Playing with Emotions

Emotions can be hard to get a handle on. On the ride of life they can hijack the steering wheel, and drive you on a non-paved road of complete discomfort. However, we can learn to identify them, lean into them, and flow through them! The expression of feeling “stuck” evolved for a reason. When we deny our emotions OR become hyper-focused on not experiencing certain emotions we give them the perfect opportunity to camp out in our brains, and effect our overall thought patterns.

In working with children, and Social Thinking®, I started to notice that many of my clients or students felt they needed to be constantly calm or happy. “I am always ready!” While it is incredibly important for children to actively listen and regulate in school, it is also extremely important for them to be able to acknowledge and accept when they have ALL different feelings. It is OK TO FEEL tired, sad, mad, excited, distracted, happy, etc. Emotions should not carry stigmas. If a person cannot identify and accept how they feel how will they ever be able to figure out ways to move or FLOW past that feeling? We use strategies to solve academic struggles…what about emotions that prevent us from focusing, participating, or learning? Happiness or stress free cannot be mandatory. We need problems in our lives to teach us what we don’t want to focus on! Identifying feelings or thoughts we want to move past in order to problem solve!

Playing with feelings

The Zones of Regulation® are an amazing tool for parents and educators alike to help children identify and relate their emotions (and frankly learning to emotionally “check in” with my own Zones as an adult has been a lesson in my own self-awareness and Emotional Intelligence).

One day we were doing a lesson regarding emotions at the table and it clicked for me. Emotions are HARD to understand sitting at a table. They also effect MUCH more than our facial expressions!


They are a physical experience.

You feel an emotion throughout your entire body.

What better way to teach them then through movement and role-play?

We took our younger students into the gym with large shapes of the colors corresponding to the Zones of Regulation®. We focused just on one emotion in each zone (For example: Green = Calm, Yellow = Excited, Blue = Tired, Red = Angry). We then created a game based loosely on “Red Light Green Light”. The children had to move from one set of cones to another set of cones across the gym by acting out the emotions or Zone colors the clinician held up. For example, when we held up yellow they jumped up and down, ran, yelled, and pumped their arms in the air to show excitement. When we held up blue they slouched their shoulder, put their heads down, and moved very slowly. All of the common physical emotional responses were modeled and discussed prior to our activity. However, during the activity the students started to independently add their own characteristics or verbally identify what they were feeling!

Finally, we began to discuss our “emotional tool belts”, or strategies we can use to move through emotions (ex: What can we do to move from feeling angry to feeling calm? What helps us? What doesn’t help us?). As adults we use our own tools (and sometimes we forget to). For example, feeling stressed and going to the gym to feel better is a TOOL you have learned. Listening to music is a TOOL you have learned.

Reflect on your tools. What makes them effective for you? Do you need new tools?

We need to experience anger, frustration, and sadness to help us best determine what we want to focus on, and what we don’t want to focus on. These emotions help us to realize new goals, tap into complex problem solving, and learn to navigate new situations so that we can GROW.

Take some time for yourself today, and do something that brings you joy! It’s a tool in your belt you will always benefit from!


Pay Attention: Looking Under the Umbrella

What does it mean to “PAY ATTENTION”? What does it mean to give your “FULL attention”?  Attention is a complex skill for children and adults alike.  We live in a distracting world.  For some children and adults attention is a strength.  It is easy to TUNE IN.

Their bodies and minds are equipped to lock down and focus in.  There are children who observe what it means to pay attention from watching others, and recognizing the patterns of what it looks like to attend in a group.  For these students, parents and teachers are able to clap their hands, mime for quiet, flick the lights on and off, or simply say “pay attention”; and immediately their mind’s mode switches from play to lesson plan.

But what about those who lack the understanding of this umbrella concept of attention? 

Attending is not a one-step wonder skill.  It is a mind-body process that can be hard to manage at times.  Especially, when learning in new environments, or if you are not as apt at observing through others.  As parents and educators, it is important for our children’s future, and our own, to look past what we may see as frustrating behavior, and instead view attention as a skill we want to help our children, and ourselves, thrive in! I will often have clients I work with who will say to me “I am paying attention” strictly because they are sitting at the table.  However, they are not retaining information, frequently forget directions, have trouble answering questions, and are constantly in trouble for fidgeting.   They are often reprimanded in classes, but don’t appear to quite understand what it was they did or didn’t do.  We are trying to teach our plans and our materials.  We are teaching the information that needs to be learned….but what if  there is a missing link in the chain.

We may need to teach HOW to attend. What does it look like? What does it feel like?

In my practice with my younger clients I was inspired through Social Thinking® to utilize a wonderful program called Whole Body Listening.  These lessons break down “attention” into concrete pieces that children can physically and mentally focus on and self-monitor.  In the lessons children are taught to listen with much more than their ears, and also HOW they listen with various body parts.  Attention as a Whole Body Process.  For example, listening with your eyes by looking at the speaker, listening with your brain by thinking about what is being said, listening with your mouth by being quiet, listening with your hands, body, and legs by keeping them still, and listening with your heart by thinking about others’ feelings in the group.

