By Vanessa Sanchez
What is it about me that attracts children with big emotions? Is it the energy I put off? The necessity to understand their feelings. Maybe, I am just a sensitive person.
I gain fulfillment in helping children acquire skills that will help them work through challenging situations that cause big feelings. This group of children is passionate, excited, and warmhearted. Still, like others, there are moments where they need to disclose their feelings. These moments are when we notice the children having a challenging time regulating their emotions or verbally communicating them. Intense emotions are not a negative thing, but disrespect and physical harm towards others will, as Cohen says, “make your problem bigger!” If not dealt with or noticed, emotions build up over time, causing a huge reaction. Therefore, it is beneficial to validate their emotions and encourage healthy ways to work with their feelings.
It started with a rainbow breath. Josie, Everett, Ted, Cohen, and I in the art studio, together, inhaling as we raised our hands above our heads and slowly exhaling as our hands fell onto our sides. “What are we gonna do?” asked Ted. I have a strong bond with art. I wanted to use creativity to help the children explore their feelings and be more mindful of their feelings, what is causing them, and how to solve them. So, once a week, we met in the art studio. My role was to facilitate discussion and go through the process of problem-solving and listening to others. Understanding how another person is feeling and recognizing their needs helps people connect to one another.
We looked through the book How Artists See Feelings by Colleen Carroll, and I asked the children to choose a color to represent sadness and draw what sad looks like to them. Once they finished, I asked each child to share about how their drawing represented sadness. Josie shared a problem she and Everett had earlier that morning. Josie mentioning this showed me that she still needed to talk about it. Both Josie and Everett shared their feelings about that specific problem. They were both heard, and during a moment of pause when they did not know how to solve it, I asked Ted and Cohen for their ideas. Cohen said, “Everett forgot to keep his hands to himself. Everett, Josie gets mad if somebody hits her. Your problem got bigger because you hit Josie.” Cohen had remembered the story we read during the morning meeting called What do you do with a Problem? At the end of the conversation, Josie and Everett agreed to communicate with each other. If they needed assistance, they could always find a teacher or a friend to help. Ted and Everett were interested in the conversations that they requested to talk about anger and happiness the next time we meet. We repeated the same steps we did on sadness for all emotions the group wanted to discuss. Articulating an emotion in the art studio was helpful for the children. It was a quiet place where they could focus and find the meaning behind their emotions. They respectfully listened to each other without the rush of wanting to play in the block area with another friend.
The next step for my four heartbeats was to create a piece representing their hearts in mosaic form. For the next couple of weeks, before diving into their mosaic art piece, we would read an empathetic scenario followed by a question from the book You, Me and Empathy by Jayneen Sanders. Every morning, Cohen, Ted, Josie, and Everett shared what kindness means to them, how they show kindness, and talked about people that make them happy. They made connections and discussed problems they had with each other while they worked on their mosaic piece. I had noticed their hard work in how they talked to each other, their personal growth, and the moments when they assisted each other when problem-solving. Josie said, “Everett, your heart is beautiful,” as he glued on a broken stained-glass piece. Everett’s face lit up, and he responded, “Thank you, Josie. Your heart is beautiful.” Ted and Cohen mentioned how much fun they had breaking the glass and putting all the pieces together to create their hearts. The children prepared to leave the art studio on the day they spread the grout. Josie sat at the table, gently touching the glass pieces that shaped her heart. She said, “It doesn’t look like hearts anymore…it looks like a burst of love.”
Children will pick up the skills you speak of and model but will most likely still need some support. I am here for that.I wanted to reflect on this project with the children, and on our last day in the art studio together, I asked for their thoughts:
“Why is this mosaic experience important to you? Why are your heart and feelings important?”
“It makes me feel good. Love and care is important because it’s nice.” -Ted
“I don’t want the heart inside of my body to break or I might get sad.” -Cohen
“My heart doesn’t break. It makes me happy” -Everett
“My heart is working and Everett is not hitting me a lot.” -Josie
“How did this help you?”
“It made me slow down.” -Cohen
“Not to hurt bodies.” -Everett
“It slowed Ted down, too.” -Cohen
“It made me feel happy.” -Ted
“It helped me not to hit friends anymore. I get excited.” -Josie
“How can we help others using our feelings experience?”
“When you’re angry you take a deep breath.” -Cohen
“Do the rainbow breath!” -Josie
“We can tell them to use their words only, because I don’t want people to fight.” -Ted
What I was hearing left me in awe of these children. I knew it would take time for them to understand and put into use everything we talked about. Still, the progress they have shown is visible not just to myself but also to them. As we wrapped up this spectacular moment, Josie leans her head on me and says, “I’m going to the Olive room and I’m going to miss you.”