Life comes with a lot of challenges. Sometimes these challenges can lead to frustration. I find one of my most effective ways to empower the children I work with is to give them tools that help them navigate big emotional experiences, like frustration. What triggers frustration can be different for each individual. Some examples of triggers are: chores, homework, a fight with a friend, learning to play an instrument, and feeling misunderstood. My hope is for students to recognize the onset of frustration and know they have the resources to care for their feelings.
Here are a few activities to help students recognize the onset of frustration and learn how to care for themselves, along with a short video practice that you can do any time or place.
Activity #1: Create a Frustration List
Challenging situations arise daily. It is useful for children to know what situations cause them frustration. We have more control over our emotions when we can label what is happening during an experience.
With older students, have a discussion about the frustrating moments in their lives. After the discussion, have students make a list of what causes them feelings of frustration. It will help them feel more in control when they talk and reflect on situations that trigger frustration. Encourage them to observe over the next few days what happens in their bodies during those moments of frustration.
A visual aid can be helpful for younger students when making a list. Create an outline of a flower and cut out petals. On each petal write something that causes frustration. Keep the flower visible and encourage children to add petals when new frustrating tasks arise.
Activity #2: Make a Body Map
Body mapping can help children make connections between their bodies and their emotions. Use a body outline template or outline a body on a big roll of paper.
Ask the child to think about a time they felt frustrated and notice what happens to their body. Some observations might be fists clenching, face feels hot, shoulders and jaw tense up, or breath changes. Explain that these sensations are their body’s way of communicating with them. Have the child color, draw, or write in the areas on the body map where they feel sensation when they feel frustrated.
Activity #3: Tense and Release
When students can recognize sensations of their body, they can begin to care for their emotions.
Tense and release, also known as progressive muscle relaxation, is a technique to promote relaxation in the body and relieve stress. This practice can be taught before a frustrating task. Take a slow deep breath and squeeze the muscle groups in your body that feel tight during frustration, such as fists and shoulders. Hold for 3-5 seconds, then release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. Tense and release those areas a few times and check in with how they are feeling.
This exercise will help to lower tension in the body, and help relax in moments of frustration.
Activity #4: Practice the Pause with Challenging Yoga Poses
Explore frustration in a playful way with balance poses.
Tell your students you are going to practice challenging poses and they may feel frustration. When they start to feel frustration they can pause, take a breath and try the pose again. This video will show you how to prepare a child to pause and care for themselves during feelings of frustration.
Check out the 4 minute video below for a great example of how we can safely explore frustration while caring for ourselves. I had the honor to be a part of a series of videos created by Little Flower Yoga’s in collaboration with GoNoodle. GoNoodle helps teachers and parents get kids moving with short interactive activities. You can find the full series of videos by searching for the Empower tools series on GoNoodle's website.
There are certain points in your life when you feel like everything is decided for you. You can clearly see your next hour, day, week and year. Life is a finished book, each chapter named, edited and ready to read. Some may feel that being in this space provides clarity, safety, and security because the decisions made for you make you feel in control and comforted. However, when we are not ready for life to be decided for us, we can feel more out of control than in control when imagining these set decisions and choices are already written in our script of life.
And what if life is a finished book for you? You can open to a set page and know exactly what is there. You have edited and re-edited and it is ready to be put on the shelf. An accomplishment perhaps, something you have worked hard on and are proud of. But what if, one day, everything that has been decided for you changes? The pages in your book become mixed up, chapters all over the place, and all of a sudden the book that was ready to be shelfed, doesn’t make sense at all. How do you deal with this? Are you flexible? Are you a flowing willow tree that sways with the wind of change or a stiff branch that cracks whenever a big wind comes?
Some children have many choices made for them throughout the day. Perhaps they wake up and their clothes are already laid out and their grown up dresses them. They go to school and the teacher tells them their schedule. When the child is upset the teacher gives them the answer to their problem. After school, maybe they go on a playdate which was arranged by their parent, they eat dinner, and then are scheduled to be in bed by a certain time.
As we know, it is hard work to be a parent or a teacher. Of course, children need structure and rules, they need some choices and decisions to be made for them. But I ask you, and I wonder for myself, are your students and children really ready for all of these choices, scheduled activities, and answers to be decided for them? Are they making the child feel more in control or more out of control?
As teachers, we want to help children fix their problems. We want to say the right thing when they are feeling wrong and we want to give them answers to their questions to help them feel safe, secure, satisfied and comforted.
But as I am growing as a teacher and a person, I am realizing that I need to find a balance in how I help students fix their problems. I cannot always make the correct decisions for them because I need to empower them to figure out the correct answer on their own. In the classroom, teachers place much attention on controlling the class and managing their students. And yes, this is a necessary skill if you want to become a teacher. But I invite you to think about how you want your students to feel in your classroom. Perhaps we are the ones that should be most in control, but ideally, we would like the student to think that they are the ones who are most in control. They should be the ones who feel most in control of themselves, their emotions, and their bodies. We should be there to inspire, guide, give choices, and nudge in the correct direction. We should be there to teach them the skills that help them to recognize that their emotions will change and situations will change. We should teach them that they will not always be in control but that they have a choice about how to react when things do not do their way. We should be there to teach them that the power of decision making is within them and not outside of them. We can guide our students to become flowing willow trees or stiff and rigid branches. The choice is up to us.
I wrote this song to help children recognize that sometimes things can change. The change can be sudden or gradual, bad or good, happy or sad, but the exciting thing is that they can react to the change however they choose. They are in control over their situation and their emotions.
LISTEN HERE to "Listen Within" by Lianne Bassin