Head of School's Blog

Managing our Emotions

Kim Ridley
We are past the halfway point of the school year (as shared by the 1-2 and K teams). This is the time of year when caregivers have just received progress reports summarizing the past few months of academic, social, and emotional learning. This is also when teachers dig deeper into meaningful and new learning through exciting projects and other opportunities to deepen knowledge and connection with our world.  

Caregivers are also preoccupied with examining next-school options and evaluating whether their children are progressing as expected, all while contemplating what lies ahead. This flurry of activity is set against a backdrop of political turmoil, the war in the Middle East, the threat of war with other nations, and unusual weather patterns accompanied by dreary days. Yikes! I don’t know about you, but I need to feel the sun on my face. January has been quite gloomy!

I empathize with the anxiety and stress that we can all feel. To manage stress intentionally, I focus on what I am learning from the situation, avoid being too hard on myself, and be aware of my emotions. At the same time, I remind myself of the importance of sleep, perspective-taking, and connecting with those who support me and are willing to hold up a mirror with courage and compassion. Also, I lean into my daily control mantra–what is in my control, what can I influence, and what is outside of my control?

It takes intentional practice to manage our emotions productively. Succumbing to anxiety can foster harmful beliefs that negatively affect us and can damage the well-being of our entire school community. My primary concern is the widespread occurrence of anxiety disorders among both children and adults in the United States. The American Family Physicians organization reports that one in twelve children aged three to seventeen has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Furthermore, the National Institute of Mental Health has found that thirty-one percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from anxiety disorders. Compounding this issue is the lack of affordable and accessible mental health services.

As the Head of School, I frequently encounter the challenges people face in their daily lives. Our work as administrators is problem-solving and navigating dilemmas, which is essential for leadership's effectiveness. Yet, I wonder how things might change if we remember that, often, people are doing their best. Imagine adjusting our approach to a teacher, administrator, caregiver, board member, or staff, acknowledging that they, too—no matter who they are—might be dealing with a lot. How should we conduct ourselves amid challenging conflicts? How do we want people to feel, even if we disagree?

This year, Unit parents, teachers, Mike Bowler, Anna, and I have engaged in reading and discussing "The Emotional Lives of Teenagers (Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents)" by Lisa Damour, a practicing psychologist. Sharing this book in community with parents and teachers has illuminated the commonality of our experience raising children, making sense of our own childhoods, society, and the baggage that comes with all of that. I recommend that parents read this book. However, as discussed last night, cultural bias and different experiences were not always acknowledged or illustrated. Dr. Damour’s words are wise, compassionate, and thoughtful, as she is a parent, too. Regarding the direct impact of how we (adults) manage stress, Dr. Damour writes:

“Our children learn a lot about how to navigate challenging emotions simply by watching how we do so. A parent who complains about a terrible day at work while pouring themselves a glass of wine is broadcasting one message about how to handle stress; the parent who says, today was rough—I could really use some fresh air, who is up for a walk? Is broadcasting another message.”

As caregivers, it's crucial for us to be thoughtful in how we handle and demonstrate coping strategies for stress, given our children are closely watching what we do. We should capture the chance to show them effective methods for dealing with challenges while acknowledging that stress is an inevitable part of daily life. Expecting you, your children, or our students to always be comfortable or to experience minimal distress is a recipe for ANXIETY and FRUSTRATION. 

When stressful situations occur, as they will, I encourage our community to pause, take a deep breath, allow ourselves to truly feel, get curious—to reassess and rethink—before we send that email, jump to conclusions, make remarks, lead with judgment, respond to judgments, or take a firm stand. How about we give ourselves a moment to pause and reconsider?

Let us practice modeling for our children the message that we trust and believe they can get through whatever is tough or difficult. It's crucial to remind them—and ourselves—that no one is alone in this journey; growth and learning is a process that takes time and, yes, patience. Thank you for considering how we might create space to bring less stress to ourselves, our children, and our school community. Let’s make these next few months of school joyful, and also, let us, please work toward understanding that learning in community can often be and is complex, and with that understanding, approach our human interactions with empathy, especially during stressful moments and times.
Fayerweather Street School | 765 Concord Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 | 617-876-4746
Fayerweather is a private PreK, kindergarten, elementary and middle school. We engage each child’s intellect.