The ABCs of emotional support

Helping Students Navigate Difficult Emotions


A is for Awareness: Helping students navigate difficult emotions begins with helping them name their feelings. This can be done in a number of ways.

  • Expand your students’ emotional vocabulary. You can do this with a feelings chart or emotional word list.

  • Ask students to name the emotions that characters from their favorite books or TV shows are experiencing. Here is a list of books from the School Library Journal that can support social emotional learning.

  • Name the emotions you’re feeling during class or ask students to identify the emotion you’re experiencing based on how you describe what you’re feeling.


When children have big emotional experiences they can have a hard time knowing what they’re feeling or how to respond.

B is for Balance: Help students find balance when they’re feeling strong emotions. Oftentimes naming the feeling is a great way to start. Here are some other ways to help students be okay even when they’re on an emotional roller coaster.

  • Normalize and validate the experience students have by letting them know that some emotions are harder to navigate than others, that it’s normal to experience difficult emotions, and that it’s good that they are aware of their emotions.

  • Identify ways characters from books or movies deal with strong emotions and ask them to assess whether they did so in a balanced and skillful way.

  • Role-play ways to find balance when having strong emotions. For example, students can use the breath as a resource or anchor their attention on the sensations of their hands or feet. They can also send kind wishes to themselves.

C is for Curiosity and Care: Bringing curiosity to the emotions students are feeling can encourage them to notice how emotions impact them and learn how to care for themselves.

  • Ask students to notice the sensations that arise in their body when they have an emotion. For example, ask if they feel heat on their face or tightness in their belly.

  • Help students imagine what it might feel like to be a character in their book or favorite movie when the character is experiencing a challenging emotion.

  • Emphasize that when an emotion is too intense, it’s okay to take time to take care of themselves by taking a couple of breaths or talking to a friend.

S is for Support: Learning how to get support when feeling strong emotions is an important part of navigating difficult emotions.

  • Explore with your students the inherent resources they have available for support including their breath, body, and mind.

  • Point students to who they can turn to in their community for support. This can be a parent, trusted teacher, a school counselor or psychologist, or peers they trust.

  • Model asking for support from your students when you feel strong emotions during class.

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