytelling allows children to understand themselves and their world by using both the left and right hemispheres together. Merely assigning a name or label to what is being felt literally calms down the activity of the emotional circuitry in the right hemisphere. When children can give words to their frightening and painful experiences, those experiences often become much less frightening and painful. One word of caution, however. Teachers are trusted role models but not psychotherapists. If the situation seems too personal or emotionally complex, please bring in the school counselor or administration for assistance.

Two positive choices

Sometimes the state of upset is causing some poor behaviors. If students are acting out their feelings in harmful or potentially harmful ways, naming the emotion might not be enough. When action needs to be taken quickly, teachers can give students two positive choices. Doing this helps children upshift from an emotional state to an executive state. Providing two choices offers some degree of power while asking children to activate their prefrontal lobes for decision-making and focused attention.

When teachers try to make students do things, they prime themselves to rely on force. Their strong-arm tactics teach children it's legitimate to use coercion to influence others. Attempting to use force to make children behave strips children of their willpower and self-worth. Offering choice fosters general well-being, increases pro-social behavior and responsibility, and improves academic achievement. It raises teacher morale and enhances all classroom relationships. Finally, it advances self-regulation and intrinsic motivation.

Both choices need to be viabl