I want my students to understand the importance of keeping their whole bodies healthy. That makes sense, right? Healthy eating, getting enough sleep (PLEASE!), exercise…. But what often gets forgotten is mental health. To help students cope with anxiety at school it is important for them to understand what they are feeling, why they are feeling it, and how to deal with it. Teaching about this can start at any age, and here are some practical ideas strategies.
Strategy One: Pre-Teach Feelings
The brain is a fascinating thing, and students LOVE to learn about how the brain works. Plus, the kids enjoy being able to throw big words around the classroom (and impress their parents at the dinner table). The Kindergarten teacher at school started the year by teaching her kids about how the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala work together. In simple terms, the prefrontal cortex is the decision maker, and when we are angry, frustrated, upset, etc., the amygdala is the switch that turns off the prefrontal cortex. Thus, the brain is unable to make good decisions. When kids understand why they are feeling upset, they can begin to problem solve. (Some more kid-friendly explanations can be found here.)
Strategy Two: Create a Calming Tool Box
Teaching students strategies for how to deal with their emotions can be simple and effective. Some kids just need to hug a stuffed animal. Some kids need to read a book for a while, to help distract themselves. Some kids need something visual to watch. For example, this brain jar: