During our conferences, last week, we spoke a lot about the social emotional growth of your children and I have a story to share to illustrate just this. There’s this thing I hear all the time: “You’re a preschool teacher, you must have a lot of patience!” To be honest, it's not just patience, it is so many other traits all wound together, but yes, I do have patience. I have a lot of patience with the tiny humans I spend time with because they are learning and growing, so they get a lot of grace from me as they navigate the world, however haphazardly they do so.
But I had a humbling moment the other day.
I got frustrated.
Really, really frustrated.
The details regarding how this intense frustration came about are not important, just that it was a million little things that piled up throughout the morning. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I didn’t have nearly enough coffee running through my veins, and even with my early-childhood patience of steel (TM) - I’m human and I get tired and frustrated just like anyone else. It must have shown on my face because I was sitting at the table and one of my students came up to me said, “Why you have that face?” It’s not that I wasn’t trying to hide it. The fact of the matter is, my class knows me that well. They know me as well as I know them because we have spent almost every single day, eight hours a day, together for a year and a half. We have a relationship.
So I leveled with him. “I’m feeling really frustrated right now. That’s why I have that face.”
“What make you feel better?” He asked, staring up at me through his smudged glasses.
“I don’t know.” I told him. (Maybe a cruise along the coast of Greece.)
“Hmmm.” He said, looking over at our peace shelf. My students know what resources are in the healing basket. “I go get you a stuffy.”
He went and got a stuffy and I hugged it nice and tight. Shockingly, at the ripe old age of almost 30, hugging a stuffed animal didn’t quite do it for me.
"You all better?" He asked.
"No." I replied.
"The balloon?" He suggested.
The balloon is a breathing technique wherein you take several deep breaths and release them all at once. We did the exercise together and I felt my shoulders relax a little.
"You want to draw your feelings?" He asked.
I nodded my head and scribbled all over the blank page fervently. It actually helped.
"You all better?" He wondered.
I smiled. "I feel much better now. Thank you!"
This. Was. Huge. This three year old boy talked me down off my ledge and brought me back to the state of calm he knows me to be in every day. Honestly, I wasn’t behaving in any way out of the ordinary. No outwardly obvious clues that would have alerted anyone to my feelings. Yet, children are incredibly intuitive creatures. This child worked through our peace process with me using tools he had been given to manage those hard moments. He worked through it with me the same way I work through it with the children and they work through it with each other. That kind of deep, social emotional growth simply doesn’t happen when those relationships are not in place. These are the soft skills that we encourage as a school, the skills that can't be quantified by high-stakes testing, the things that make us all human.
There was value in this moment. There was value to my struggle because our students need to see that managing big emotions is something that we will do our whole lives long. There is value to seeing that being a grown up does not mean the problems go away, it just means that the problems change. When little people have big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos. It’s our job to teach them how to manage those larger-than-life feelings. But what about our big emotions? Should they see them? I propose that they should, within reason. They need to see our feelings because they need to see how we work through them in a healthy way. They need to see those feelings so that they don’t grow up thinking that when we become adults, we no longer have problems.
Should you ever find yourself wondering how to help your little one work through their big feelings, feel free to take a peek into our peace baskets.
Should you ever find yourself wondering how to help me work through my big feelings, the answer is a cruise along the coast of Greece.
Peace Basket Items
Calming bottles that correspond to the feelings in The Color Monster book.
A pin wheel to practice breathing through our feelings.
A star wand to do the “STAR” technique - Smile, Take a deep breath, And Release.
A stuffy for snuggling.
A turtle shell when we need a reminder to be brave.
A mirror to reflect upon how we're feeling.
A feelings book, which is a binder with paper and a pencil case with crayons inside and feelings faces on the front.
Peace rugs in case someone needs space.