Tuesday, May 5, 2009

checking our own emotions

in my graduate class on working with students with emotional disabilities we focused a lot on ourselves. of course, in a roomful of adults, we acted like this was the stupidest thing ever. why? we complained. we don't need therapy. we don't need emotional counseling. can't we just focus on how to help the kids?

but as my professor explained time and time again, an important aspect of working with children with emotional disabilities is being able to fully control your own emotions. children with ed are experts, he explained, at getting under your skin. they have the ability to project their own emotions onto you. they're not feeling worthy? they'll make you feel unworthy. they want control? they'll make you want control.

if you are able to approach these children calmly and without being pulled into their emotional trap you're far more likely to be successful with them.

this has become my mantra, and i have to say it to myself frequently when i am in the midst of a melting down tiny child who i could easily pick up and say "listen, i'm bigger, smarter, and i am the boss. if i said do it, then do it!" but that of course, plays right into their game. and so, instead, i feel like an idiot as i calmly say "i'm sorry you feel that way" as a child screams he hates me and throws things at my head.

my research for my final paper for grad school came out of this concept. perhaps wanting to know for sure if keeping your own emotions in check was really important, i dove into articles about teacher emotions and student behavior. and yes, my professor had been correct, the research shows that our own emotions dictate how we'll react to a situation. and when we feel threatened, even when it is by a tiny 5 year old, we're much more likely to make the situation worse. one study showed that the majority of the time when teachers are physically hurt by students it is because the teacher interfered with the child's conflict cycle instead of letting him cycle through his own emotions.

today as a five year old kicked the door as hard as she could, i could feel my lungs closing up, my muscles tightening, my head about to explode. i had to channel far back into my memories of hiking the swiss alps to get myself ready to work with her. deep breaths.

after i left her room i went to work with my bff but i could feel that i still hadn't recovered. i'm sure i looked fine on the outside, but as i worked with my bff i could tell he was picking up on my stressed mood. his eyes began darting around quickly, his movements became sudden and jerky, and his attention was fleeting. i could almost see myself giving him my stress.

i know i'm stressed this week with my special ed paperwork, my list of meetings, the students i have to get ready for end of year testing, and all the responsibilities i feel i am falling behind on. the rain, the student behavior, the threat of swine flu... it's all snow-balling inside of me. but i'm going to have to let it go. because if i'm honest with myself, the little girl threw her screaming, kicking tantrum after i reacted too quickly to a problem with an unreasonable solution.

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