A Social and Emotional Journey As Told By a Crisis Counselor
By Karina Vega, Guest Blogger and K-12 Counselor
I could feel my heart slowly rising up from my chest and becoming lodged in my throat. A split second of emotion, immediately paralyzing me. Tiny beads of sweat forming on my temples started to stream down my face. Inside I could feel a battle between tears and screams of anger…. slowly erupting like a volcano — Tears! This time my crisis had evolved into a sea of uncontrollable tears. Looking up at my teacher, I see he points to the door with a look that I recognized as “GET OUT, I CAN’T DEAL”. I half ran out of class into the hallway looking both ways, not knowing which way to run.
I would like to say that this was an isolated incident and that it only happened once in my journey towards preparation of my college years….but that would be a lie. I had this scenario play out in one way or another most of my senior year and probably the first five years attempting the college life.
Fast forward twenty some years and I’m sitting here looking down at my own child who has averted her third emotional crisis in the past hour, which, for a two year old, might as well be a lifetime. What do I see in her that I seemed to lack as a 16,17,30 year old? It might be worth examining, as educators, for the sake of helping our students to cope. There are a few easy identifiable differences between my daughter and I, and a few that are not as easy to pin point. Here’s what I’ve come up with, which you can hopefully integrate into your practice as educators looking to arm students with coping strategies:
The Growth Mindset
Seems easy enough, right? Wrong- we spend a huge amount of time telling kids what they can’t do. Don’t cry, Don’t put that in your mouth, Don’t run, Don’t, Don’t, Don’t…… We dampen the spark that is ignited with their curiosity. Every time we say “no, you can’t”, we unintentionally dampen that spark. “You can’t” from your mouth turns into “I can’t” in their head. Changing your vocabulary will, in turn, change the voice in your student’s head. My two year old takes on challenges head-on, saying things like “I can do it by myself” or “I need help with…”
“That’s for Girls/Boys”, “that’s not ladylike/manly”, “Girls/boys don’t do that” are again sending that hidden messages that certain things can only be done by certain people. Limitations should be non-existent. I remember being told “girls can’t do that”. Something I practice in my home and at school is an intentional practice of gender neutral phrases.
Our home lives are sometimes bombarded with soccer, gymnastics, meetings, dinners, chores…the list goes on and on. However when we think about the relationships we are modeling for our kids and students, there are a lot of time constraints. True relationships are fostered and nurtured and intentional. Is it a coincided that once the soccer tournament is over, 9 times out of 10 you don’t ever socialize with most people from the team? No, it’s not a coincidence — we model acquaintances for our children but not necessarily relationships. In the same way, it’s important to be present, supportive, and engaged with our students. They will carry those relationships with them as they move into college and career.
“You better”, “why haven’t you”, “why can’t you” and “NOW!” are all words that affect the self-worth of a child. A constant comparison to others instead of focusing on a continued improvement of self. You better get an A. Everyone else in the class gets it…The list can go on and on. Our focus should be on improving self. If a child is only reading three words a minute and his grade level is at 80 words, expecting grade level proficiency is already setting the child up for failure. Focusing more on words like, “I see you know 7 of your sight words, let’s focus on knowing ten by the end of the week.” This is a realistic expectation that can be met and can help the child feel success.
We don’t have it all figured out. When we hold children to higher expectations than we have of ourselves, we are pretending that we in a sense know what we are doing. We are all doing the best we can with the information we have however we expect things from our children that we don’t expect from ourselves or even each other. The fact that we want them to make good choices, when ours are not always the greatest or that we may get them in trouble for the very behavior they learned from us is not acceptable however it is common practice.
The world around our students has enough of a choke hold on them without adults complicating things further. Teaching kids to stop, and enjoy what they are doing will help them be more prepared for their future challenges. 4, 7, 8 breathing, and Mindfulness/ Coloring and tracing activities can help children take control.
Although I shared my ideas on my two-year old, I see more of my 16 year old self in the students I serve in my community. The emotions that paralyze them are very similar to the emotions that paralyzed me. If I had the tools then that I share with my two year old now, I might not have lived through so many years of emotional turmoil. When we teach our children and students to control their emotions instead of allowing their emotions to control them, we are inadvertently preparing them to take on the challenges that come with being college, career and citizenship ready.
Karina Vega is a K-12 Counselor at Coachella Valley Unified out of the Office of Child Welfare & Attendance. Karina is a former elementary school teacher and counselor, a mother of three, and a child advocate. Karina’s mission is to model, teach and acknowledge the behavior we would like to instill in our children.
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