Whether we work in education or not, the vast majority of children are learning in the mainstream system, and so school, and the people in it, play a pivotal role in their lives.
‘Wellbeing’ is on the agenda in some form in most schools, and what I see so many of them doing makes my heart sing!
But yesterday, a parent I’m working with told me that her distressed child had been forced – by an ‘Emotional Literacy Support Assistant’ – to write a letter of apology for her ‘bad behaviour’, and my heart sank. What on earth about this shaming approach can be described as ‘emotionally literate’?
I am forever asking myself why the significance we give Physical Education is so far removed from that which ‘Emotional Education’ is given?
It’s not about expecting teachers work therapeutically, but if PE features twice in a child’s week, why does ‘Emotional Education’ only afford many children an hour of rock painting each term or an occasional yoga session?
I know far too many teachers feel throttled by the system already, but emotional health deserves to be so much more than the tiny windows of time that can be snatched for ad-hoc activities or an annual Wellbeing Week.
We all know they’re just not enough to keep children mentally well. The huge waiting lists for CAMHS services, nationally, is testament to that.
What difference might it make if the impact that PE can have on a child’s health over their lifespan was replicated by emotional education as well?
Whatever our role, every single one of us can do something to make the care for young minds as central to the care of their bodies, from day one!
I could write an essay on this, but for today, here are three super quick and easy ways;
1) Simply labelling a feeling activates the brain’s ‘control centre’, so children need a broad vocabulary; not just ‘happy’, ‘sad’ ‘angry’ etc. Explore the breadth of emotional language with them.
With self-awareness, young people are 100% better equipped to ‘self-manage’.
2) Help children understand why those emotions are there!
This is a massive issue… It’s of little use deep-breathing your way through anxiety if you don’t understand where it comes from, and thus, can’t help it to go away, or get help from someone who can.
3) Teach children autonomy. They’re denied the opportunity to make many of the choices about their own lives, but learning that they are – and how to be -an active decision maker in their own life is a skill that will empower them to change what isn’t working for them, for life.
Extreme examples, yes, but most young people who end up in prison, involved in county lines or exploitation etc., didn’t make a ‘bad choice’, so much as they felt they didn’t have a choice to begin with.
Neurodevelopmentally, children need to become increasingly autonomous as each day goes by. When we hold that in mind, we can see that this is just one reason why Corona virus have had the impacts that it has on young minds; it’s gone completely against the grain of natural human development.
So there’s never been a more important time to learn to ‘be powerful’. Having responsibility that feels liberating, and growing into the accountability that comes with that power, has to be embedded into their daily lives.
Yes, we need to facilitate it carefully, but let’s be teaching them to say ‘no’, to debate or disagree more often, rather than mindlessly do what they’re told.
What might it look like if our littlest and youngest grew up with a strong sense of self, the skills to self-manage and the confidence that they’re in charge of their own lives?
Less people falling in the river???
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