I always knew I loved Frozen's, “Let it go” for a reason—not only because it’s so much fun to sing and dance to with my sisters and 18-month old niece, but after FINALLY watching it from start to finish (I know...5 years later), it got me thinking about the importance of being able to manage emotions.
Why is it important to manage your emotions?
I have never been great at controlling my emotions. Any type of change in my life would trigger episodes of sleepwalking, nightmares, or panic attacks. Anytime I was sad, mad, anxious, or worried, I would do 1 of 4 things:
“Conceal don’t feel” [Internal] aka self-soothe by twirling my hair in knots and then ripping them out.
“Conceal don’t feel” [External] aka not speak, bottle up my feelings with a “glove” & explode later on the ones I love most.
“Let it go” [Internal] aka cry for hours until my eyelids are swollen.
"Let it go" [External] aka become super impulsive and say hurtful words (that I don't mean) to the ones I love the most.
What do all of these things have in common?
I was unable to self-regulate and verbalize my feelings in an appropriate way. According to Child Mind Institute, self-regulation is “the ability to manage your emotions and behavior…calm yourself down when you get upset…adjust to a change in expectations and to handle frustration without an outburst.” My ability to manage my emotions went from one extreme to the other. Either I bottled them up “don’t let them see, don’t let them know,” or I would explode “well now they know, let it go, let it go!” I had to learn a strategy when managing those tough emotions!
Why should we teach others how to control their emotions?
According to Child Mind Institute,“children with ADHD or anxiety may find it particularly challenging to manage their emotions, and need more help to develop emotional regulation skills.” As a Learning and Behavior Specialist of 13 years, I realized how vital it is to teach children how to develop these emotional skills.
Let’s look at Elsa. She ran away and experimented with her emotions, without the fear of hurting her loved ones. “It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small. But the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all.” Elsa was becoming more self-aware by recognizing her emotions, but she still turned her entire Kingdom of Arendelle to ice. She wasn’t yet able to manage her behavior in order to make responsible decisions and form positive relationships. Good thing she had Anna to help her!
How should we teach others how to control their emotions?
At Ogden Elementary, we are beginning to use The Zones of Regulation as an intervention to teach self-awareness, regulation and reflection by taking a break. I absolutely love this program. Students are able to identify their feelings and ‘zone’ (ex. blue=sad/bored/lonely, green=happy/calm/focused, yellow=anxious/worried/frustrated/overwhelmed, red=angry/scared/mean) then manage their emotions using their tool kit. Isn't it quite ironic how Anna even sang about feeling in a 'zone'? “I don't know if I'm elated or gassy, but I'm somewhere in that zone!”
Where can we manage our emotions?
We need to take a break! I mean seriously, how many of you want to have someone (who you're most likely mad at) in your face or have a conversation about your behavior when you’re angry? Or when you’re crying your eyes out? How many of you like being near your kids when you are in that ‘red’ zone?
I am very aware when I’m in my ‘red zone.' I have that same fight or flight response as Elsa. If I do not take a break to be alone and calm down, then I will end up yelling (or crying) and getting nowhere. When I take a break, then I’m able to use my tools to help manage my emotions.
Although there are times when I prefer a warm hug, like Olaf, my go-to ‘red zone’ tool is writing in my journal and listening to music. I write down (or pretend like I’m sending an angry text or email) everything I’m feeling and want to say. Then I stop, do some mindful breathing, and reflect. I think, “how can I say what I’m feeling in a calm way?” Then I write that down and I practice saying it. Finally, when I’m calm and my brain is regulated and ready, I’m able to re-enter the situation, talk and problem solve. Click here for more of my sensory tools.
My “conceal don’t feel” and “let it go” problems are resolved because I am able to safely exit an emotional situation in order to breath, choose a tool to cope and let my feelings go in a healthy way without hurting anyone. Piece of cake, right? Wrong! It took me a LONG time to learn this & I’m still a work in progress!
What are our next steps in teaching self-regulation?
Everyone learns and regulates differently and requires different tools to feel calm, focused and ready to function. Everyone needs a safe space to take a break. If we are able to create this space, then we can help kids to understand their feelings, regulate and reflect, with a toolkit to replace unwanted behaviors! Ultimately, we can teach our kids to take a break, ‘chill out’ and handle those emotions because...the cold never bothered me anyway! ⛄🤣
I would love to hear from you! How do you teach #socialemotionallearning to your kids at school or home?
Images & Song Lyrics from Disney's Frozen