I absolutely love February! It is filled with so many wonderful and joyful things to teach. As a teacher, I loved focusing on Love as our central theme- love for oneself, love for our families, love for our friends, love for life! We’d read fabulous books, do amazing projects, and have wonderful discussions about what love means to us.
Because we just celebrated Martin Luther King Day in January, it leads perfectly into Valentine’s Day and continually practicing ways to love others and to be inclusive to all. One of the very best ways to provide an attitude of an inclusive classroom environment is to teach social and emotional skills such as kindness and compassion.
Studies Weekly has so many activity ideas and other resources in their Well-Being publications that teachers can use to teach daily lessons that help foster skills such as self-respect, kindness, inclusion, mindfulness, and building connections.
What to Do When Students Struggle with Negative Emotions
One of the saddest things I dealt with as a teacher was when students, who had negative feelings and false ideas about who they were, struggled with such low self-esteem and, as a result, challenging behaviors. Because they had not learned how to deal with personal setbacks, pain, suffering, worry, and anger in positive or appropriate ways, they often resorted to negative self-talk and were very unkind to themselves. This created a pattern of harm to themselves and to others as they were acting out a much bigger need in unhealthy ways.
When we can model and teach children how to give themselves more grace and be more understanding of what they are feeling and know how to manage it, this can effectively help them self-soothe and stop the pattern of negative self-talk.
I found a way to help my students learn they were still so very worthy of love and acceptance, even if they made a mistake, by helping them understand that it’s normal to experience disappointments and other negative emotions in life. I explained it happens to everyone and they are not alone. We talked about how we all can feel overwhelmed at times, but knowing how to help ourselves feel better can make such a difference in our outlook on life, behavior, how we treat each other, and the entire classroom environment.
One way we did this was in a routine that happened every day after recess.
Mental Health Activity for Students
As a class, we would line up, come inside, and rest our heads down quietly on our desks for a few minutes. I would turn off our big fluorescent classroom lights and just leave on the little lamps in our reading corner and back counter area. I also turned on a little light that signals the voice level for this activity was Level 0 (or voices off), which helped keep things calm and focused. I turned on soft, relaxing music in the background. Having these signals in place and being consistent each day helped the children learn the routine quickly and come to anticipate and appreciate what comes next.
After a few minutes, I would signal it was time to start coming to the rug by beginning a Brain Gym cross-lateral movement of opposite hand to opposite knee as they walk. Once they reached their spot at our rug, we would stop and do stretches. “Reach up high and touch the sky” (students would use both arms to stretch and reach up high), “reach out wide, side to side” (students would stretch arms out to the sides and bend at the hip as they stretched right, then left), “reach down low, touch your toe.” (students would do another cross lateral opposite hand to opposite toe movement by stretching one arm up, then crossing their body like a pinwheel as they used that arm to cross over and touch the opposite foot as they bend over.)
We would repeat this to do both sides.
Next, we would do some kids’ yoga poses by Kids Yoga Stories. I love using these best because they include positive talk mantras.
As my students quickly learned this routine, I started selecting leaders each day to help me guide the class through it. They loved having leadership opportunities!
After our Calm Down Yoga, we’d end on our knees in a meditation-type pose, which led perfectly into breathing deeply exercises. I’d give students the option to close their eyes then lead them through three deep breaths. We’d start by breathing in deeply through our noses for a slow count of 3, hold for a count of 3, then slowly exhale through our lips as if pushing the air out slowly through a pretend straw. We would envision pushing all the air out past our belly buttons. When they needed another breath we would take another deep breath in and repeat the cycle.
Before ending, we would say one final and important mantra, “I am loved.” They would hug themselves and return to sitting criss-cross on their spot.
To transition, I would select a helper to quietly turn on the lights and turn off the calming music. So often, because it would be so peaceful and calm, this time often led to a chance for me to remind them that they could use these techniques anytime they felt stressed, mad, sad, lonely or when they needed a chance to clear their minds and rest. I would share examples of how I would use this in my life to help me relax and fall asleep or how it would help me focus when I needed to stop worrying about something.
Some of my students shared examples of how they used the calm down skills we learned in class in their lives – from helping them calm down when they were mad at a sibling so they wouldn’t hit or kick them to helping them feel calm and happy again when they had been worried or scared. These conversions came naturally and were vital to helping them learn they were not alone in dealing with hard things. They realized they now knew how to be mindful of negative emotions and not get lost in anger or distress. This gave them a great sense of self and feelings of confidence.
I hope these ideas inspire kindness and inclusion in your classroom. I’d love to hear about what ideas you have too.
With continued warmth and love,