Emotional Regulation and Nurturing the Good Inside

Every child brings a unique set of challenges and triumphs. For elementary school counselors, dealing with behavioral issues, emotional hurdles, and social struggles, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. However, there’s a powerful concept that can transform how we approach these difficulties: “good inside.”

Clinical psychologist, Becky Kennedy’s insightful book, Good Inside, introduces this concept as a mindset for parents in order to develop positive connections and therapeutic interventions with children. However, I immediately saw a similar connection for counselors.  Embracing the idea that every child has inherent goodness within them can fundamentally change the dynamic of counseling sessions. Instead of beginning with a focus on problematic behaviors, counselors can first recognize the innate goodness that resides in each child. In essence, this means rather than getting rid of the bad behavior, a caring adult can now validate and empathize with the struggle that the child is facing. Through this more positive interactive the child becomes more receptive to learning new strategies for coping with the particular struggle they face.

A common challenge for many is learning to manage emotions, especially negative ones. Children may struggle with anger, anxiety, or sadness, leading to disruptive behaviors or emotional outbursts. Adopting the good inside approach would lead to the following steps for a counselor as they deal with a child who has little emotional regulation:

  1. The first step in coaching a child through an outburst is to take a deep breathe (modeling for the child a coping strategy) and remind yourself of the basic concept with some positive self-talk, “This student is good inside even when they struggle.” This sets the stage for a positive approach despite disruptive behavior.
  2. The second step is to set clear boundaries when the situation calls for it. “My job is to keep you safe and I won’t allow you to__________ ( hit another student, throw a pencil, run away, etc.). As you speak you might step between the students, take the student by the hand and lead them away from the environment, collect objects like pencils, block the doorway or even move yourself out of the line of fire. Need I say your plan of action is determined by the age, size, and behavior of the student. This is not a situation where you put yourself in harms way. When possible, move with the student to a location where you are not on public display to continue the work.
  3. The third step is to validate the feelings that you see exploding out of the student. “I can see that you are really _______________ (angry, sad, scared, frustrated, etc.) It can be really hard to _________. Tell me more about what is happening here.
  4. The fourth step is to empathize with the feeling and when the child is open to it, provide some alternate strategies for coping. “You know lots of students have a really hard time waiting their turn. Even I get impatience when I have to wait an extra long time to _______. Sometimes it helps me to take a deep breath like this and then I say to myself, “I can do hard things even when I am feeling upset.”
  5. Stay with the student until they are emotionally calm and ready to re-engage with their class.
  6. Follow up with the student within an appropriate time frame. Be curious about the experience. What were they feeling? What triggered the feeling? How could they handle the situation differently the next time? This is the best time to help them develop coping strategies for the future. They might for example come up with a mantra or self-talk to calm themselves, “I am not my feelings. I can handle big emotions.” for example.
  7. Coach the teacher on the fundamentals of the approach so they can follow a similar approach with the student in the future.

Embracing the “good inside” approach in elementary school counseling can have a profound impact on emotional regulation. By recognizing a child’s inherent goodness, we set the stage for kids to develop confidence in recognizing their own emotions and to learn effective coping strategies for dealing with big emotions.

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