As adults, it’s probably fair to say that we don’t realise how naturally we regulate our emotions. We have learned over many years, to adjust things that are within our control so that we remain in a calm, controlled emotional state. We may be feeling very different emotions on the inside, but we can usually mask these feelings to some extent. Young children on the other hand… Well, as any parent knows, emotions are usually on full display for those within their world.
This should come as no surprise, though. Managing our emotions takes a lot of practice! Think about how many years it took you to overcome the urge to run and hide when you were required to give a speech or perform something in front of a large group of people. Or how hard it can be to hold back the anger that boils up inside when you’re being tail gated by some impatient driver behind you. We become more mature when we learn to master these emotional outbursts. However, the mastery doesn’t happen by deliberately avoiding these scenarios. It comes when we learn how to face them.
No matter how safe, how well-supervised or how healthy the culture is within a school, there is no perfect school environment out there that can protect your child from every possible upsetting scenario. That would be an impossible task for any school and quite unhelpful for the children enrolled. Why? Here’s three reasons:
1. Facing big feelings builds self-awareness. When students are faced with conflict (like getting upset over a heated game of handball, for example), they begin to learn more about themselves in the process. They start to realise what their limits are and hopefully what triggers them. This will usually require the input of trustworthy friends or teachers, but done well, students can learn to recognise their weak areas and become more aware of when these feelings are starting to cloud their judgement. This is the first step towards self-regulation. Which leads into reason 2.
2. Facing big feelings develops self-regulation. Only through repeated exposure to emotionally challenging experiences do we learn how to regulate ourselves and maintain our composure. Think about the emotions we see in the professional sporting arena. These athletes have had years of their life dedicated to the game and are deeply invested in achieving success. However, it’s only natural that they face some failure along the way. This exposure to failure usually develops character in those who make it to the big leagues. They have learnt that losing is a necessary part of the process and managing one’s emotions in that moment is just as important as celebrating the big wins.
3. Facing big feelings provides opportunity for compassion. Young children often outshine adults when it comes to showing compassion toward their peers. I have witnessed many times the way children in the playground will immediately comfort or console a friend who is upset or angry. They can demonstrate such authentic care and concern, but these instincts don’t always come naturally. Seeing another student in a distressed state can cause confusion for those less confident in knowing how to provide support. It may not come naturally, but a positive school environment (and good teachers!) can help to foster an understanding of another’s emotions and how to respond with compassion, not cruelty.
Thankfully, as a society we have come a long way from “children should be seen and not heard” and are building a healthier understanding of how to respond to children’s behaviour. The teachers in Junior School understand this better than most as we often see a wide range of ‘big feelings’ within this age group. Coaching children through these moments is all part of the job but is never taken lightly by our staff. Children’s feelings matter. They need to be heard, they need to be understood and they need to be nurtured. Doing this well takes time but it is so worth it in the long run. As we raise the next generation, we want them to be as well-equipped as they can be to handle whatever life may throw at them. This kind of training goes far beyond the academic arena. We are equipping them for life. And learning how to face big feelings well is an essential part of that journey.
Mr John Lucas
Junior School Discipline and Welfare Coordinator