Learning How to Handle BIG! EMOTIONS!

BGCA launched the brand new SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness resource earlier this month and we are SO EXCITED for you to check it out! Here to tell us about her Club’s experience as part of the pilot test group for SMART Moves is Sarah Wilkerson, Executive Director of the Loudon County unit of the Boys & Girls Club of Tennessee Valley, plus keep reading for a FREE sample activity!

Let’s talk about FEELINGS!

Just like you and many other Club staff reading this blog, the members in our Clubs have a variety of reactions to that statement.  Even among staff members, there is a spectrum of reactions ranging from excitement and interest to fear and annoyance. However, no matter your reaction, the level of comfort you have on the subject, or the current atmosphere of your Club, we can agree that emotional wellness is an important topic for members. Walk into any Club, on any given day, and you will see a wide range of big emotions in little bodies. The kid that doesn’t have the best hand-eye coordination playing four square that screams and cries in the corner every time they get out. The kid that just got out of school for the day and runs around in circles aggressively tagging all of their friends essentially inviting them to a mosh pit in the tech lab. The kid that didn’t get enough sleep the night before because their parents were fighting, they may never tell anyone but they come in with an attitude that pushes all the staff’s buttons. Discussions of emotional wellness and coping strategies will open the doors for members to understand their emotions and how to deal with them.

Our Club had the unique experience of piloting the new SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness targeted program from BGCA. We were able to run the program for all of our members ranging from kindergarten through high school. With that we experienced different highs and lows but overall found that discussing emotional wellness throughout the club equipped members and staff with the appropriate tools to help when members were having a hard time managing their emotions.

For the elementary age members, SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness helped them learn the vocabulary of different emotions much like they do any new subject in school. Once the curriculum moved into coping skills, the program mirrored the scientific method: members would identify the emotions they were feeling, look for the best coping strategy, and experiment with that strategy next time they needed to cope with an overwhelming emotion. And if it didn’t work? Let’s try something else next time. With all the staff working through the curriculum, members were supported in their coping choices outside of the Emotional Wellness programming. These conversations also gave members the opportunity to analyze their coping skills and choose another if one wasn’t working.

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With our older members there was some push back about discussing emotions, especially from the boys. For the most part this push back was expressed through jokes at inappropriate times, fidgeting, or refusal to participate. However once members began to engage in the curriculum they became more open to the benefits of the program. One particular lesson took a rabbit trail where these older boys opened up about their personal struggles, home life, and how they managed it all. During that lesson we made sure to let members know that talking to someone is an important coping skill and even those that may not feel comfortable sharing with the group can find someone they trust to talk with.

For our staff this curriculum also helped them grow as mentors. Staff began to recognize situations where adverse behavior was being used as a negative coping strategy and began to have conversations with members instead of just assuming they need to sit out to go to the office. Not that members are exempt from consequences, but making the connection between behavior and emotions allows there to be a more holistic approach to behavior management.

The Club participated in the pilot before the COVID pandemic began, and the skills the youth built have been used as they cope with all of the changes. We know that we are all in it together. I had a conversation with a member who was having a rough day accepting everything going on. I said “You know what? You’re right, these new rules aren’t fun. What would you do if we could change them?” We talked and laughed about a huge party we would throw where everyone could come wearing their masks and then we would throw them into the air like graduation caps. It’s about making sure youth feel heard and understood.

Even though talking about emotions may give you and your staff a wide range of reactions, the need is always there and a key part of what we do at the Club.

SMART Moves: Emotional Wellness is a new targeted program found in the recently revised SMART Moves suite of resources. This program focuses on helping youth develop the social-emotional skills of self-regulation, impulse control, and stress management. Participating youth will build an effective toolbox for self-management and coping.  Everyone can click the image above for a free sample activity for youth in 3rd-5th grades, and Boys & Girls Club staff can download the entire resource for grades K-8 on BGCA.net now!

Sarah Wilkerson is Executive Director of the Loudon County unit at Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley, where she has worked for 5 years. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has enjoyed having the time to learn and write new music!

How do you teach social-emotional skills in your program? What other tips and ideas do you want to share with Boys & Girls Clubs across the country? We want to share your Club story! Contact us by commenting below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email ClubXBlog@bgca.org!

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