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I’ve had a revelation.

(Disclaimer: I am not an expert in human development, mental health, or emotional intelligence. The thoughts shared below are simply those born out of my own observation. That said, please feel free to read on. 😊)

I’ve had a revelation.

Recently, a student of mine produced some incredible artwork depicting her feelings (positive and negative) regarding her voice. Had an adult drawn them, one might say they were beautiful and deep; however, that description might change to melodramatic or overly emotional when one considers a 16-year-old drew them ... a description that isn’t entirely fair or accurate.

As a teacher, I’ve spent no small amount of time observing pre-teen and teenage students, learning about their development firsthand. I often joke about them being “pretend people,” saying they won’t be “real people” until they’re technically adults. (They usually chuckle.) But the fact of the matter is that these kids are truly still developing and maturing - physically, mentally, emotionally - and will continue to do so at least into their 20s.

With that being said, here is my revelation (I’ll tie it back to the artwork in a minute): I think we are born with the full range and capacity of emotions. As we grow, our emotions don’t develop - rather, our ability to understand and manage them does.

As infants, we don’t know how to respond to any experience except to cry or ... not cry. An amazing book called “The Wonder Weeks” was HUGELY helpful in describing what my baby’s little mind was really working through during that first year! Kiddos start learning to (sort of) communicate their feelings as they move into toddler and preschool years. My daughter is almost 4 and there are times when she literally can’t process her frustration over something unless I can completely redirect her, and even then it’s never a guarantee of success. It makes me think of J.M. Barrie’s explanation of Tinkerbell:

“Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.”

As kids move through different stages of development, they may (or may not) learn how to communicate and process their feelings, depending on what they learn through observation and direct instruction. As a teacher, I believe it’s my responsibility to help students process and communicate, to learn how to manage the feelings that can be so overwhelming. Most teenagers aren’t overly emotional on purpose - they don’t wake up in the morning thinking, “I’m gonna be a straight-up hot mess today.” It’s simply a fact of their current stage of maturation. Unfortunately, all too often we dismiss them as being melodramatic and making a big deal out of nothing, when what we should be doing is encouraging them to work through things. By giving kids the chance to communicate in different ways, we encourage them TO communicate, to think, to process, to learn. I’ve never heard someone say that stifling or ignoring their emotions was a good thing; if it were, we’d have no need for counselors or therapists!

So, here’s my point: kids MUST communicate. Kids NEED to communicate. I typically teach my students to sing and to play the piano ... but sometimes I get the chance to teach them how to be people, too.

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