Somatic Resistance

If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

by Sarah-Lu

Recently, I hosted an all-staff meeting for the teachers that work at Tulip Tree Preschool. Originally it was planned to be an all-staff that was focused on Anti-Bias Education (ABE). And in my mind, it ended up being that in the end as well.

In actuality, the session was focused on a somatic practice called the Alexander Technique- something that I have been exposed to over the past year through practitioners such as Tahni Holt of FLOCK; Linda K JohnsonSuniti Dernovsek; and Rebecca Harrison. Most recently I have joined the trainees at the Contemporary Alexander School under the direction of Robyn Avalon.

As I was planning the staff meeting on ABE I was moved instead to share a somatic practice based in Alexander, with the teachers. Some of the teachers had experienced a moment with a parent that had left them very physically charged, and I wanted to offer some support for moments such as these. The Alexander Technique, from the small amount that I know, is a process of radical presence, and I thought it might help.

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radical presence

I was vulnerable presenting this experience to the teachers, mainly because from a surface view it seems largely unconnected to the work that they do as anti-bias educators. I also felt this vulnerability because this is a newer practice to me. Before I opened the schools, I was primarily a dance teacher and choreographer/performer. In the past year my work has veered back in that direction, but the two worlds have not yet found a way to formally meet. Additionally, somatic practice is so different from what people think of as “dance” or “movement”.

The day after the all staff meeting, I received a sweet text from one of the teachers, thanking me for what I have offered in terms of anti-bias coaching and exposure over the years. I was curious, and asked the teacher to clarify if she experienced the Alexander work as anti-bias focused. She said:

“It didn’t come across as anti-bias to me, but I think that’s because I didn’t have any framework about what we were doing. I needed to know what the Alexander Technique was. What it is for. Why is it an effective tool etc. I feel like the only information I got was it is about noticing. That being said, I feel like being aware of your somatic experience is a huge tool for doing anti bias work. Why does this feel triggering to me? Why is my body responding this way? But I feel like we needed more time and information to be able to use it in that way.” Such great insight and information for me as a co-leader. Thank you!

And she’s right. Being aware of one’s somatic experience is a HUGE tool for anti-bias teaching and learning. And there’s more…

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After my first Alexander training in October, and before this all-staff meeting, I had a conversation with Laura Czarniecki, who was the teacher who brought anti-bias to our schools in 2013. She and I have had many conversations, and a few arguments, about this work. She knows my journey in this realm: first feeling resistance to bringing ABE to the schools for fear that it would take away from what I had set out to build (the opposite happened); tentatively welcoming ABE; personally practicing ABE; engaging with my ego around ABE; the 2016 election when my white woman bandaid was ripped off; engaging with overtly political organizations and practices; feelings of intense overwhelm and ignorance; re-entering movement-based and somatic and choreographic work and simultaneously pulling back from political organizations and work.

I told her that I was thinking about doing the Alexander training for the teachers in response to their encounter with a parent, and in place of an anti-bias training. I expressed that I feel like the two are deeply intertwined and that I needed her help to articulate how and why. Laura echoed my feelings and experience over the past two to five years (from her bringing ABE to our schools to the past two years of political turmoil). We talked about how, as we trace our learning as white women, we both have discovered that at some point in our ancestral history we had been cut off from our earth-based cultures. Mine being Irish. So to clarify- at some point, someone (most likely a group of powerful white men and women) told my people that being in relationship to earth-based practices– witchcraft, herbalism, necromancy, ancestral connection, story-telling, art, dance, inner experience, gathering or rocks and gems, tarot, and on– was wrong.

Children are born knowing that these things are right on! And then this knowledge is pressed out of them bit by bit by the oftentimes mind- and intellectually-based education they are offered- ie, lacking in somatic and earth-based experiences. At some point, both Laura and I had realized that the bodies of our ancestors, and our bodies too, had been taken over by patriarchal culture (my words, not hers).

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earth based learning

This was and continues to be a paramount realization for me in my journey of learning about racism, and the very real and daily oppression that people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, women, and other minorities face on a daily basis. If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

A quote that I have been offered many times over the past year by Contemporary Alexander teachers:

“The only thing that you can offer another person, ever, is your own state of being.” -Ram Dass

And how are we to be able to offer this without practicing it? As our teacher stated above, it takes time to understand how these things connect. It takes lived, somatic experience. Against what white culture tells us about how we need to hurry up and get things done. And as the brilliant Adrienne Marie Brown shares in her book Emergent Strategy:

“Do you already know that your existence–who and how you are–is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?

Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.” 

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acts of love and resistance, being with, seeing each other

Our reclaiming of our bodies in times of stress or in all times, is an act of resistance. Thank you teachers for being so open to experiencing these moments in our staff meeting, even if you had no point of reference. I hope to continue this work with you and that it slowly informs you about yourselves, the work you do in the world, and the connections to the beautiful anti-bias experiences you offer to children and their families.

I would love to hear your comments and ideas.

That’s What Little Boys Are Made of…

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world. 

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails,
That’s what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and all things nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

 

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At our recent All Staff Meeting, one of our teachers shared an inspiring story. The child pictured above had been helping to build fairy houses out in the yard. The teacher, Alisha, expected the fairy houses to be used by tiny imaginary fairies. But when this child was done helping to build the house, they climbed right up and got in, and became the fairy. Or perhaps there was no process of becoming; perhaps they simply are the fairy.

Alisha then shared feelings of gratitude for being in the societal and professional role of preschool teacher. As people who work with young children, we are honored to be surrounded by those who are sensorially present, and who experience the world with immediacy. Unlike adulting, wherein people who were once children (and perhaps still are) feign to be separate from, other than, the world. Unlike adulting, wherein we get busy, distracted, and detached from wonder.

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In terms of the challenges of our year, we also touched on the challenging parts of viewing our work with children through an Anti-Bias lens. Laurie spoke about children who have behavior that feels challenging to the teacher. The anxiety of coming at a relationship with a child from this viewpoint: Something is wrong. I must fix it. Many times when we work with children who have behavior that we feel as challenging, it is easy to slip into this space of anxiety, which sometimes (without us being aware) creates psychological walls between us and the children.

Laurie spoke of how she found that she needed not to fix this child, but to expand her own capacity to see this child. Megan, referring to the same child, shared an experience of helping not only the child with challenges learn ways to adapt to the group; but also helping the group learn different ways to interact with and adapt to this child. Angel Kyodo Williams says that “Love is space. It is developing our own capacity for spaciousness within ourselves to allow others to be as they are.” What a mind-bending realization this is as a teacher and learner- to accept that our own limitations are part of the equation.  Thank you children for teaching us how to be present on this level.  This is the work.

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While we are on the subject of capabilities and expansion… It is also challenging to see and intuit the connections between anti-bias, the natural world, and art/expression. Especially with this young age group, it can be difficult, as Jackie said, to zoom in to the idea of anti-bias, after we have offered or accompanied certain experiences. For example, once we notice eye color, hair color, skin tone difference with kids, where do we go from there? How do we zoom in? How do we have the conversations with kids about linking our explorations with color and rainbows to conversations about skin tone?

There is difference all around us. There is connection between everything. The choice is to open up the possibilities within ourselves, and to see these connections, and to rejoice in them with the children. A flower is a flower is a flower… Or is it? Boys and puppy dog tails? Girls and sugar and spice?  The binary of boys versus girls? All of these stereotypes are being teased apart in our world right now. And by engaging with art, we notice the world. By looking at the world, we form a relationship to it. Look closely with children and we are doing the work. Looking closely is the work. Again and again and again.

I became really curious about the idea of stereotype while in Reggio Emilia. Nature literally holds a world of diversity and variety inside of it. People who study science are still discovering new species and there continues to be a rabbit hole of what is possible when we look inside of living things. Nature is a teacher just like children.

Why is it that we become so tight and controlled in our culture? What are ways that we can unravel this dictate and move forward towards more present life? What are the ways that you remember what matters? How do you stay present and sensate?  What are the ways that we can collectively resist the pressure to remain closed, unseeing, senseless?

Make art. Make music. Play. Breath in the scent of your children. Ride a bike. Forgive someone. Forgive yourself. Make more space. Allow more time. Choose to not care about time once per week. See another person’s eye colors- their real eye colors! Mix some paint to match it. Walk more slowly. Use your bones instead of your muscles. Let yourself make decisions in the moment. Paint. Draw. Sing. Pet a dog. Strike up a conversation with an elderly person. Listen to a child. Like really listen. Sit still for 20 minutes without doing anything. Get inside a fairy house. Be the fairy.

