Teaching Emotions

Ms. Stephanie Dominguez  shared an article with me centered on teaching emotions. This article has inspired a lot of the information in this blog post:

One of the things that we have really been focusing on this year has been building relationships and meeting the needs of each individual by recognizing their strengths, interests and values. When we apply these personal touches to our everyday lessons, we are making sure that we are showing an understanding of what our students enjoy and really making our lessons more personal. When we see our students as people in our lives who are feeling emotions that they may be experiencing for the first time, we can have a huge positive impact. We can support students as they learn how to react to their emotions and feelings. I am not saying that we drop everything and focus only on relationships, but I am saying that as we build relationships with our learners, we can help them be better prepared for the daily challenges that our class and schoolwork demands.

Why Should we Teach Emotions

It is important that we keep in mind, no matter what grade level we are teaching, that there are often times when students are experiencing emotions for the first time. Whether we are in a kindergarten class or an eighth grade class, new emotions can sneak up on us and can cause us to feel a variety of things. When we start to feel this and we do not know how to explain or react, we often panic and make bad decisions. These decisions can be seen as classroom disruptions or defiance and often, unfortunately, are reacted to instead of prevented.

How powerful would it be if we took the initiative to be preventative by holding conversations with our students about how they are feeling and how to appropriately react to those feelings? Naming the feelings and strategizing ways to express those feelings can be a powerful start because things are less intimidating if we know what to expect and how to react. When we are talking about emotions, it is much better to be preventative and prepare students for situations when they arise than to be reactive and try to resolve a problem while it is happening.

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How to Teach Emotions

Like most things in education, our learners are more receptive if we make the lessons relatable to them! Using situations, books, conversations and trust circle prompts, we can bring up potential emotions that may be felt and have an open dialogue about how to react when these emotions are felt.

The article, Teaching Emotions, suggests using books, teaching about ways to respond when different emotions are felt, praising what was done well using specific examples and practicing new strategies for reacting to emotions. All of these strategies are things that can be applied to our daily interactions and conversations. I am not suggesting or requiring this to be “one more thing,” instead, these are ways to teach about emotions in our classroom.

Timing is also crucial when we are talking about emotions. It is much harder to get through to someone who is not prepared to truly hear what we are saying.

“Do not try and practice when your child is in the middle of a ‘meltdown.’ Use quiet, calm times to teach and practice the new strategies. For example, if your child is having a ‘meltdown’ because she does not want to wait for a cookie until after dinner, she will not be in the mood to practice expressing her frustration with words, rather than a tantrum.”

Teaching Your Child to Identify and Express Emotions

-The Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

Instead of teaching about appropriate ways to react while a learner is angry or worried or annoyed, we can be more preventative and teach about emotions and reactions through literature and everyday observations of interactions between others. This Pinterest Link has some great resources for literature that can be used for dual purpose lessons where both social emotional concepts and literature standards are learned. Several years ago, our Positive Behavior Committee also put together a list of books that by SEL topics: SEL Book List.

Yet another resource that we have access to was provided to us by our counseling department. The Zones of Regulation poster below is often used to help learners identify where they are emotionally. This is especially helpful when the learner is feeling very strong emotions and unable to explain them verbally.

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Full Article from Vanderbilt University

Teaching Emotions – Vanderbilt University

Teaching Emotions Spanish Version – (MC)


Overall, when we take the time to help learners understand how to react when they are feeling strong emotions, we are helping them form appropriate social emotional habits that can have a very powerful positive impact on their lives.

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