Emotional Development Issues in Middle School (page 2)
As middle grades educators our goal regarding emotional development should be to help our students find their way toward emotional maturity. Caissy (1994) refers to emotional maturity as “the ability to control emotions that are socially disapproved of and to relieve emotions in a socially acceptable way” (p. 52). This task is compounded by the challenge of understanding what is socially acceptable. Along with displaying emotions in socially acceptable ways, emotional maturity must include dealing with personal emotions in mentally healthy ways. Middle schools must provide opportunities for students to see that a wide range of emotions is normal. Learning to balance negative emotions with thoughts and actions that create positive emotions is a lifelong task. Creating an environment that says “It’s okay to feel the way you do” will enhance self-acceptance and allow emotional maturity to progress.
Issue #1- Because emotions occur suddenly and without warning, self-regulation is very difficult
A sensitivity to the emotions of our students should make us acutely aware of the volatility they are experiencing. When an outburst of emotion or some sort of personal affront is aimed at us, we have the perfect opportunity to model self-regulation. The sage advice of “take a deep breath and count to ten” has a lot of validity in a middle grades setting. Show how it’s done and encourage students to do likewise. Speaking of the fluctuations of young adolescent emotions and the consequent behaviors, Knowles and Brown (2000, p. 33) conclude that “One never quite knows what to expect—except for the fact that if we wait awhile, it will change.”
Issue #2- Emotional variability places young adolescents at high risk of making decisions that may have negative impact (Milgram, 1992)
We can help students recognize that many emotions are fleeting, that what they feel at one moment may change quickly and unexpectedly. Through thinking out loud when a decision needs to be made, we can model the difference between reacting and responding. Reactions are emotionally triggered while responses are the result of thinking through those emotions. We want our students to make decisions that are responsive to both emotion and rational thought.
Issue #3- There will be incidences and events that will trigger emotions to the point of disruption of the learning process
As individual teachers, but preferably as a team of teachers, we have a very beneficial tool for dealing with emotions. That tool is providing a psychologically safe environment in which concerns may be aired. This environment may include appropriate readings and videos that present possible solutions to emotionally charged dilemmas and situations. Encouraging students to role-play and involve themselves in simulations may be a vehicle for venting worries, anxieties, and emotional distress.
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