Making Time and Space for Emotional Processing

Staff should create and adjust the structure of daily activities to accommodate youth’s processing of emotion.

One way we found the SEL Challenge programs prioritize supporting youth in learning to process and handle emotion effectively is by creating rituals, or particular times and spaces, for dealing with and processing emotion.

In practice, staff can approach this by:

  • creating time, space, or rituals within program activities for youth to process and learn from emotion.
  • adapt program activities to respond to youth’s emotional readiness and needs.

In this way, the programs are deliberately structured to create safe spaces for youth to experience emotions, express them, and learn about handling their own emotions and the emotions of others. Each of the SEL Challenge programs implements this in different ways: Youth On Board has regularly scheduled peer-counseling sessions for the explicit purpose of processing emotions that arise in the course of community action work. Voyageur Outward Bound School has its Restore ritual for addressing conflict (the idea is to restore or bring back what has been lost: trust, open communication, respect, etc.). The Possibility Project creates theater spaces where emotions are both a part of the play and a part of youth’s experience in creating the play. AHA! has lessons and activities to learn about and get in touch with emotion stored in the body. Can You Hear Us Now? creates activities designed to trigger emotions, and other SEL Challenge programs have activity structures for youth to explore emotions around specific issues, like gender, sexuality, and injustice.

Quote markI think it’s giving them a chance to feel and express what they are going through. We also cry quite a bit around here. We think crying is great. We try to encourage people to cry with discipline. The reason we started the peer counseling groups was because we weren’t leaving enough room for structured social-emotional pieces. And if you have the structured piece then you can be more disciplined about the work piece. But they bleed into each other too much if you don’t have the structures. And there’s a job that needs to get done that is about social/emotional learning, but it’s not always about your personal crisis.

It is also imperative that planned structures are also flexible and adjust to the structure or flow of activities in order to adapt to the needs of the youth. Staff should be attuned to youth’s emotional states so that they can adjust the day’s activities according to the needs of the youth. La’Ketta Caldwell at Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM) said:

Quote markMaybe what we’re doing today we need to shift because they’re already not having a good day. We need to maybe play and try to figure out how we can get them to process through that. We know we have to hit outcomes and stay on schedule, but our kids are the number one priority in outcome. We can push our agenda, but our agenda is not as important as their agenda and what’s going on with them, the whole child.

Further Reading

Join the Discussion

What are the signs you look for in youth to know when to adapt programming to their emotional needs?