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We are nature. In all it’s complexity. So we don’t have to look far to understand how to connect the experience of being alive, with anti-bias work. By settling ourselves in for the long haul, we resist the temptation to give in to the dominant view that things need to happen instantaneously. By allowing ourselves time, we resist the idea that there is not enough. By accepting ourselves as we are, we create space for others to be who they are as well.

 

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Connection to nature is power. Real power. Shared power. Collective power. When we can follow children, and support their knowledge and learning, then we might see the world with them, through their connected eyes.  When we look closely, we see life, we see connection, we see beauty and it’s importance in the world, and we want to protect it.

This is what we are teaching.

Zooming in, Zooming out. From the personal to the public. From our cells to the universe. From the micro to the macro. Zooming in to capture the minute details of what we see, hear, touch, taste. Zooming out to create the whole picture again and to connect the practice to the theory, children to the world.

This is the work.

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Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad

We say in our society that we value children but taking a closer look at our social rules and institutional policies that relate to children, one can see that we prefer children to be invisible. The value of early childhood educators in our society is a reflection of our value and our image of children as a society.

Hometown:  I was originally born in Kabul Afghanistan and lived there the first nine years of my life. My family migrated to United States in 1980 when Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. My family sought political asylum and was accepted by United States. I grew up in New York where I became a Fashion Designer. I married my husband in 1994 and had our first child in 1998. This was a turning point in my life that eventually led me to change careers from the fashion industry to early childhood education.

Current Location:  I have lived and continue to reside in Oregon for about seventeen years.

Job Title:  Sr.Child Development Specialist and Mentor Teacher

Degrees/EducationBachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design, from Fashion Institute of Technology, NYC; Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction in ECE, from PSU

Age: 47

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have children?

About 17 years. Yes, I have two girls 18 and 12.

What is the story of what first drew you to work with children?

When my daughter Nadia turned three we enrolled her in preschool. I couldn’t bear to be apart from her and decided to volunteer in her class. I absolutely loved being with my daughter and around children. I began to read and study about child development. The school hired me to be the lead teacher; they thought I was a natural. Both my mom and dad were educators and I began to feel the same passion and decided to continue in their footsteps. I began my educational journey by acquiring my CDA and taking classes at PSU.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #4: Homa Miazad”

Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes

I think early childhood is a field from which we can make the largest impact on the social and emotional wellness of our population. Whether it be directly through our work with young children on a daily basis, or with their parents — we have this intensely valuable inroad we cannot ignore.

Hometown – I grew up in Hubbard, a small town about 30 minutes south of Portland.

Current Location – I own and operate three small early childhood settings here in Portland, OR. Busy Bee Preschool, Sunflowers Preschool, and The Nest Playschool.

Job Title – I’ve never quite settled on the perfect title for what I do. Owner? Director? I make most of my work about supporting my teachers, and (not so) occasionally getting out of their way when their ideas are far more valid than any of mine.

Degrees/Education – I meandered my way through my education over many years. I started out at the University of Oregon after high school, starting out in the journalism program. I transferred to Portland State University, changing majors a few time. Life intervened, and after getting married and having children, I took a “break”. 20 years later, I decided that I had to get back to it, and finished up my B.S. in Social Sciences, mainly so I could pursue my not-so-newfound passion for early childhood education, and I just finished up my M.Ed. from Champlain College last year.

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I’ve been working with children since my first daughter was born — it was 17 years ago this month that I skidded out of the emotional meltdown that was my maternity leave to give notice to my employer, knowing only one thing: I had decided that hell or high water, I was going to figure out how to stay home with her. I quickly found myself researching how to open a family child care home. Many years later, I am now the mother to five children: my 11 year old daughter, 14 year old son, 17 year old daughter, and two stepsons: 17 and 18 years old.

Continue reading “Teacher Profile #2: Michelle Lewis Barnes”

Art Is Life…

Upon returning from the Women’s March on Washington, DC, I continue to be inspired by the idea that making art is a form of resistance and struggle. In a throng of five hundred + thousand, and in the midst of other marches around the states and the world, we marched in solidarity for collective liberty and progressive values.

The march itself was art. Not only were there many expressions of dissent in signs and placards, but the flock and swell of color and sound and movement was entrancing. We are art.

