Labeling Emotions In Kids VS. Feeling Empathy

I was sitting in my economics class in high school, it was finals week. This class was a college credit for me so it was important that I did well. I studied the material and came prepared to get a good grade on my test, I knew the content and was prepared to show it. 

My teacher walked around the quiet room passing out the tests. He placed a one on my desk, and then put his hand on my shoulder. 

“You seem anxious,” he whispered, “Do you want to take this test in the resource room where you can sit in a quiet corner and focus better? It may help your anxiety.” 

Right away, I started to panic, was I anxious? Did I need a quiet room to test in? I was confident in my testing ability before, but this went out the window faster than my thoughts could finish processing. He told me I was anxious, so obviously I was. 

I truly know that my teacher meant well and that he never wanted to cause me more harm or anxiety. He was looking out for me, as well as other students, and tried feeling empathy and create genuine relationships with his students in order to teach us how we needed to be taught. 

But this experience made me think a lot about labeling a child’s emotions for them versus feeling empathy. What’s the difference? 

Labeling emotions is telling kids what they are feeling before they have the chance to tell you what they are feeling. 

Feeling empathy is giving a child the chance to process their own emotions, tell you what they are feeling, and then helping them feel those emotions. 

Emotions must be taught and understood so that students can label their feelings themselves before we create unnecessary labels for them, even if we are doing it out of the goodness of our hearts. 

Looking back on my experience of having a teacher label my emotions, I have thought many times about what a better approach might have been for him to take. 

Instead, he could have said: “How are you feeling about this test?” and waited to hear if I was confident, or worried. 

He could have also given me affirmation about my testing ability by saying, “I know you have worked hard in this class and to study for this test, especially when you came in during lunch to ask further questions on material you didn’t understand. You will do great.” 

It was a learning moment for me to watch what I was saying to my own students so that they can feel and process their own emotions, instead of me placing the burden of what I thought they were feeling on them. 

It took time, practice, and dedicated effort, but the results were worth it. 

What do you do to make sure you are genuinely feeling empathy instead of labeling emotions in your students? 

Is the Mindfulness Really For Them? And Why that Matters

I shared an observation this week that generated a bit of discussion:

Mindfulness in itself is not the issue for me; in fact, I think it’s a huge part of students being able to take ownership over their own learning and to feel confident about being in the drivers seat of their own lives. The same might be said of Self-Reg, social-emotional learning, and every other related trend.

I think it’s precisely because we’re delving into students’ personal feelings that it’s so important that we get our why right. There are 2 levels working here.

First, if we’re not truly doing it for them, but we’re pretending we are, that’s emotional manipulation. Plain and simple. We might counter that if the end results are the same, it doesn’t really matter. But it does. It’s the difference between feeling that someone is nurturing you vs programming you. And kids can tell that difference.

Second, if we are looking at broad systemic issues that have less to do with learning and mindsets & more about money and race, and then we try to put that on the kids by making them more mindful of themselves…words fail me.

Issues like suspension. Where not only are black kids over-represented in suspension rates, but pretty much every other race is under-represented. Where we see the problem show up as young as preschool. We need to check our practices before trying to put this on the kids.

Or like standardized tests, which “are almost universally correlated with household income: more income, higher scores.” (Why They Can’t Write by John Warner).

Of course, we teachers only have so much control over mandates. But we can reflect upon our own why. Only then will we have the transparency and true emotional support that our students need as they wade through the system.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Feelings

Taking a break from my provocation series into the SDGs to write an inquiry into feelings. It was sparked by the first resource in this list, from the profound words of a second grader: “With friends, I don’t have to be happy.”

I think the best reason I can think of to stop and inquire into the nature of feelings is summed up by this quote from Brene Brown:

https://brenebrown.com/

How might an inquiry into the nature of feelings impact your students at any point in the school year? Use the resources below to find out!

Resource #1: Tweet from Hata Trbonja

Resource #2: Disney Pixar’s Inside Out trailer (also, this incredible scene when Sadness helps Riley make sense of memories that were once dominated by joy).

Resource #3: Feelings by Nate Milton

Resource #4: The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

Resource #5: We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

Resource #6: The Heart & The Bottle by Oliver Jeffers

Provocation Questions: 

  • What are feelings?
  • Why do we need feelings?
  • What is the purpose of feelings? All of them?
  • How can it be helpful for us to identify how we are feeling?
  • What are different perspectives people have when experiencing each emotion?
  • What is our responsibility to honor our feelings?
  • What would life be like without any emotions?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto