A new school year brings a mix of excitement and worries: “Will I do well? Will my teacher like me? Where will I sit? Will I be teased on the playground? Will I be invited to someone’s house? How will I get my homework done with my schedule of sports and activities.” Such questions will arise more for children who have been bullied, teased or excluded. These anxieties don't always diminish as the year progresses. Teachers, address them now!
We all face not being enough at times. Even popular children are anxious returning to school. What are your student’s back-to-school anxieties? Are they still experiencing them in October? Are you able to discover these anxieties and put them to rest or at least offer ways to address these feelings. It is important for teachers to address their student's feelings if they are going to provide an emotionally safe environment in which they can learn and thrive.
Children don’t know how to identify or address anxieties. It interferes with their listening and processing skills, and the ability to stay focused. If children go to school anxious, they will lose substantial incoming information, especially new information.
After decades of study, I discovered that not being emotionally intelligent hampers the ability to manage emotions and stay present. According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence or its shorthand EQ (the emotional version of IQ), is the “ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.” As a child, I didn’t have the necessary skills to calm anxieties, redirect thoughts and persist despite frustration. School was a never ending array of challenges and an inability to stay focused. The bullying for me was constant and if I had had the skills to calm and soothe perhaps it wouldn't have taken me most of my lifetime to reach my potential.
We can’t do much about other people’s behaviors but we can manage our own, creating an inner world that allows us to function, feel emotionally safe and reach our potential. Here are a few helpful hints based on the recognized key emotional intelligence skills. Practice these in your classrooms and watch the atmosphere change and students relaxing into their lessons.
1. Practice kindness. This builds inner and outer empathy, reducing anxiety. Encourage thinking and saying kind words to peers, teachers, paraprofessionals and of course their families. A kind thought to ourselves will also ease anxiety. Empathy begins with the communication of kind voices. Teach what kind voices are and have them practice with you and each other.The Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skill to empathize.
2. Choose “Happy Thoughts.” Positive self-talk is extremely important when we are fearful, anxious, and need support. We can’t always get this from teachers or parents. Practice this with your students until it becomes habitual, especially when they are feeling and acting negatively. “Can I have a happy thought, please?” is a great reminder to refocus and replace negative thoughts. Negative thinking only increases fears and anxieties. The heavier energy clouds the mind and focus becomes an issue. Positive self-talk builds confidence and is a motivater in moving forward. The Emotional Intelligence (EQ) skill to motivate oneself.
3. Self-calming and soothing is essential. We lose focus, make bad decisions and are forgetful when we feel angry, frustrated, annoyed or scared. Keep saying “I” messages until you calm down. They clear the head and let you rethink and consider options. “I am calm.” “I am good.” “I am kind.” These are just a few. Pick your own. Have your children pick their favorites and practice! It is another “happy thought.” It sounds too easy but it works! It is one of the best skills I ever learned. The Emotional Intelligence skill to self-regulate moods.
4. Persisting in the face of frustration is critical especially when being teased, failing, or not excelling at sports. If children learn to persist at these challenges now, when life altering challenges come along in later life, they will be able to carry on. The key is gratefulness. Stopping and saying to yourself what is good in your life takes you out of the victim role and allows you to move forward. When my children were younger, we would share our “gratefuls” at Friday night dinners. If your students become frustrated at school, they can stop, take a breath and think about something for which they are grateful. This is a great Friday afternoon activity or at the end of a challenging lesson. The Emotional Intelligence skill to persist in the face of frustration.
As teachers in the new tech world of less connection, it is important to remember that your students today carry more burdens than they did in past decades. Life moves faster and even in school there is so much emphasis on curriculum that the whole child is by-passed for academic achievement and better test scores. The school atmosphere is riddled with tension. Take at least 5 minutes out of every lesson to touch the heart and soul of these most precious beings who will be our next generation of adults.
Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, who lived from 384-322 BC stated, “Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all”.
For more information on Emotional Intelligence go to www.EQforChildren.com