“If you ain’t got nothin’ good to say, don’t say anything at all,” is one of the oldest rules in the book on how to be a kind and compassionate person. At a young age, children are taught to keep their negative thoughts and emotions bottled up inside. “Don’t say mean things.” “Don’t say something that might hurt someone else’s feelings.” Due to this culture of political correctness, children grow up unaware of how to deal with negative emotions, as they have kept them bottled up inside for so long. Schools around the globe teach children to share only positive, happy thoughts with one another, while repressing any negative thoughts or feelings. This, as we know now due to the numerous studies and reports being done on children around the globe, leads to an increase in the suicide rate, depression, homicide rate, and abuse. If children are never taught how to navigate the rolling waves of emotions that sweep over them on a regular basis, they will struggle transforming into fully-functioning adults. We need to provide children outlets for ALL of their emotions while teaching them how to manage both positive and negative feelings. It’s perfectly normal to feel sad, mad, or upset, and we need children around the world to know that. It’s our duty as adults to help teach children how to manage and handle all types of emotions. What do you do if a peer in your class makes you angry? What should you say if you are mad at someone? What’s the right way to deal with the flood of emotions children feel on a daily basis?
As a teacher, I’ve made it a goal and mission of mine to help my students learn to be comfortable feeling and expressing, appropriately, all of the emotions they experience. I want my students to learn how to tell someone that what they are doing is making them very angry. I help my students learn to address all of their emotions. At the start of a new school year, this is messy and can be and feel very chaotic as the students are learning how to express themselves. For many of them, this is their first go-round of this type of activity, as they were unable to share their true feelings at their past schools. I often find myself stopping class to help teach the boys how to deal with how they are feeling. “It seems like you are really upset right now. That must be very frustrating for you. How are you feeling?” Their response to this question allows me to do some teaching in the moment. “Instead of cursing at your classmate when you are upset with him because he accidentally pushed you, you should tell him how you are feeling. ‘I feel very angry right now because you pushed me.'” These short, impromptu mini-lessons allow me the opportunity to help students learn how to interact with their peers in meaningful ways as they learn how to appropriately deal with positive and negative emotions. I don’t ever want my students to feel like they need to bottle up their feelings or keep them hidden inside. It’s completely normal to feel upset or mad, and I want them to learn how to deal with those types of feelings as they grow and develop throughout the year.
As most students that I work with come from schools, countries, and places that often prevent them from expressing negative emotions or feelings, this process takes a while to get through as a whole class. However, occasionally, I am able to work with a student who comes from a place, environment, or family that have embraced feelings and emotions. These students are fun to work with because they wear their feelings on their sleeve and aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. “I hate this class.” “You smell bad.” “This is stupid.” These students have learned how to share their feelings already. My duty is to help these students learn how to share their feelings and emotions in appropriate ways. “Instead of saying this is stupid, is there a more compassionate way you could express your frustration and anger right now?” These students learn how to control the words they use when sharing their feelings so that they will be heard. If a student calls someone else stupid, everything else that comes after the word stupid will not be heard, as it’s a trigger word. Instead, I help my students learn to express their actual feelings and emotions. “I feel angry right now because you are not understanding what I am saying even though I am using words that I think should help you understand me.” This way, that other student is able to hear what that one student is saying and begin to change his behavior so suit the situation.
What I truly enjoy about these students who wear their emotions on their sleeves is their brutal honesty. “I hate that class because it is stupid. I don’t understand why we just tell stories all period. That isn’t teaching me anything.” If I ever want honest feedback with no filters, I will ask the one emotionally open student in my class questions. These students also struggle to contain their negative thoughts and feelings, which can make for some interesting situations. I have a student from Europe in my class this year and when we started our unit on Africa, he asked, “My mom is paying thousands of dollars to send me here to learn about America. Why are we learning about Africa? That makes no sense to me.” At first, I was taken aback by this comment, but addressed his question in a meaningful manner. As we got into the unit, he was one of the hardest workers in the class during the project phase because he enjoyed his topic so much. As we debriefed the unit, he had clearly learned much. “I loved this unit and it taught me a lot about a part of the world I didn’t know much about. It changed my perspective a lot. I loved the project too. That was so much fun dressing up in costume.” It was at this moment that I realized, that this student, like many with whom I have worked with in the past, just need to be allowed to share their thoughts and feelings in order to process the influx of new information. By allowing students like this one to share his true feelings, negative or otherwise, he is able to then open his mind to new information.
Case and point, today’s study skills class. The students needed to reflect, in writing, on their academic goals and make a plan for what they will do to keep working towards the goals they have set for themselves. This one honest student asked, “Why do we have to do this? It is stupid. I already made my goals. Why do I need to write about how it’s going?” I listened as he spoke and provided him with a brief response on the power of self-awareness and ownership. I then walked away and allowed him to get to work. Walking by him a few minutes later, he was hard at work, focused on reflecting on his progress in working towards his goals. He even asked me for feedback when he finished. Amazing. So, even though this student seems angry and confused at first, he just needs the time and opportunity to share his feelings aloud in order to process what he needs to do. I’m so glad that I came to this realization, because I had started thinking that he was just a negative individual. Now I see that he just has a different way of working and solving problems. Awesome sauce. Sometimes, you just gotta’ let ’em complain a little.