I spent time Monday and Tuesday of this week reading When Sophie Gets Angry — Really, Really Angry in my youngest childrens’ classrooms as part of Project Cornerstone, a program in Silicon Valley committed to helping children and teens feel valued, respected, and known.
I’m loving this program and its focus on social-emotional learning (SEL). While academics are important (knowing how to read and write are helpful skills in life!), social-emotional learning is mission critical. When we feel jumbled up inside, drowning in a sea of complex emotions and not sure where to turn, all over the place, lonely, and/or not listened to? It’s hard to show up as our best selves, leading to messy social situations, trouble focusing in class, and more. So learning about ourselves and what we need to feel mentally, physically, and emotionally solid, as well as how to better communicate this with others in a manner respectful to us and them — such skills are invaluable and have a wide impact.
After talking about feeling angry with kindergartners and first graders, my thoughts turned to teens: they, too, need the reminder that emotions and feelings come up for us all, including anger. No one feels happy all of the time, and no emotion is bad. Rather, feelings and emotion are information for us about where we’re at and what’s going on.
When I was a teen, I remember feeling like anger was this big, bad thing. Angry? No, you’re not supposed to feel that way. Keep a smile on your face. Take a deep breath and shove it down. Make it go away. Get back to happy at all costs.
That response didn’t work in the long run. The anger would turn into resentment, simmering and stewing before leaking out as passive aggressive remarks and actions. Or it’d turn into nuclear waste, poisoning me from the inside out via depression, eating disorders, and any other number of struggles. Burying my anger didn’t work well.
Since then, I’ve heard anger described as a catalyst emotion. Feel it and then use it for change.
Staying in anger will burn us up, so it’s not a place we’d want to live any more than we’d want to bury it. However, it has immense power for creating needed change in the world. When we feel angry about something? It’s a sign something feels off, that maybe a system is broken or a situation isn’t working. It’s a nudge: Look here! This is important. It wants our attention and can help us direct our focus and energy toward bringing about more beauty, more kindness, and more love into the world. Anger is here to help us, if we’re willing to listen and work with it.
Have you talked about anger with your teen lately? Or any other emotion? Perhaps today is a day for a conversation. While When Sophie Gets Angry may not be your teen’s book of choice, hearing about an experience of yours might hit a chord. (It can be a relief to be reminded that everyone feels angry sometimes — as well as the full gamut of emotions! — and that there are things we can do to direct how we’re feeling when we start to feel out of control, like breathing, taking a walk, or listening to music.) No need for anything fancy. Share how you felt today, yesterday, or last week. You could ask if they’ve ever felt similarly and then listen if they offer thoughts.
Talking about emotions might be just what they need today.
Feelings and emotions — they are our greatest assets or biggest liabilities.
For more on emotions and feelings, check out these posts: