By: Jessica Feeley, MSW
I love having a fresh start at something. In fact, New Years is one of my favorite holidays because I get so hopeful and excited for the possibilities of what is to come. A new school year is often a significant marker in the year. There can be a lot of mixed feelings about new teachers or new schools. There is a feeling of loss for what the last school year held and trepidation about if the upcoming school year will be better or worse. Families settle into a new rhythm and schedule with activities. Life continues on, no matter the losses we have or haven’t experienced this year. The changing season can bring up another wave of grief at the thought of your loved one not being present to experience it with you.
Many school districts are beginning to focus on social emotional learning as a key ingredient to their education systems. They want students to be able to understand and regulate their emotions, recognize others' emotions, and be able to communicate in healthy and appropriate ways. Anyone who works with children would agree this is a need in our society. Difficult behaviors we see in children are the best way they know how to communicate in that moment. Unfortunately, many adults have not been taught these skills either, but it’s not too late to learn. I’d like to propose three questions we can start asking ourselves and our children to promote healthy self-awareness.
Likely, one or two of these questions will always be easier than the third, but all three of them are important pieces. These questions will help you and your children (or the ones you work with) to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings as well as become problem solvers. All of our feelings have a message to convey and when we can remain curious about them, we can accept them without judgement. For example, take a look at this list of feelings and what they are communicating. Do any of them surprise you? Do you disagree with any of them?
Bitterness shows you where you need to heal, where you're still hold judgments on others and yourself.
Resentment shows you where you're living in the past and not allowing the present to be as it is.
Discomfort shows you that you need to pay attention right not to what is happening, because you're being given the opportunity to change, to do something different than you typically do.
Anger shows you what you're passionate about, where your boundaries are, and what you believe needs to change about the world.
Disappointment shows you that your tried for something, that you did not give in to apathy, that you still care.
Guilt shows you that you're still living life in other people's expectations of what you should do.
Shame shows you that you're internalizing other people's beliefs about who you should be (or who you are) and that you need to reconnect with yourself.
Anxiety shows you that you need to wake up, right now, and that you need to be present, that you're stuck in the past and living in fear of the future.
Sadness shows you the depth of your feeling, the depth of your care for others and this world.
Our feelings come and go, but it helps when we can first just acknowledge what exactly it is that we are feeling. Labeling it can help release the power it feels like it’s holding over you. Don’t be surprised if there’s more than one feeling. That’s okay too. Grief is not a single emotion but an ever changing tangled web. We don’t need to try to talk ourselves or anyone else out of a feeling. I’ve been working with several children who are scared about starting a new school year at a new school. Instead of telling them it will be fine, ask them what they are thinking about it and what they’d like to do or need support doing to feel more prepared to face their fears. You help empower them and connect with them.