If art is an expression of Self, and a gift to Other, then it is a way for us to build community and understanding between people who think, feel, and interact in different ways. It is a means for us to connect to the experiences that surround us, but that most of the time we are blind to.

The day after the march I visited the National Gallery of Art for the first time. It has been a LOT of years since I have made the time to visit a museum by myself, to take in color, light, texture, scent, without children or a partner of any sort. Beauty is important food.

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It got me thinking a lot about creation and destruction and the whipping spiral of polarity.

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And the difference between art as an act of creation and art as an act of replication.

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This from my time in Reggio Emilia last Spring:

As we were asking questions at the Matriri di Sesso preschool today, a colleague gave the example of a child who was drawing a flower from a still life at the table. The child drew the flower like you would expect a child to draw a flower.
The idea of a flower: stem, some petals, a leaf or two…
The teacher continued to encourage the child to look closely, and after a couple of typical drawings, the child drew a picture that represented a realistic aesthetic of the flower. The colleague then asked how much time in Reggio Emilia the children spend creating art that is typical, and how much teachers push children to create art that is representational.
The atelierista answered in this way:
“I personally believe in the importance of stereotypes, especially for children.  But then it is also important for children to break stereotypes, especially as it pertains to uncovering difference.”
By stereotype, he meant the typical flower drawing. By breaking stereotypes, I believe he meant looking closely at the differences between what we think we know, and what is actually there.
What stunned me was the layer of understanding that I gained about the connection between art-making and anti-bias work.
How does supplying a diversity of materials and experiences, and asking children to be both fantastical and on the other hand precise, create both stereotypes and the breaking of stereotypes? In relationship to the flower drawing, how does this experience have the potential to open our brains and spirits, and lift us out of rigid thinking, and especially in terms of anti-bias education?
When we offer children the experience of looking closely in art, how do they translate that to ideas of difference within people?  Does it help them to be curious?  Does it help them to negate the idea that we are all the same?
What are the ways that artistic expression, poeticism, and the 100 languages specifically and pointedly feed into us- as human beings- being able to executively break down barriers within ourselves and between us and Other?

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While at the NGA in DC, I spent some time taking photos. At first, when in the gallery, I felt self-conscious taking pictures. I felt like a tourist, someone who was not interacting “correctly” with the art. And then in re-interpreting my attempts at picture-taking, I created some art of my own.

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What we are really fighting for is beauty and the freedom to experience things in an independent and unique way. What we are fighting for is the right to be. Art allows us the freedom to express our experience. Of stereotype. Of essence.

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I want to revisit these ideas with our teachers. How do we approach art-making with children at our school? Why is it important to engage children in a deeper and more complex experience of art? How does art help us to understand difference? To remain in dialogue, not just with the world around us, but with each other? How does art-making contribute to the very act of being human?

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Children know that art is life. How can we- as fellow craftspeople, marvels, viruosos, dancers, soloists, ensemblists, thespians, writers, poets, photographers, builders and dreamers- join them?

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Teacher Profile #1: Angela Molloy Murphy

My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.

Hometown – Phoenix, Arizona. I left as soon as I could because the conservative atmosphere was stifling. I have been in Portland for 23 years.

Current Location – Rowanberry School, Portland, OR, USA

Degrees/Education – I have a Masters Degree in Education from PSU from before there was an Early Childhood specialization, but I took every ECE class they offered, so my advisor Christine Chaille told me I should say I have a MEd with an emphasis in ECE, for whatever it’s worth. I also went through their GTEP program and became licensed to teach K-8. This fall I started the Educational Leadership Doctorate, Curriculum & Instruction, EdD program at PSU and I can already tell it is going to be a totally transformational experience.

The program is intense. I am one who procrastinated all the way through my master’s program, never putting more than a few hours into even the most important papers I wrote, so this has been a shock. The jump from the Masters to the doctoral program is like the jump from kindergarten to high school…I just couldn’t have imagined it despite people trying to prepare me. The bad news…the first two years will be busy, stressful, intense. The good news, I learned more in a term than I have in the last many years put together because I need that structure to force me to work.

Age 46

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How long have you been working with children? Do you have your own children?

I have been working with young children for 24 years; for the last 20 years straight. I started teaching preschool and working as a nanny when I was a teenager, occasionally taking breaks to work at jobs that made more money. By my mid 20’s I had surrendered to the idea that working with young children was my calling, and I had to be creative and figure out a way to make a decent living at it. I have a 15 year old and a 10 year old of my own.

