Teaching Emotional Management Skills

by Dr. Skip Greenwood

A number of teachers we talk with express frustration that their students do not use the emotional management skills they have been taught once the student becomes escalated or is in crisis. This frustration leads them to question whether teaching emotional management skills to students makes sense. The answer is an unequivocal YES but the process of teaching skills always has to be thoughtful and is not as simple as just providing instruction. This is particularly true when we are teaching emotional regulation skills such as relaxation techniques that we want students to use during escalation or crisis.

Whenever we think about teaching skills we have to keep in mind there is a difference between learning a skill and accessing or using a skill. When we teach emotional management skills (or for that matter, any skill) we have to think beyond directly instructing students in a technique or method. We need to consider how to enhance their ability to access that skill.

When a student doesn’t use a skill they have learned it isn’t necessarily because they aren’t motivated to change or don’t want to use the new skills they have been taught. It is important to remember that during times of escalated emotions it is much harder for a student to access newly learned skills. As such, one of the key factors in increasing a student’s ability to access a skill they have learned is how familiar that skill is or how automatically it comes to mind. When students are escalating or in crisis, they are reacting more than they are thinking and will typically revert to basic or frequently used emotional responses. Therefore, the more automatic, familiar or well used a particular skill is, the more likely a student could access it while escalated.

How have you found ways to help students build familiarity with new skills?

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