Try exercises from our collection of Social-Emotional Check-ins for Distance Learning to help jumpstart conversation and connection with your girls.
“How are you feeling?”
I don’t know the last time you tried to get a middle or high schooler to engage with that question, but it’s likely you received an answer somewhere between a dismissive shrug and a deadpan “fine.”
Talking about feelings is inherently risky: it’s letting someone into your inner world. In a time where teens are facing so much fear, frustration, and confusion, parents and teachers alike are realizing social-emotional support is a pressing need. But that same fear, frustration, and confusion can make it hard for teens to feel comfortable enough to open up and share that vulnerable inner world. When everything around us seems especially volatile, self-preservation can look like putting on emotional armor. But we know that being able to have a safe, healthy outlet to express and validate feelings can prevent teens from engaging in riskier behaviors in an effort to let off steam or process hard emotions.
Last week a participant in our After School Program had this to say about the space created for her:
“This exercise gave me the chance to let out my fears.” – After School Participant, May 2020
Some universal triggers of stress are uncertainty, lack of control, and lack of information. We’re all experiencing these stress triggers to different degrees right now. But for teens (and adults!) experiencing trauma, these can also be triggers for the trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. So if you ask the question, “How are you feeling?” you might get one of these replies:
Fight: Strong reaction, pushing back. “Ugh, why are you always in my business? Just leave me alone!”
Flight: Making a joke, changing the subject, leaving the room. “Is this therapy? I thought this was math class. Can I go pee?”
Freeze: No response, shrugging, one-word answers. “I don’t know.”
Fawn: Trying to placate you, make you feel OK. “I’m totally fine. Are you OK? Do you need anything?”
So how do we give our teens, who are holding so much, a space to feel seen, valued, and heard so that they can feel brave enough to process their emotions?
Next time you’re looking for insight into a teen’s emotional world, see it as an opportunity to share, connect, and process rather than a one-sided interrogation. Here are a couple of exercises from our collection of Social-Emotional Check-ins for Distance Learning to help jumpstart the conversation:
Roses & Thorns
A great dinner table prompt or opening check-in for class. In the past week, we’ve all probably experienced some “roses” in our life (moments that make us feel good) and some “thorns” in our life (moments that challenge or hurt us). Let each person go around and share a rose and a thorn. It’s important that adults share, too! Modeling vulnerability helps teens know they’re not on the spot.
Example: “My rose this week was playing spades with Gloria, my thorn was not being able to go visit Grandad.”
Once everyone has shared, you can invite “crosstalk.” Ask people if they’re comfortable talking more about what they shared or answering questions to give a gesture or a signal (putting your spoon in the middle of the table, placing your hand over your heart). Don’t push anyone to participate in crosstalk who doesn’t opt in. This demonstrates respect for their boundaries and communicates that their autonomy is important to you.
Future Focused Prompts
Part of creating a healing-centered space is giving kids a chance to imagine and hope for the future. At home, you can choose one of these prompts during a car ride one-on-one or when you’re working on something together as a family. In class, you can present it as a journaling opportunity during a Do Now and then offer a chance to share out. Let it turn into a conversation! Again, adults should share, too.
If it weren’t too greedy to ask of the universe, I would ask for ______________________.
If I am ever strong enough to handle it, I would ask to be ______________________.
If I could somehow let go of my nerves long enough, I would definitely ______________________.
If it wasn’t such a risk, I would want to ______________________.
If I could have enough support, I would probably try ______________________.
It’s way too scary, but if it weren’t I might find ________ exciting.
If I didn’t worry about disappointing people, I would probably quit ______________________.
Both of these check-ins work because they are specific, reflective, and are meant as part of a collective experience. They give teens a chance to explore their inner world and then connect with others based on what they hear and how they relate. This connection is what starts to build a brave space in which teens can start to peel back some of the layers of armor.
If you’re an educator check out our full collection of Social-Emotional Check-ins for Distance Learning or sign up for our Power ColLAborative training, which includes 50 lessons to equip all girls with the skills to exercise their voice.