Today at work I was playing a game related to vocabulary with a group of three 5th grade students. One of my students was losing–rolling a one or two on the die every time kind of losing! I could see the frustration building until finally he cried and turned away from our group. Emotional regulation is an important skill when engaging socially and often my students struggle with this due to their disabilities.
I decided to ditch the vocabulary lesson and we had an impromptu lesson on size of the problem. Hence, the quickly and very poorly drawn visual above. We discussed how some problems are tiny and small (losing a game, breaking a toy) and some problems are huge (death, car accident, disease). We then discussed how our reaction should match the size of the problem. It’s all about putting our problems in perspective. This is a very tough skill to understand and apply–I know I even struggle with it as an adult at times.
In my mind, I began relating this lesson to my own life. A death by suicide falls under a HUGE problem to me. It affects many individuals and its impact is likely lifelong. For me personally, it has altered my future completely. I actually have not felt anger yet towards Shawn, but I have felt anger towards other individuals close to me who have had big reactions to what I perceived to be little problems. This may be slightly misplaced anger, but it is how I felt in the moment. How could they not see that there are worse problems in life? I think the real reason I felt so angry is because Shawn’s death did not have the same life altering impact on them. They had moved on to the point where smaller problems could be upsetting whereas Shawn’s death still lies at the forefront of my mind.
Following the discussion of size of the problem, my students and I discussed how we could move from the red zone (feeling angry/upset) back to the blue zone (feeling relaxed/happy/content). These terms are from the zones of regulation–a great tool for teaching emotional regulation. My students’ answers were quite perceptive. Some of the strategies they came up with included: Hug my dog (yes, I do that every day). Play with my cat (not my first choice, but helpful to some). Take a break. Breathe. Think of good things.
I loved the last response, so we began to think of and discuss positive aspects in our lives. One of my students responses included anything having to do with Godzilla-to each their own I suppose. I found it to be very therapeutic to list the many positives I still have in my life as well. I am blessed with an amazing family and friends who have offered so much love and support. I have my sweet Gracie girl to give me kisses and greet me every day when I get home. I have a place to live and am financially secure. I have an education and career in which there are many opportunities.
I also get to work with students who make me smile and laugh every day, even through my pain. To give you an idea, these are actual conversations that occurred in the last two weeks. Student: “I’m 7, I wear underwear.” Me: “Good for you, buddy!” Student: “Do you wear underwear?” Me: “I sure do.” Topic maintenance for two conversational turns. I consider this a success. Me: “Who flies an airplane?” Student: “I don’t know.” Me: “Pi…” Student: “Pie Tree” Me: “No, it’s a pilot, but tell me more about that pie tree.” We clearly still have work to do.
Sometimes my students offer as much to me, as I hope I do to them. Remember to keep your problems in perspective and count your blessings each and every day.