It’s no secret that adolescence can be a rollercoaster of emotions, there’s stress and anxiety, sadness and depression, joy and happiness.
During adolescence, the teenage brain undergoes a significant period of development and change. During this time teens may experience a whirlwind of emotions, ranging from intense highs to lows, and may struggle with managing these emotions effectively. They are also at greater risk of developing a mental illness, with data suggesting it could be more than 1 in 4 teens experiencing a mental illness in any given year. There have been so many things impacting the mental health of teens, lockdowns, climate anxiety, war, fear about financial security, and cost of living pressures. These challenges can significantly impact their academic performance, behaviour, and overall wellbeing.
As a teacher, you may encounter students who are struggling with these issues, and having the skills to effectively address their emotions can make a difference in their lives.
Teachers play a crucial role in the lives of students. Not only are teachers responsible for students’ academic growth, they also have the opportunity to support their emotional wellbeing. Teachers are in such a unique position to not only support learning, to also support their student’s emotional growth and wellbeing, teaching them skills they can use in their adult life. But where to start? This task can seem insurmountable.
Yes, there are courses you can do, and training you can attend, which I recommend you do, but they take time. There are also some really powerful yet simple strategies you can start using now.
Often, when someone comes to us in distress or there’s a problem, the first thing we try to do is fix it. I have worked with so many big-hearted people who feel the need to fix problems and can feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of them. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to fix their problems. This isn’t always helpful. In these moments, one of the most helpful things you can do is show empathy and utilise the concept of emotion coaching.
Emotion coaching is a concept created by John Gottman, a renowned psychologist and relationship expert. Emotion coaching involves helping students understand and manage their emotions in a healthy way, which can foster connection, empathy, and problem-solving skills.
Implementing emotion coaching in your classroom can have numerous benefits for both you and your students. By incorporating emotion coaching into your approach, you can help students build emotional intelligence, resilience, and healthy coping skills, which can have lasting positive effects on their mental health and wellbeing. One of the key benefits is that by being able to understand emotions we see improvements in emotional regulation. Teens who are skilled in emotional regulation are less likely to engage in impulsive behaviours or react negatively to stressors and are more likely to handle challenging situations in a constructive manner.
Ok so how do you do it?
Emotion coaching has 5 steps
1. Be aware of the emotions: The first step in emotion coaching is being aware of the emotions your students are experiencing. Pay attention to their behaviours, body language, and verbal cues to identify when they might be struggling with their emotions.
2. Recognise emotion as an opportunity for connecting: Rather than dismissing, telling them off or ignoring their emotions, view these expressions as an opportunity to connect with your students. Show them that you care and are willing to listen without judgment or criticism.
3. Help them to label their emotions: Many students may not have the vocabulary to express their emotions accurately. Help them label their emotions, you can try guessing by saying ‘’you look upset’’ ‘’I wonder if you’re feeling anxious right now” or by asking open-ended questions such as “How are you feeling right now?” or “What’s going on for you?”. If they don’t know that’s okay too.
4. Communicate empathy and understanding: Empathy is a powerful tool in emotion coaching. If you just show empathy, this alone can be really helpful. Show your students that you understand and validate their emotions. Use phrases like “It sounds like you’re feeling…” or “I can imagine that must be tough for you.” (Don’t start with ‘’at least’’’ or ‘’when I …”)
5. Set limits, boundaries and problem solve: While it’s important to acknowledge and validate their emotions, it’s also crucial to set limits and support your students towards problem-solving. Before offering advice or suggestions, ask permission, ‘’I have a few ideas of things we could try, would it be helpful if I shared them with you?’ Help them come up with strategies to manage their emotions in a healthy way, such as taking a break, talking to a friend, or seeking additional support from a counsellor or trusted adult
As an educator, you have a unique relationship with your students, and they often turn to you for guidance and support. By incorporating emotion coaching into your teaching approach, you can create a safe and supportive environment for your students to express their emotions, develop emotional intelligence, and learn healthy coping skills. You don’t need to be a mental health professional to use emotion coaching, it’s a simple and very effective way of communicating with teens.