Just like adults, our children are faced with many opportunities and challenges throughout the day. Waking up late, homework, family and friendship difficulties, student interruptions in class, tests and projects, after-school commitments, and current events in the news - these are just a few of the stressors our children may experience each day. As parents and educators, it is important for us to recognize that in order for our students to be successful academically, it is essential for us to support their social and emotional needs. As the school Counselor, I spend the majority of my time working with students in group and individual settings to build these valuable skills so they are better equipped to respond to the various challenges that may arise during the day. This focus allows for a more positive and happy school experience for our students.
One of the most important things I aim to teach students is how to recognize high emotions so they may choose a beneficial strategy that aids the situation as opposed to making the situation worse. One typical challenge faced by our younger students is learning to share. When a child takes a toy from another student, a common emotion is anger. We want our students to be able to recognize this anger and choose a positive strategy, such as breathing, getting a teacher's help, or using "I" messages to explain feelings rather than crying, yelling, or hitting. At a middle school level, a more typical example of this would be struggling to understand a challenging new concept and the frustration levels that could ensue. We want our students to be able to use their skills to calm down and ask for help, as opposed to slamming their book shut and giving up.
How to keep calm?
By breathing… it is so simple and yet so powerful. Our brains and bodies need to calm down before we can take action and control our feelings. During classroom counseling time at The Branch School, we do a variety of yoga and mindfulness exercises to help us focus our breathing.
There are many resources available that help both parents and teachers guide our children in deep breathing. Some of the apps that The Branch School students love to use are Breathe kids, GoNoodle kids, and Headspace. Some of the books that we use while teaching students to calm down are Hey Warrior by Karen Young and Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey.
After breathing…what is the plan?
Once our students have begun to master the basic social and emotional skills, each teacher at The Branch School supports and encourages the students, as well as modeling correct behaviors, so they can successfully incorporate all these skills into their interactions here at school and at home. Each classroom, from PK3 to 8th grade, has a calming corner called “Calm and Collect” where students can go and regroup when needed. It is a positive space equipped with fidgeting and calming tools to guide and support them. Our students understand that this corner is a healthy choice and a safe place to calm down and regroup. When students are ready, they can rejoin the classroom activities.
Here at The Branch School, our goal is to inspire our students to love, learn and lead. One component of this is teaching them that our feelings and actions towards ourselves and others matter. In our ever-changing and sometimes stormy world, we feel that mindfulness, self-regulation, kindness, and gratitude builds successful and caring citizens who will make an impact in this world.
This blog was written by Olena Alonso, our School Counselor, and a current parent. She is a graduate of the University of Houston.