The school setting provides an ideal situation to demonstrate how to express and manage feelings on a daily basis. Staff can model ways of expressing their own feelings, often without being aware of it. Staff who sulk, moan, patronise, and humiliate other members of staff, parents and children are providing powerful messages about how to manage feelings. If schools have clear expectations about children’s behaviour and what it acceptable and unacceptable, they need to ensure this is implemented at all times by all staff. For example, a child told me they had heard a teaching assistant swear when they had been asked to cover another class. The child asked me if they would get a verbal warning, i.e. the same consequence that would apply to a child in school. It is essential that schools provide a consistent message to everyone in school and are not contradictory in their approach.
The way that the school staff react to everyday situations provides an opportunity to model ways of dealing with feelings to children. For example, if a member of staff makes a mistake or breaks something, this can be used as an opportunity to acknowledge this happens to everyone and that it is an important part of life. It can offer the chance to explain that mistakes allow us to learn and try things, rather than covering it up so children may think that adults never make mistakes. Throughout the school day there are so many learning opportunities that are not part of the curriculum that can be used for children to learn invaluable life lessons. For example, do adults apologise to children, do they demonstrate the behaviour we want children to have? Do children feel that there is room for them to make mistakes and that they get praise for being brave and trying things?
As adults we all have a responsibility to help children to understand and express their feelings rather than feel scared or overwhelmed by them. There are endless opportunities for school staff to share their experiences of managing their own feelings throughout the day. If there is a commitment from all school staff to use emotional vocabulary and share experiences appropriately with children, this can result in children being able to mirror this behaviour. This can be achieved by acknowledging situations as they arise throughout the day, for example, ‘When I try something new I can get a sick feeling in my stomach, I know this is fear and it can help me to talk to someone when I feel like this.’ Making statements such as ‘everyone has difficult feelings sometimes and it can help to tell people when we feel like this’, can contribute to children’s awareness of themselves and other people.