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.
The creative process is a funny thing; I’ve always been fascinated with how and when inspiration strikes. Some songs that I wrote for Breathe In took so much time, so much writing and rewriting. And yet other ones hit me immediately, and it seemed like I finished them in just ten minutes.
“I Am,” which is my favorite song on the album, was one of those songs that just hit me. I wrote it on a weeknight, in my pajamas, after eating dinner. My fiancé went for a run, and I figured I could use the alone-time to write some songs. I picked up my guitar, and within ten minutes, I had a structure and some chords. Before he came back, I had written all of the words. I was surprised - and a little confused - by quickly I wrote the song!
Although I had the music and words right away, I felt like something was missing – like it needed an actual connection to nature. I knew that I wanted to help children see their connection to the larger world, and to show them that if they treated nature with respect and thoughtfulness, the world would be a better place to live in. I wanted to incorporate nature sounds in the background but wasn’t sure what – or how – to do so. I let the idea rest for a while, and went about my daily life.
A couple months later, I was on a hike in the Catskill Mountains. I stopped in a beautiful open grassy field that was sprinkled with flowers, mosquitoes, bees and crickets. The sound of nature was so loud that it was almost jarring – and yet it was still musical and serene. I closed my eyes, and felt connected to all of the life inside the field. After taking a few deep breaths, I opened my eyes and recorded the crickets. I knew that this was the recording that I would use in the song. You can hear the crickets at a low volume throughout the whole track. Every time I listen to this song, I think of standing in that gorgeous field and feeling so connected the sounds around me.
When I recall writing the song, I realize that in a way it was always inside of me; it just needed a way to express itself. I never would have guessed that inspiration would strike on an ordinary Wednesday night when I was already in my PJ’s after a long and tiring day of work!
As teachers, we have to give our students a chance to access and express the unknown creativity and wonder inside of them. We have to give them the time to connect with the world around them and empower them to realize that they are important, they can make a difference, and that they have the power to create. It’s also important to be conscious of this as a teacher; you might want to ask yourself, “What potential is inside of me that I’m not giving myself a chance to express?”
Before I play the song, I like to model the accessing of my inner creative voice by telling my students the story of how I wrote it. I usually say something like,“I know that this song was always inside of me, waiting to come out! It was like a little voice inside my head that I couldn’t really hear until I paid close attention. Close your eyes and listen to what’s inside of your own mind and body. Listen carefully, and use your body to feel what wants to come out right now.”
This song can be used during savasana, or it can be incorporated into a class activity. You can have your children lie down on a big piece of paper. Trace the outlines of their bodies with a marker. Ask them, “What do you enjoy in nature? Animals? Plants? Beaches? Rainbows? Can you draw some of these things inside of your body?” This will help create a visual understanding of their connectedness to their surroundings.