Tell us what your hopes for the future are. Where do you hope to be in ten years? Twenty?

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. I would like to eventually get more into teacher education but hope to always work with young children in some capacity.

What is on your plate for this school year?

Teaching, researching, presenting, etc. This year I am teaching alone for the first time ever and really loving it. I am a natural collaborator and love working with a partner, but as a reflective practitioner I started wondering if I might be using teaching in partnership to avoid stepping into my own power as a teacher and a director. It turns out, of course, that I was. So that’s something I’m exploring.

I am also enjoying the tiny class size that comes with teaching alone which has been a lovely surprise. I started the EdD program this fall so there is a lot that has come with that…new ideas, new conferences, new connections… it feels like my whole world has just blown up in a good way. I am planning on returning to Reggio Emilia, Italy in the Spring. I’m guessing that I’ll be ready to do more presenting next year…right now I’m just trying to catch my breath.

Non-educational practices/hobbies that are important to you.

Spending time with my family, reading and writing, photography, watching TV and movies, being outdoors, playing and listening to music, going to see live music. Just generally trying to pursue an artistic life. Also being gentle with myself when I just need to do something useless or do nothing at all.

Can you talk about a sacrifice or setback that you have tackled as an early childhood educator over the years?

It has been difficult for me to deal with the disrespect that people have for preschool, preschool teachers, and for young children in general. Even in the field of education, early education is undervalued. When I was young I think it hurt my ego. Now I have a better sense of my own self-worth, so I am offended for other reasons. I am disturbed by the mainstream view of young children as incompetent…as a “person in the making” rather than a whole person who has so much to offer to their community and to society. These days I try to take that feeling of indignation and pour it into elevating our culture’s image of the child beyond being simply consumers of products and technology.

Last book that you read that really inspired your thinking around your work?

Definitely Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I read it when I was very young, but revisiting it with more experience and maturity made it an entirely different read. Also, considering the potential for the incoming administration to use schools as a tool of oppression and subjugation, this book feels like a timely and urgent call to action. I think educators have been given a charge that we each have to respond to in our own way, or in multiple ways, to help education achieve its potential of emancipating people…raising them up. For me, my work with children all comes from and goes back to critical pedagogy.

Final thoughts: Hope, belief, love of the profession?

I guess my final thoughts are about hope. I campaigned hard for Bernie during this election season, and even though the election had a tragic outcome, the experience of working with wildly different people from all generations, unified by nothing but hope; it reconnected me to the ideals and activism of my youth in a profound way.  As they say in Rogue 1, “rebellions are built on hope.”  I think our work as educators of (and with) young children is also deeply rooted in hope…I also think it has the potential to function a lot like a rebellion, but that’s another story for another day! My hopes lie in the transformative powers of education and the potential of our youngest citizens, to overcome great obstacles and manifest a radically just and equitable society for themselves and their children.

 

 

No Really, It’s That Big…

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body.

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The past year has come with a heap of transition for our school. In September we began our second school year at Elm House, our program that includes children who are twelve months to three years old. There have been many tears. Children being dropped off at a new place can be challenging and full of emotion for both the children and their primary caregivers.  One of our Elm House teachers, Mage Baltes,  wrote a heartfelt and helpful piece on saying goodbye.

The idea of tears and feelings has of course come up at the beginning of the past six years in the preschool as well. And of course it comes up for each of us throughout our lives… We say goodbye to loved ones as they die. We say goodbye to those who live far away. We transition from being children to adults and we must say goodbye to our parents in a new and potentially frightening way. Or we might encounter the pain of saying a curt goodbye to those that we wish we could have loved differently.  The transitions in our worlds sometime feel painful. And unrelenting.

A preschool parent recently borrowed a book from our shelves called Tears and Tantrums by Aletha J Solter. She commented: “It was helpful in reminding me that crying, even rage, is a beneficial, inevitable release for children.” Her comment reminded me of another beautiful piece written by Mage called Connect Through Crying.

Personally, I have been trying to do more crying in my day-to-day life. A few months back I found myself cut off from my emotional self, unable to release the huge emotions that I am processing about the world (my children, other people’s children, the teachers that I care about and mentor, my impact, how to do better, be better, do more, grow more, the struggles of others, children in jail, public servants killing people, and a narcisstic misogynist running for POTUS, and now elected as POTUS- to name a few). Since, with support and love from those I trust most, I have been able to tap in to my emotions again.

