One-Minute Intervention: Emotion-Focused Support for the Classroom and High-Stress Parenting
I recently gave a talk on emotional coaching, and had a parent/educator ask me for some quick tips for managing kids’ emotions when they pop up at inconvenient times. Maybe you’re trying to dish out dinner to hungry kids and get out the door to soccer on time and your son demands your attention, or you see two kids having an argument in the hallway but you are scheduled to start teaching in one minute, or maybe your student has a meltdown during her math exam– there isn’t always a lot of time for a full emotional coaching session, so what can you do? (As an aside, I am so grateful to all the educators out there who have dedicated their careers to supporting our kids – not only in their education, but in loving them through their tough moments as well)
Here’s a shorter, yet still effective way to offer emotional support and validation to help the individual shift gears and get back on track.
Being emotionally regulated is an essential component of being able to learn. To ignore a student’s big emotion and push through on the lesson plan never works. I know that emotional needs take up a lot of classroom time these days, and they can put added stress on teachers and take the student away from learning. But, it’s important to remember that emotions cannot be avoided; they are simply part of being human. However, we are often not trained in how to handle them. I would suggest that you lean into the emotion that is in front of you, even briefly, so that your student feels validated and supported. You can communicate that you see and understand him or her within one minute, and enable a shift back to the task at hand. Sound too good to be true? Well let me explain further…
In Emotion-Focused Family Therapy, we talk about emotions using the metaphor of an elevator. Reason is on the bottom floor where logic, problem-solving, and deep learning can take place. The problem arises when a big feeling causes our emotional elevator to get stuck on the top floor. In this moment, we cannot access the logical brain – we might panic, draw a blank, and freeze. When someone is losing their lid and their amygdala has sent their elevator to the top floor, their thoughts and behaviors can seem totally illogical – and they are. For example, they might say “I got 90% on my exam and I am a total failure,” or “No one likes me at school and I am never going back.” In a logical, integrated brain, these statements would seem ridiculous; they simply aren’t true. But in a panicked, unregulated brain that can’t access its logical bottom floor, these kinds of thinking patterns are hard to dismiss. Ever tried to reason someone out of their beliefs when their emotional elevator is at the top floor? Good luck!
The tool of Emotion-Focused Support helps to de-escalate your student and bring the elevator of emotion back down to the ground floor where reason resides. And I know some teachers/parents are hesitant to lean into the emotion for fear that the emotion will spill all over the place and take up too much time, but in reality, it’s actually the opposite.
This emotional support intervention can be administered in less than one minute and can quickly shift a dis-regulated young person back into a healthy space, where they are able to learn and engage in collaborative problem-solving. In the end, it actually makes teachers’ and parents’ jobs easier and more satisfying.
Formula for the classroom:
“I can understand why you might feel __________because ______, _______ and ____________.”
Read over the following examples and try them out next time you come up against a big emotion and need to bring the elevator back down to the bottom floor. And please remember kids will sniff you out as a fraud if you are simply trying to trick them with this new formula. You need to be authentic, communicating a tone that says, “I understand; this makes sense to me” so the student feels like you get where they are coming from. Feeling heard and understood is what we all want at our core, especially when we are feeling something big.
Ex.1: “I got 90% on my exam and I am a total failure”
Response: “I can understand why you might FEEL SAD because YOU STUDIED HARD ON THIS UNIT, YOU HAVE SUCH HIGH STANDARDS FOR YOURSELF and TO YOU A 90% ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH.”
Ex. 2 “No one likes me at school and I am never going back.”
Response: “I can understand why you might FEEL ALONE because YOU AND YOUR FRIENDS HAVE HAD A PRETTY BUMPY FEW DAYS, and YOU’RE A FUN KID WHO LIKES PLAYING WITH FRIENDS and YOU DON’T WANT TO BE WORRIED ABOUT PLAYING ALONE AT RECESS.”
Let me know how this new skill works for you. It’s normal to feel like a robot when you first start out, but with practice, it will become a natural part of how you take care of the emotions in front of you. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org