September 30, 2018
by Meena Srinivasan

Lesson plan

Learning How to Work with Difficult Emotions

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Students will learn strategies for working with difficult emotions.

(5 minutes)
  • Gather students into a circle, either seated in chairs or on the floor.
  • Remind students of the raised attention signal and the talking piece.
  • Welcoming: Circle time always begins with everyone being welcomed into the circle. Model welcoming a student and then have each student welcome the student sitting next to them. Be sure to rotate who sits where so students introduce different classmates. Example: “Hello Jasmine, welcome to our circle!” (Optional: create a new greeting every week. For example, using a small ball or bean bag, have students toss the object to each other once they greet a student, then the student with the object greets the next student, etc.)
  • Once every student has been welcomed retrieve the talking piece.
  • Share that today they will be learning how to work with difficult emotions.
(10 minutes)
  • Share that, throughout the day, we experience many different emotions. Sometimes these emotions can make it hard for us to concentrate or learn.
  • Ask students, “What are emotions?” Guide them toward a shared understanding of emotions. Make sure the definition includes that they are feelings that can be felt in our mind and body and their intensity and length vary. An emotion can feel painful, joyful, or present mixed feelings that are sometimes complicated to understand.
  • Ask students how they relate to emotions like sadness or anger. Stress that no emotion is bad, but if we don’t learn to take care of strong emotions, it could result in a harmful consequence. If you have an example from your life on how you dealt unskillfully with a strong emotion, you can share the experience.
  • Share that through understanding our emotions, we can respond intelligently when they arise. We can’t avoid having painful emotions, but we can learn how to deal with them.
(20 minutes)
  • Introduce the BCOOL strategy for working with strong emotions.
  • B stands for Breathe. Write down "Breathe" on chart paper. In this first step, students take three deep breaths. Remind students that being with their breathing helps them create awareness of what is happening in the here and now.
  • C stands for Calm. Write down "Calm" on the chart paper. Share that breathing can also help us calm ourselves.
  • O stands for Okay. Write "Okay" on the chart paper. Explain that once you calm yourself down, you’ll know that you are okay and that whatever you are facing can be dealt with. Tell them that we need to be able to first accept whatever we are experiencing before we can try and make things better.
  • The second O stands for Observe. Write "Observe" on the chart paper. Tell students that once you feel better, you can observe the emotion while it is happening. Naming the emotion can help it feel less overwhelming. Once you have labeled and accepted the emotion as it is, ask yourself, “What do I feel in my body?” “Why is this emotion there?” Share that if they are having trouble naming the emotion, they should think if they are feeling one of the following emotions: Mad, Sad, or Scared. Often times when we feel distressed, we are experiencing one of these three
  • L stands for Love. Write "Love" on chart paper. Guide students: "Using your breath, hold yourself with love." Remind them to be kind to themselves when they experience a challenging emotion. If it is still too overwhelming, try to turn your attention to your breath. Tell them that they are not trying to ignore your emotion; they are trying to see it clearly. Through clearly seeing your emotion, you will take it less personally.
  • Finally, share that if at any point they struggle with BCOOL, they should ask themselves, "What would a friend say to me now?" and use that to guide them on how to work with what they are feeling.
(10 minutes)
  • Have students remain in the circle but independently reflect on the BCOOL strategy using the Working With Difficult Emotions worksheet.
  • Enrichment: Advanced students may want to learn more about their emotions or come up with their own new acronym that has similar steps to BCOOL.
  • Support: Struggling students may need to be paired with the teacher or teacher’s aide initially during independent work time to complete their reflections on the worksheet.
(5 minutes)
  • Circle around the room and make sure students who need support receive your help. Collect each Working With Difficult Emotions worksheet and follow up with students who may need extra help.
(5 minutes)
  • Have each student share in circle what they learned and how they plan to use BCOOL in their lives.

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