Dr. Lori Desautels 317-207-0336 brain@revelationsineducation.com

Emotions Are Contagious!

Emotions are Contagious
Through millions of pairs of lenses, we each see ourselves, others and relationships from a variety of views; bringing his or her inner worlds, unmet needs, emotional baggage, cultures, and belief systems into the human connection. A few weeks ago while reading the resiliency research associated with troubled youth inside our schools, I was stunned at this statistic.
“The number one reason for the increase in student violence in schools is staff counteraggression.”
Dr. Nick Long
Upon reading these words, I stopped reading, sat quietly and simply pondered this information. I realized that as administrators and teachers, working with a variety of developing brains, broken hearts, and unmet physiological, emotional and social needs, our students challenge and celebrate every fiber of our personhood. How many times as a mother, educator, or simply as an individual have I lashed out or reacted negatively towards another from buried layers of emotional leftovers from the past, because a particular behavior, certain words or perceived actions triggered something deep inside of me? Simply to be aware of this facet of our humanness is extraordinarily challenging.
Many educators around the country are working in schools where children and adolescents are walking into classrooms in a state of basic brain survival. Their physiological, emotional and social development has experienced a trauma (s) creating ongoing levels of chronic stress which quite possibly have never been brought to the surface or worked through; hijacking their biological ability to respond, self-reflect or even to simply understand the many consequences of his or her actions. Trauma creates fear in children and this fear often times looks like anger! This anger is often experienced in classrooms as defiant opposition, aggression, or turned inward; the anger may present as detached helplessness and hopelessness! Words cannot describe how difficult it is to not personalize these negative behaviors and emotions as they enter into classrooms each day. Our biological anatomy is wired to mimic these powerful emotions as our survival instincts kick in as we begin to feel protective of our own well-being.
Developmental trauma (large or small) is experienced in the ordinary life of many our students. Whether that trauma is chronic hunger, lack of sleep, a broken sense of belonging, abuse, neglect or simply feeling unsafe; these states of mind are real and present in our classrooms. I cannot think of a vocation or profession that calls for such awareness, authentic self-reflective practices as educators are required to work beside so many complex behaviors and young minds and hearts that cannot possibly learn an algorithm or constructive response because the emotions override the parts of the brain responsible and intimately connected to learning.
When we find ourselves inside this youth’s conflict cycle that feels to be personal, oppositional , aggressive and hurtful, we must find a way to step outside of this negative swirling dynamic, if only for a few minutes observing the possible downward spiral of emotions and words and how these angry outbursts have affect us. To be self-aware is crucial in these blooming cycles of conflict. Dr. Nick Long states, “When a student is in stress, his emotions will echo in the adult. If the adult is not trained to own and accept his or her counteragressive feelings, the adult will act on them and mirror the student’s behavior. “
What can we do when these potentially damaging interactions are staring us in the face and we feel the heat of the moment rising to a point of no return? Through the years of teaching and sitting beside children and youth with emotional challenges, I have found the following suggestions very helpful.
1. Try to be a sensory detective of both your emotions and those of your students. When you feel your own body reacting from a place of anger, take some deep breaths, and observe those physiological and emotional precursors from your students and yourself that clearly demonstrates what is about to happen.
2. Notice patterns of the antecedents before a behavior blows up. If there is no time to notice these, then quickly and privately suggest to your student that you both take a few minutes to calm down agreeing to return to the conflict a bit later on. Sometimes we feel we must give consequences right away, and this is actually counterproductive when anger and opposition rule the moment!
3. When we model “how” to handle anger and aggression by becoming self-aware and sharing our actions and words with students as they occur, there is no better practice. Children and adolescents are experts at reading misalignment of words and nonverbal communication. To be honest and informative, rather than reactive, is experiential learning at its best!
4. Validation is one of the most significant tools we can implement inside a growing conflict cycle. When we begin to notice an upset, a growing aggressive and angry reaction, stating how this must feel to a student can be very powerful. “I cannot imagine how frustrating this must feel to you.” When we validate another’s feelings, we are listening to learn more. If we have not hit upon the students’ feelings, he or she will let us know through the use of validation.
When we detach in a compassionate way and ask a student, “What do you need?” “How can I help?” What can we do to solve this problem?” We are providing a safe and nurturing environment where connection and understanding begin leading student and teacher to improved well-being.

“Why Adults Strike Back: Learned Behavior or Genetic Code?
Nicholas Long
http://www.cyc.net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0104-long.html

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