This is important stuff. As adults, we are becoming more disconnected from our emotional and spiritual selves. Which makes it challenging to tap into the emotional and spiritual lives of Other.

But why is teaching children about emotions important? And is it just kind of important? Does it help just them? Does it extend into the later parts of their lives? How does it help to heal us as adults? These are some questions that I have been asking during this time.

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At our school, coaching around emotional awareness has become part and parcel of our learning processes. We say things such as, “You are feeling so sad right now. I understand. Sometimes I feel sad also.” And we will, as Mage explains in their piece, simply hold children and sit with them and honor their emotions. Afterwards we might say, “It looks like your feelings have changed. Now you feel happy!” These practices provide a process of metacognition for children- or thinking about their thinking (or feelings in this case).

Many times, we see parents out and about whose children are upset, and they are trying to help that child “get over” their emotions. I am sure all parents and educators can understand this- sometimes we want the emotion to simply go away! We want to stop feeling embarrassed by either a) our perception of how others might be viewing us at that moment (too lenient, not ‘in control’ of our kids, overly empathic, etc) OR b) our actual feelings of remorse or judgment about how our kid is ‘acting’.

Here’s what we also see and experience out in the world. Children who experience their emotions, feel connected to a parent or caregiver during that emotion, and then move past it- safely, securely, and while being loved by someone else. And I might add, with CLEAR boundaries about what is acceptable and what is not in terms of behavior.

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Let’s zoom out for a minute and look at each picture.

In the first totally understandable and reasonable situation, we have a child who is upset about something. Everybody gets upset. In this situation, this child is receiving information that leads them to believe that their emotions are not necessary. That their emotions are not worthy of time. And that their emotions are not interesting. However, when we as adults approach a child’s emotions in this way, the emotion does not simply ‘go away’. The child does not simply ‘get over’ these emotions. They are stored and reacted to within their bodies.

Zoom out more. How does this impact their relationships with others? If I can put myself in their shoes… I am receiving the information that emotions are not necessary, worthy, or interesting. If I turn that around and treat others the same way, my parents get upset with me for not caring or having empathy for others! How confusing. 

Zoom out even further… Into the future… We have children running around who are unable to effectively slow down, listen, and have empathy for the emotions of others (or themselves). The unprocessed emotions are acted out over and over again.

In the second situation, a child is able to process their emotions, in the moment. They know that someone is listening. They might feel gentle arms around them. They might see a face that mirrors their own emotions. They might hear words of understanding. “I hear you. I can understand why you are sad. You fell down and that hurt. Sometimes I feel that way too when I fall. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

In wondering about how these moments impact a child’s relationship with others, let’s think again about ourselves. When we feel rejected in our emotional capacity, are we able to reach out to others? I can think of many times that my emotional life was rejected when I was younger. My reaction was usually to run and hide. In time that led to emotional build up, intensified emotional pain, self-mutilation, alcohol abuse, sexual promiscuity and unhealthy risk-taking. How we treat young people and their emotional lives is important, not just in the moment, but as they build their futures. As we are thinking about children who are able to process their emotions, we might think of them as beacons of hope. They will be more willing to help others, to communicate their needs, to be in the moment, and to focus on what is happening in front of them. 

If we can commit to these processes in ourselves and our children, we may look far into the future.  These children are adults. Let us envision them as our future counselors, teachers, healers, leaders, and business owners. When these leaders in our community are able to live their full emotional lives, everyone benefits. 

As we enter into this huge transition, into a our new US (which for some is the old US), we must view this time as a transition for emotional awareness as well. In my mind, the lack of awareness around this issue is a looming contributor to the choice that we just made as a nation. As educators and parents, we have the wherewithall to help children become accustomed to feelings as part of their bodies, others’ bodies, and the greater collective body. This is happening on a mirco level, with the relationships that families members have with each other. And when we teach our children to extend this knowledge to others, to treat others as a communal family, we have the opportunity to extend it to the macro level, allowing it to blossom out to more and more people. Empathy, concern, compassion, relating, forgiveness, and the offering of information are all part and parcel of this work.

When children learn how to feel, we all benefit.

Thanks for reading!    -Sarah Lu

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