When the movie Inside Out came out in theaters the public loved it. The storyline is simple enough -- a young girl struggles to adjust when her family moves across the country. The movie personifies the complex interplay of Fear, Sadness, Joy, Disgust, and Anger that are stirred up in our protagonist. But why the craze over the movie? Why are people captivated by the relationship between different emotions? Perhaps because every person can relate to the intense power of human emotions, which can be hard to describe and even harder to control.
Students at the Academy for G.O.D. are being taught from a very young age how to identify and handle their emotions. “I teach the kids that the Lord gave us our emotions and that emotions are good! We look to the Word to learn how God desires us to appropriately use our emotions," says Lyssa Loeffler, who teaches a class called My Emotions to 6-and 7-year-old students. "For example the Bible says, 'When you are angry, do not do wrong,' showing us that angry and wrongdoing are not one in the same. Children must learn to talk about their emotions in a healthy way. I tell the kids, ‘God gave you emotions, and with his help we can use them to share with others how we feel, but this takes practice! Sometimes if our emotions are out of control we can act a little crazy or do something that we shouldn't, like hurt someone else.”
Mrs. Loeffler talks to her class honestly about the freedom to feel emotions, even using Scripture to point out the range of human emotions, from sadness to joy. But the Bible gives instructions about how to avoid being taken over by emotions. “I tell the kids, if they’re sad, that’s okay and sometimes when we are sad, we cry and it helps us feel better. I also teach them to take time to pray when they are feeling scared, sad or angry so that God can help them. The kids are learning that when they pray, God will meet them and they can even experience joy with his help even when they are angry, sad or afraid.”
Mrs. Loeffler works with students to build their vocabulary so that they are better able to express themselves when they are upset, and then work towards resolve. Most children are able to say when they experience basic emotions, like feeling mad or sad. But teachers at the Academy are nurturing in students the ability to express things like, “I’m embarrassed because... I feel disappointed that… I got discouraged when…” Once they can share how they feel with their teachers and their peers, it becomes easier to resolve an issue.
Mrs. Loeffler encourages times of storytelling in her class, so that students can share when they felt a strong emotion and then how they dealt with it. Children are usually quite honest. Their stories may end with "..and then I got mad when they pushed me so I pushed them back!” At which point Mrs. Loeffler guides the group conversation towards better ways to handle their responses. “Above all, I teach them that their emotions can never manifest in aggression. We practice ways of dealing with our emotions so that when they arise, they can act with self-control. They are taught to ask an adult for help, pray, take deep breaths or find a space where they can cool down so that they don't affect others negatively.”
Homeroom teacher Derek Bargatze has witnessed the beginning fruit from these classes in his young students. “One student of mine has really changed. She’s an expressive and sensitive person, so she’s been able to better label how she’s feeling and we’ve worked out conflict easier.”
Brandon Galford uses similar concepts, but on a deeper level, to engage with his high- school students in their class, "Emotional Intelligence." The teenage years carry with them many tumultuous emotions; social awareness is increased, not to mention the hormonal changes that occur.
Mr. Galford offers the high schoolers helpful tools for managing their emotions. “I teach them once you’ve identified what you’re feeling then there should be an evaluation process. Ask yourself: Why am I feeling this way? Who or what was the catalyst for this? Is this emotion valid or am I being unnecessarily sensitive? Is this anger I feel actually the product of my own envy, or is the emotion I feel legitimate, given the situation? What mechanisms are available to me in regards to how I should express this emotion?”
When teaching his students about managing their emotions, the goal for Mr. Galford is always ‘proper expression.’ An outburst of anger, for example, is an improper expression because it does not demonstrate control. Going to the person who offended you and discussing the matter is a proper expression.
These are basic interpersonal skills, but somehow they are lacking in many of today’s educational institutions. When asked about his experience finding classroom resources for this class, Mr. Galford laughed and shook his head. It was incredibly hard to find any sort of textbook for students on the subject of Emotional Intelligence. Yet self-awareness and managing one’s emotions is crucial for every person’s relationships in life! Not to mention that it is a universal skill required for any occupation, in any field of work.
The Academy will continue to offer courses that tutor young children and youth in a sensitivity to their God-given emotions. We believe that investing into their emotional intelligence will produce in them the ability to deal with anxiety in a healthy way, and enjoy a life of rich relationships.