There’s a strange expectation in society that adults should be able to manage themselves, be resilient and have the ability to get on with the task in hand. Talking about mental health has become much less taboo, yet we’re seeing a rise in the number of people experiencing challenges in this area. Why? Emotions inform mental health. When we don’t pay attention to emotions, mental health suffers. It’s like putting a sticky plaster over an open wound. We need a language around emotions to facilitate an emotionally engaged, healthy, sense of self in individuals starting at birth right the way through into adulthood. When we know what we feel, we know what we need. It is only then we can take action. Missing the steps of knowing what we feel and therefore need can lead to harmful actions and behaviours. Ignoring emotions creates an accumulation of unmet need which adversely affects mental health. If this carries on unchecked throughout life burnout, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are inevitable. This emotional language can be enhanced through emotion coaching where the individual develops the skills to engage with their own emotions and then others’.
Emotion coaching is a set of tools that can be introduced into any setting. It brings together an understanding of how the emotional core of the brain interacts with the physical body. It enables empathic development towards self and others. It encourages healthy vagal tone (self-regulation) and creates a space for problem solving and exploration of new ideas. Combined with restorative justice principles and language, it is possible to create a different culture of engagement in every space in education. Collaborations and autonomous working can develop organically in a culture where both children and teachers feel seen and valued.
A healthy whole-self develops when emotional awareness is prioritised because emotions are essentially there to inform us of what we need. There is no such thing as a negative emotion as the emotion always communicates something. For example; fear communicates the need to feel safe. Disgust, the need for hope or acceptance. Anger, the need to find peace. Sadness, the need for comfort. Surprise, the need to understand. And most importantly, joy, where the most effective learning happens.
Research tells us that simply naming an emotion, or experience causes the thinking part of the brain to connect with the feeling part of the brain and that in turn enables healthy regulation. In the UK the EYFS is play-based, active and emotionally engaged. The sensory experience of emotional engagement enables self-led learning through directive and autonomous experience. It’s the co-creating, co-learning partnerships between adults physically being on the same level as children, and children with other children. It is engaged, colourful, active, sensory and encourages exploration and problem-solving. Kids look forward to going and often don’t want to leave. The space feels safe and exploratory as a result of the natural overflow of validation and whole child experience. It is in these spaces that we see children grow in confidence, resilience, self-regulation and connection, both with the self and others. They are not tested and are free to reach ‘milestones’ as and when they are ready.
The amygdala (the emotional core of the limbic system) and the body are fully connected by a network known as the vagus nervous system, which is why there is often a physiological response to an emotional event. The development of the amygdala, in neurotypical children, is complete by the age of eleven. How effectively and frequently the prefrontal cortex, decision making part of the thinking brain, connects with the amygdala is determined by home and learning environments. As every human is unique with their own personal experiences and pace of development, we believe that co-creative learning and explorative culture should continue all the way through the UK school system to allow healthy whole self-development.
Teachers who know they are trusted to communicate and deliver their subject are free to do so with active and emotional tools which stirs up passion and interest in children. By letting their own light shine it gives permission to others to let their light shine too. This may be unconscious but by releasing and trusting the adults in our community to run with passion and problem solve together, we create an intentional space for children to do the same.
A ‘can-do’ person who has a good sense of self and is invested in their own growth and development can quickly identify what is needed in self and others because they are attuned to emotional experience and have developed the language to go with it. This is possible when all parts of the self are given the space to work together.
Is it possible for a generation to be born and raised with a pre-disposition to succeed and thrive? We believe with a whole-self approach that the answer is yes.