Today’s post is adapted from the Program Basics for COVID-19 resource. Emotional Safety and Wellness are always important, but provide unique challenges during this time.
Emotional wellness relates to youth’s ability to identify, communicate, and self-regulate their emotions. If youth do not feel emotionally safe, then they simply do not feel safe at all. Prioritizing emotional safety helps Clubs create positive experiences, relationships, and environments.
Prioritizing emotional safety includes using specific building blocks of programming. (These are the components of the program plan that should be present in each session, and include a Warm Welcome, Group Agreements, Community Builders and Emotional Check-ins, the Main Activity, Reflection, and a Closing and Check Out. Learn more about these elements in the Program Basics BLUEprint.) Certain building blocks, like a warm welcome or group agreements, are especially important for emotional safety. In doing so, you:
- Set expectations for youth behavior and participation
- Create a supportive environment where youth can freely identify and express their feelings
- Help youth feel supported by a caring adult staff member and their peers
- Build critical social emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-management
Practices to Support Emotional Wellness
These additional practices can be used in the virtual, in-person, and hybrid program models to support emotional wellness:
- Create Rituals & Routines. Rituals and routines offer youth a sense of community and consistency. These are particularly important features of a program schedule during a time where so many aspects of a youth’s life might lack consistency or familiarity.
- An example of a ritual might be a special greeting youth and staff do when they see each other. These greetings should minimize touching, like signature handshakes. Instead, consider non-touching greetings like a signature dance, chant, or cheer.
- An example of a routine might be that a Club hosts a girls-only book club every third Wednesday of the month.
- Create Cool Down Kits. Create Cool Down Kit that includes materials to help youth self-regulate or manage their emotions. To read about how one Club Director at Boys & Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains has incorporated this idea and her favorite supplies, check out this post.
- Kits could include fidget toys such as stress balls, pipe cleaners, putty, coloring books, markers, and crayons.
- Remember to wipe kits and their contents down after each use. You can teach youth how to do this as well so that they can learn new and important habits that will keep them healthy.
- Get Up & Moving. Exercising while you’re anxious is like tricking your mind and body – suddenly all those anxiety symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, and trouble breathing are just a normal response to exercise.
- Make sure to plan for youth to get at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day. You can break the 60 minutes into two 30-minute activities to start and end your program day.
- Facilitate Emotional Check-Ins. Support youth in identifying and describing how they are feeling.
- Creative ways to do this include asking them to relate their emotions to the weather, an emoji, a food, or an animal that represents how they feel.
- Emotional check-ins will allow youth to pause, reflect, and identify their emotions. They also allow you to get a better understanding of how everyone is feeling and how you can best support youth moving forward.
- Create a Calming Environment. Turn on calming music and soft lighting to help youth relax.
- This calming environment can be planned as a daily routine or if you notice youth are feeling restless, create a calming mood to lower the energy level.
- During this time, youth can either work on a quiet activity, go through guided meditation, do breathing exercises, or read quietly. This could also be a good time to read a novel aloud to youth.
- Use Art to Help Reflect Feelings. Art is a useful tool to help youth focus, relax, reflect, and express their thoughts and feelings. Get youth to paint or draw their self-portrait when they feel certain emotions like frustration, happiness, uncertainty, or joy.
As youth share information related to their emotions and general wellness through emotional wellness activities, follow your Club’s policy for Mandated Reporting if a youth discloses anything related to abuse, neglect, or their personal safety. Boys & Girls Clubs of America also has a free and confidential safety hotline available at 1-866-607-SAFE (7233).
For more, including Emotional Wellness activities, information on preventing learning loss, and guidance for physical safety, Boys & Girls Club staff can download the entire Program Basics for COVID-19 Guide on BGCA.net. Find all of our recent Youth Development resources at BGCA.net/Programs. PLUS stay tuned for new Emotional Wellness resources in our totally revamped SMART Moves program, debuting next month! We’ll be sharing highlights and stories from Clubs who participated in creating SMART Moves right here, so stay tuned. 🙂