Waldorf School of Bend held its first “First Friday Gathering” October 5th in the Great Room at our school. 2nd Grade and Jr. High each shared work they are exploring in their classrooms so far this year. On First Fridays at WSB, Parent Council and our faculty provide opportunities for parent engagement. These events were developed to support families’ understanding of Waldorf Education and strengthen families/community through connection.
Following the October First Friday Gathering, parents were invited to a conversation with WSB 5th grade teacher, Tammy Betzko on the topic of navigating true emotions in our children and ultimately ourselves (see WSB website for Tammy’s full bio).
As the conversation began, we learned about the four true emotions: Joy, Fear, Sadness and Anger. We discovered that often things like tiredness, hunger, whining or pleading can look like true emotions, but aren’t necessarily; stubbornness can sometimes act as protection against a true emotion. Our culture is pretty inept in regards to the healthy expression of emotion. Phrases we have all heard in response to a strong feeling are: “What’s wrong?” “There’s nothing to be afraid of!” “You’re okay!” “Don’t cry.” Denying or making negative a child’s emotion creates the conclusion that emotions are not okay, and because we as humans are naturally feeling many emotions throughout everyday, children can deduct that they, themselves, are not okay. This can create self-doubt, self-criticism, anxiety, and such obstacles.
Ms. Betzko brought a clear picture about what happens when our children are feeling big emotions. Children are reaching for a coherent field; a safe place to be held within while the emotion runs its course. If this doesn’t happen, the emotion can get stuck in the body. Healthy, fluid emotion takes about 90 seconds, though if our backlog is at all full, it will take longer.
So what do parents/caregivers do during this time?
First, Tammy reminded us to check in with ourselves, take deep breaths into our bellies. Our role is to hold a coherent space for the child. Don’t engage the story or reason, and don’t take anything personally. Let the child release the emotion (it will run through the child’s nervous system in a way that is unique to your child). We can remind our child to stay with the emotion. Talking isn’t necessarily important. Phrases like “It’s okay for you to feel how you’re feeling,” or “I’m here” may be all that is needed. What is most important is that the parent stay comfortable, accepting, and non-judging. If (and only if) it is necessary to follow up about what happened, wait until the emotion has run its course, or even until the following day.
When it comes to expressing anger, set ground rules with children such as not harming self or others, and not breaking things that shouldn’t be broken. Children usually don’t want to be held or touched during this time, though your steady presence will help them to feel safe. Tammy talked about holding presence with anger, and how its expression can be facilitated in many different ways. Find what works. Some need to yell, some want to push or stomp, wring a dish towel or tear a newspaper; each situation will be different, and, given an unconditional space, a child’s own wisdom will most often be the best guide.
Her suggestion for children age 0-7 was simply that we adults are holding space. For children age 8 and older, we continue to hold a safe, unconditional space while perhaps taking the opportunity to verbally name the emotion while they are feeling it. “It seems like you may be sad/mad/etc.” This builds self awareness and emotional intelligence.
Emotions serve important roles in life. Joy helps us to fill ourselves with our true essence and follow our hearts. Anger is an especially uncomfortable emotion in our culture but is incredibly important to our well-being. Aligned anger clears our space, allows us to say no (or yes!), and often helps create clarity. Sadness allows us to complete a cycle; grieving and moving on without carrying our past into our future. Fear is what helps us delineate risk and discern what is safe for us.
Ms. Betzko shared some tools with us that we can practice in non-crisis times to help build unconditional love and presence. We can practice breathing, having an “observer” perspective, standing in equanimity/neutrality, and trying very hard to not take emotion/behavior personally. We can practice building objectivity when we observe our children and can make neutral statements such as “her fingernails are round, her ears lie close in to her head, his hands are cold,” etc. Practice walking or running like your child walks or runs.
She also gave us things to remember: Practice kindness and gentleness with yourself. Celebrate progress. We are all doing our best. Displays of big emotions can indicate that the child feels safe with you and trusts you; this is a good thing. Many times, emotions are tricky to navigate. Children are not being manipulative; there’s some emotion that needs to move through them. It’s not always going to make sense to us. Our children need us to be strong in holding them even in the face of familial or social judgments. Remember, we can and often are saying “No” and “I love you” at the same time.
WSB Parent Council thanks Tammy Betzko for her time and expertise given to help support our jobs as parents. Special thank you to Lael Selznick for taking notes during our discussion.
The Waldorf School of Bend cultivates academic excellence through our experiential curriculum rich in the arts, sciences and practical works. We honor each child’s unique spirit by building capacities of will, free thought, compassion and social responsibility. In this way, children develop with purpose to act as powerful world citizens.