An activity I will use in my sessions involves just a lump of play dough.  The client and I will leave it on the desk.  We will talk about the play dough being our bodies, and when we notice that one of us is not listening with a body part we will take a tiny piece of play dough and drop in on the floor, or move it away from the larger piece of playdough.  I usually say something like “Oh no there go my eyes! I wasn’t looking at the game! So I missed my turn!”  I then put my eyes back on what we are doing or on the student and ask if I am listening with my eyes now.  When they identify that yes, I am, they put the playdough piece back on.  It’s important to me that the client realizes that everyone loses attention now and then, even adults!

If we are adults struggling with maintaining balanced attention we may need to revisit a similar lesson on attention.

In working with my younger clients on attention I began to notice for the amount of times I say “Ugh I didn’t remember that” I should have actually said “Ugh I didn’t attend to that.”

When I think about the times I struggle with memory, I can usually link it to attention.  I began to take a little self-reflection inventory of my own attention on instances where I would experience “forgetfulness”.  In 90% of those instances I could identify how I was functioning on split attention or even split-split-split attention (Hi adulthood, so nice to meet you!) in that moment.  “I forgot my keys”, turned into, “I decided I needed to put on a very specific podcast, kiss my dogs goodbye, and oh no I forgot my lunch!”

I was surely not attending with my whole body.  The thought of keys flashed before me, but was quickly overtaken by other more “colorful” thoughts as I was leaving.  I now try to “settle” myself before I know I am going to be in a situation where I need to attend.

For example, I remove distractions when I am trying to get work done (see ya iPhone, Instagram will still be there in an hour).

I also complete a body scan to help center myself.  Noticing if I need to work with music today, get a different chair, close my door, get water, etc.  I do this prior to starting what requires my utmost attention.

When listening to others I try to make mental notes (about both what they are saying, and how they are feeling).  Connecting, so that they know I am listening.  I will often say to my younger clients “Show me your listening.”

I need to follow my own advice.

If we take some time to take care of ourselves, and recognize times to teach and be taught a LOT will be brought to our attention.

Thank you for your attention today!


The Power of Think, Know, Guess


In our society we have information directly at our finger tips all day every day. “Hi Alexa. Can you tell me how…..” We no longer have to wait for information, and have less opportunities to problem solve on our own.  What does this do to your mindset? How do you feel when there is a problem you feel stuck on? How are you at making decisions? Unfortunately, Alexa probably isn’t going to answer your question about why your friend, wife, husband, sibling, or parent is upset.  It isn’t going to help you join the water cooler conversation at work, help you artfully break news to an investor or client, or help you navigate the ups and downs of relationships.  This is why it is so important we teach ourselves and our children the power of social observation, emotional intelligence, and mindfulness. We need be gentle with ourselves when we don’t know, and excited about the opportunity.

 Because not knowing is the best way to start thinking again.

 Using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) Projects to Teach Self Awareness & Social Observation

I recently began incorporating STEM projects into my group Social Lessons with my students who struggle with social-cognitive competencies and social anxiety.  I developed the idea from Michelle Garcia Winner’s “Thinking About You Thinking About Me” as I noticed that a majority of my students struggling to navigate social situations in the academic setting also did not understand the difference between the vocabulary “Think”, “Know”, and “Guess”.  I also noticed that these were the same students that would not raise their hands if they were not 100% sure of an answer, and then if they were wrong may not participate for the rest of the day.

Winner explains that lack of knowledge related to these vocabulary words appears to directly link to a person’s ability to understand other’s thoughts and motives.  For some, directly teaching the meanings of these words can expand perspective taking skills.  Helping children to use the information in their environment to identify what they know about a person or situation, what they think, and then to make logical guesses about things that may happen.  You can imagine that difficulty integrating this information may cause more than a little stress. 

I set out to find a simple STEM project where I could demonstrate concretely the difference between the terms.  We chose a simple Catapult Project where the students built a Catapult using popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a spoon.  We then laid out the terms.

The students needed to “think” about how many of each supply they would need, and then use the vocabulary to gain the supplies (ex: “I think I need 12 popsicle sticks, because of the picture).  They then assembled the catapults and had to “guess” the distance that the catapult would launch their bead.  After that they recorded with a tape measurer how far the bead went and stated what they “knew” based on their measurements! We discussed how you “know” information from hearing it or seeing it, how you make “smart guesses” based on clues (ex: the materials you use, the weight of the bead), and how you “think” or plan when you are completing a project based on information you have in front of you, or that you have seen, or learned, or even your own imagination and experiences.  Our next step is to introduce these terms with thinking about others (based on social cues) in our social setting. 

 After this activity it was easy when my students would respond with “I don’t know” for my answer to be “I am not asking you to know, I am asking you to think!”


Let your mind wander today,