I can genuinely say I have not read such a heartwarming, age-appropriate book about emotion regulation in quite some time, until reading Your Happy Heart - How Helping Others Helps You, Too.
Have you ever had a child - whether it be your own child or a student - be so upset that it was difficult to help him because he did not “let you in?"
That is exactly what happened to Javon, the main character in the book. Javon was paired up with a younger student, Richard, as his reading buddy. However, when Javon met Richard, Richard did not respond to him in any way despite Javon’s efforts.
In situations like this, giving up may seem like an easier option than to try. However, the kids who need the most love may ask for it in the most unloving ways. Javon recalled his own experiences when he was Richard’s age, and remembered how his teacher and school counselor helped him. The next time Javon met Richard, Javon mentioned his teacher’s “Zen Zone” area of the classroom which served as a cool down area with a stuffed animal he took a liking to, and he mentioned knowing all about the “mads, sads, and happies.” This helped break the ice with Richard, which was the start of their buddy relationship. Javon also told Richard how he had learned about “finding his gifts” from his school counselor, which helped him be proud of himself.
One particular day Richard was very upset. Javon shared a heart he drew in art class which had pictures of everything that made him happy. Javon engaged Richard in that same activity. Richard surprised Javon by drawing a picture of them in his heart. When their buddy time came to an end, Javon actually gave Richard the stuffed animal which had helped him find peace and happiness.
Your Happy Heart - How Helping Others Helps You, Too shares many strategies to assist children with their social emotional development. Here are a few strategies which will help kids in your homes and schools.
Taking a Break. Think about the last time you were upset. Were you able to go about your day as though nothing happened, or did you need a small break? Kids experience the same emotions adults do, and may need more assistance when experiencing intense feelings. Providing kids a space to cool off, take a break, or compose themselves, helps them regulate their emotions faster than if we expect them to perform while their brains may be trying to process tough emotions. For parents this may mean giving your child some space before reprimanding them or discussing poor choices. For teachers this may mean having a small space in a classroom a child can go to, not because they are in trouble, but by choice when they need to take a 2-minute break. This cool down or peace corner may have stuffed animals, materials to color with, bubbles, and stress balls, despite students’ ages. Introducing students to this space and teaching them how to use these tools beforehand leads to higher success.
Speaking the Same Language. In the book the two characters formed a bond because their teachers named feelings the “mads, sads and happies.” While it may seem very minimal, a school which uses the same labels and “speaks the same language” in all classrooms and throughout the school can make a world of difference in the lives of children, as it removes unnecessary hurdles in learning. Having the same language provides children the opportunity to take in information and learn easily, instead of forming new ideas, labels and connections in their minds before internalizing information. Having the same set of behavioral expectations can also help children make better choices as they will know what is expected, instead of guessing what is or is not okay to do.
Boosting Self-Confidence. When we are aware of our feelings, we are then better able to understand how we feel about ourselves and how others interact with us. The book calls this helping children find their gifts. As parents and educators, we are responsible for helping children identify positive traits and for helping them create a positive narrative for themselves. Some of the ways the book details how we can help kids do this include sharing our time and attention with others, recognizing our talents while having a growth mindset, highlighting what we are good at, providing positive feedback, and understanding the power of “yet.”
This book can be used to discuss compassion, empathy, mindfulness, and growth mindset with children as young as second grade. The language used is very age appropriate throughout the entire book. The book’s illustrations are amazingly drawn and realistic. It is also nice to have boys of color be the main characters in such a positive light, as it provides role models for boys and children of color.
As a parent, former teacher, school counselor and licensed therapist, it is wonderful to have a book which can be used for a variety of topics, at home and at school. I am positive you will enjoy reading it as much as my son and I did! This book will help your children and students learn, it will help them grow in character, and it will hopefully inspire them to be as kind to others as the main characters were to each other.
Always learning. Always growing. Always aiming to inspire.
Counselor De Jesus
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Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is a former teacher, school counselor and licensed associate counselor serving children and families in the northern New Jersey area.
To learn more visit www.freetobemindful.com.