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Channel-Talk for The Learning Classroom

From: Debbie Huberman (debh@mindspring.com)
Date: Tue Nov 04 2003 - 20:10:57 EST

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     Debbie Cogan
    Session 5 - Feelings Count: Emotions and Learning
     Session Overview - response

     The author talks about how emotions can be managed and directed. I would prefer the terms processed, transformed and redirected. I believe that emotions, while complex in their origin, are simple in their reality. They are bundles of energy that move through us with varying degrees of force. Their impact on us depends upon our ability to process, transform and redirect this energy. As children, many of us experienced emotional trauma. Some children are exposed to verbal or physical abuse, abandonment, loss, confusion, mixed messages, etc. In order to make sense out of these experiences, we form beliefs about ourselves. My father left my life when I was nine so I constructed a belief that I deserved to be abandoned. I could have just as easily decided to believe that my father had a lot of problems and he didn't know how to deal with having a child at that time. But I chose to take on a negative belief about myself. Then the brain has to continuously prove that this belief is correct in order to justify its existence so it goes out into the world and collects evidence to support it. We attract people into our lives that will assist us in repeating these experiences over and over again. Then we can come to the same conclusion about ourselves over and over again. This is why women choose abusive partners continuously. They were probably abused children and they feel a familiarity with being abused as adults.


    So the important thing when working with children is to help them to gather different evidence that will support a new belief about themselves. Often the child must first process the feelings surrounding the original trauma before they can create some inner space inside themselves where the new belief can live. Children who have experienced trauma are often filled to the brim with pain, fear, anger, shame, and embarrassment. While it is fine to say that children must learn to manage their emotions, I feel it is more accurate and sensitive to say that they must learn how to process their feelings. Often when I read words like "manage" and "direct" in relation to feelings it feels as though we should all just learn to control ourselves. I wish that feelings could be considered normal and healthy in the classroom. I realize that children screaming and throwing tantrums would be too extreme to allow, a child who begins to cry or one who feels afraid or angry could be encouraged to talk about their feelings within the group rather than the usual response which is to take them out of the room. Removing children from the classroom who are experiencing strong feelings, only adds shame to whatever else they feel.

     Teachers should work to create an environment where all children in a classroom feel safe enough to express their feelings without fear of ridicule. In an environment of trust, where children feel heard on an emotional level, feelings can be brought up, listened to, transformed and redirected. Transformed simply means allowing a child to fully express the feeling by helping them to express it in a healthy manner; crying until the sadness subsides naturally, feeling their fear and being able to talk about it openly, expressing their anger without hurting anyone. Anger can be expressed by having a corner of the room where a child can take a baseball bat or a tennis racket and strike at pillows repeatedly until the anger subsides. Or they can rip up old phone books to get the anger out of their bodies. Once the original feeling is expressed, the child will naturally calm down and now the feeling has been transformed into a feeling of peace, acceptance, and/or joy. The word "managing" is one I would not use because it feels controlling as though teachers must help children keep a lid on their feelings at all costs. The word "processing" feels like a more open word that encourages emotional expression. I also do not believe that there are positive and negative feelings. I simply feel that someone can have too much anger or sadness or fear. These feelings are normal and they are part of life. Teachers should teach an acceptance of all feelings without judgment that some are good and some are bad. For a child already struggling with their right to feel their own sadness, fear or anger, telling them that anger is a negative feeling will not make the feeling go away. They will now just feel that they are a bad person because they feel angry, sad or fearful.

     Helping children to feel comfortable talking about their feelings is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give. Whether it is right or wrong, teachers are being put in the role of being parents, social workers, and psychologists. Teachers need to work on developing their own intimacy skills so they can talk about feelings in a supportive manner. When teachers have unhealed emotional wounds, this will negatively impact their student's ability to trust. Teachers need to model emotional health for their children. Children pick up on what you don't say. They can sense fear, anger, and sadness. So teachers must take their own emotional health very seriously and not just say the right things. Children know when they can really trust someone and when a teacher is really capable of giving them emotional support.

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