. . . And we wonder why our kids cannot self-regulate their emotions?
We have been extremely lucky to work so closely with the Hartland School District with their SEL program. It has given us a rare and valuable opportunity to learn from our wonderful school teachers and get a real insight into their world of teaching our children.
Coming into the schools as an “outsider” has been eye opening and maybe even a little bit of an advantage. I can truly appreciate the hard work our teachers, para professionals, social workers, school psychologists and intervention specialists do on a daily basic. They are indeed grossly underpaid. But, it also gives us a very different and new perspective to look at what’s going on with our children today.
I wanted to share something with you that I have been thinking about a lot recently - Are we, well-intended and unknowingly, suppressing and/or over controlling our children emotionally?
Our teachers have an uphill battle. They need to teach children at a younger and younger age, more and more material (standardized curriculum and testing). To do so they have to really stay on top of classroom management. I will be blunt. Typically, because of a few students who have self-control challenges, they are forced to suppress all the student’s energy and emotions to keep those few from spooling up and spinning out of control. Both for their sanity and sometimes even the safety of their students they have to keep the energy low. It makes sense.
What happens when children’s emotions and energy is controlled and kept in check at a low level by the adults around them? When they do not get to exercise and feel the full dynamic range of energy and emotions? Then even worse, when they do their emotions are quickly regulated externally by the adults around them? . . . And we wonder why our kids cannot self-regulate their emotions?
Every week a young parent calls me about putting their young child in karate, starting the conversation with “my child is really smart but just high energy” and “they just need a place to burn off energy”. I have to bite my lip, take a deep breath and stop myself from saying what I really want to say – “Lady, you will never be able to burn off enough energy in your child. It is not about us, or you, burning off their energy. It is about your child learning to control and use their energy productively on their own.” . . . And we wonder why our kids cannot self-regulate their emotions?
Here is another observation which might stimulate thought. Maybe the reason I notice this is because I was shy when I was young. But what about the majority of good kids in that classroom? You know the ones that may be a little bit shy, have anxiety or are more introverted. We are the ones who are forgotten because we do not disrupt class. We are the quiet ones. What does suppressing the energy and emotion of the class do for them? I can tell you because I was one of them. It sends me the signal that emotions are not good. To stay quiet and calm. To stay shy. It confirmed and reinforced my shyness.
Where do I see the results of this? When I work with kindergarteners. They are so excited and full of innocent joy. When I call on them to answer a question they are animated, loud and don’t want to stop talking. As I get to first grade then second I see a gradual transformation. The “shell” starts to harden. They becoming growingly concerned over what others think, about failing, about not being good enough or liked. By third grade I can barely get them to speak up with good eye contact. What happened to that kindergartener who “danced like no one was watching” and “sang like no could hear them”?
The ability to raise your energy and emotions to a high level is every bit as important as the ability to self-regulate and lower your energy and emotions. Success, motivation, effort and focus take high levels of energy and emotions. . . . And we wonder why our kids cannot self-regulate their emotions?
I read this recently about “high energy” children. We have not evolved that much yet as humans. In the caveman days, agrarian age and even the industrial age do you know what we called a high-energy boy? Desirable! As humans, we prized and needed our boys to be unstoppable hunters and workers who could go from sunrise to sunset. We are still wired this way, yet we now expect five year old boys to sit still for most a 7 hour day. . . . And we wonder why our kids cannot self-regulate their emotions?
I am running out of time and space but I think I just may have a solution.
Yours for stronger kids,