As an educator, I’ve gotten creative in my approaches to dealing with kids over the years.
Whether it’s handling a temper tantrum from a child or a temper tantrum from a parent, I regularly use mindfulness inside and outside of the classroom. And you know what? It (almost) always works!
The first time I started using mindfulness and breathing techniques in the classroom was when I was student teaching. Mindfulness was my thesis topic for my Master’s program, and so I implemented various strategies throughout the year. It couldn’t have been a better time to try these tools, and luckily, I am also a certified yoga teacher.
There was one specific kiddo that came to mind when I decided to write this post. We’ll call him Jason for the sake of privacy. Jason had a rough home life, and had been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiance Disorder—which means he had one heck of a temper. It wasn’t unusual for Jason to flip over desks, punch walls, push over bookshelves, and snap pencils.
I knew that I needed to do my best to help this child any way I could. One day, he had a terrible outburst and was hysterically crying and yelling. I looked to my co-teacher, and said, “I’ve got this,” then pulled Jason over to the side of the classroom as the rest of the class went out to recess.
I started by asking one question:
“What are you feeling right now?”
“I feel so angry!” he shouted back.
I asked what other feelings he was experiencing besides anger, and didn’t allow him to say the same feeling word twice. You see, feelings are like the layers of an onion—we have to keep peeling back in order to get to the root emotion.
“I just feel angry!” Jason said again.
“No, you already said that. What else?” I prompted.
“I feel anxious, I guess,” Jason added.
“Okay, we’ll talk about that in a sec. Keep going,” I said, knowing I was getting closer.
“I feel…scared,” he said, with almost a sense of relief.
Bingo! Fear—it’s one heck of an emotion. Jason and I talked for a while, and he even gave me a hug at the end. My co-teacher and myself were shocked, because he had never showed affection for anyone at school. You see, there is power in acknowledging a range of emotions that a child is feeling, but keeping the ball rolling to peel back to the root emotion.
I could see Jason’s fists loosen, his shoulders relax, and his breathing slow down. He was able to then sit down and chat. His parents were getting a divorce, and he was scared about what his home life was going to look like. He was scared that it was his fault. He was scared that he would have no one in his corner.
We went through a few breathing exercises, specifically one that I use for kids who have trouble calming down. I had him breathe in for four seconds, hold it for two seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and hold for two more seconds before continuing onto the inhale. We don’t have a lot of control over anything in our lives these days, but we do have control over the pace of our breath.
Just this past year, I had another student with severe ADHD and anxiety, and we went through the same protocol to get to the root of what he was feeling. He realized that he’d been feeling like an outcast and a failure because of his inability to focus. We came up with a game plan and had him start journaling his feelings in a secret notebook that only his parents and I could see, if we wanted. His demeanor changed, and I saw him take charge of his learning in a way that was inspiring to me and the other kids. He became a new student and was even able to stop taking his anxiety medication.
The human body and mind are fascinating, but so complex. I encourage you to peel back the layers with your child, colleague, or yourself during the next emotionally charged interaction and see what happens. My hope is that this practice will give you a solid foundation to build upon once you’ve broken everything down.
Just breathe. You’ve got this!