Identifying and Harnessing Emotions

It’s important that youth have the opportunity to practice and develop healthy and functional emotional skills

In the SEL Challenge programs, youth experience:

  • practicing being aware of, identifying, and naming emotion
  • reasoning about causes and effects of emotion, and
  • using healthy strategies for coping with or harnessing strong emotions to advance the program work.

As youth experience more positive and challenging emotions in their program, they may begin to identify patterns of emotional responses. Over time, these patterns can help youth to identify the cues in their body, voice, and thought patterns that are associated with different emotions. Identifying one’s own emotions is important to managing the expression of emotions, becoming comfortable in having and expressing emotions, adapting emotional expression to suit the context, and anticipating the influence of emotional reactions on oneself and others.

Having an emotionally-supportive culture provides opportunities for youth to reason about the factors that cause specific emotions and about how those emotions influence them. Sometimes the causes of emotions may be obvious, but other times youth may need to first examine the effects emotions are having on them before they are able to clearly identify the cause.

Once the realities and causes of positive and challenging emotions have been identified, they can be managed when youth learn how to cope or harness emotions. Coping generally refers to the process of coming to terms with challenging emotions or their causes.

Harnessing refers to a wider set of situations in which the goal is learning not to eliminate an emotion but to channel the emotion and to use it as information or motivation.

Youth may use emotions like distress, anger over injustice, pain, frustration, or compassion to pick a related project, learn from experience, or creatively express their feelings. Handling emotions may also include learning to modify expressions of pride or anger so that the work of the group is not disrupted.

Youth from YWCA Boston (YW Boston) shared how much more productive it is to have calm conversations about sensitive topics with people who may have opposing views than it is to berate someone for disagreeing:

Quote markUs being mad at you is counterproductive. So when you’re standing up for something, you can’t bash other people’s ideas just because they’re different from yours, and I think that’s the most important thing to come out of social justice work. It’s not to have one group versus the other. It’s to slowly but surely get the most from the non-supportive group and bring them with you. I don’t attack them. I just try to ask them more questions just to clear up any confusion and kind of create an understanding.

Join the Discussion

How does your program help youth recognize the causes of their deeply rooted emotions?