Courtesy photo

Leo expresses his feelings.

Let's talk about how we're feeling today. The year 2020 has been the wildest most of us can remember, and it's not even halfway over yet.

Between the COVID-19 pandemic itself, the quarantine closures, the ensuing economic anxiety and now the massive civil unrest rising everywhere, most families are coping with high levels of stress and uncertainty. This can create extra issues within any household: from shorter tempers and poor sleep to food and housing insecurity, many people are struggling in a variety of ways.

Children are affected by the heightened stress levels, and they don't generally have the tools to process what they're sensing, experiencing and hearing around them. Often, this can look like an increase in "acting out" behaviors: tantrums, being especially demanding or sensitive, disruptive sleep or eating changes, etc.

Many parents and caregivers are already stretched to their limits. Addressing new degrees of high-maintenance behavior from the kids with patience and understanding can be a tall order.

At Twirl, as a play-based educational nonprofit, we believe that providing kids and their families with basic emotional intelligence tools can go a long way toward helping everyone weather this year's collection of storms. Our Friday Feelings Corner class is particularly focused on helping with processing emotions, good communication and patience and breaking down these areas with simple exercises and songs any family can use together.

Each week's Friday Feelings Corner focuses on a single emotion or communication principle. During the class, through comical puppet shows and songs, we discuss how we experience the emotion in our bodies and minds, breaking down how to identify and put words to the feeling.

We act out situations that can cause that emotion, and use a few quick and easy steps to help process it safely and helpfully. In the episode about empathy, our little teddy bear friend arrives wearing giant, people-sized shoes. He explains that his mom told him he should try to "walk a mile in someone else's shoes."

The others giggle and explain the expression, and then try out different imagination tricks to explore other people's points of view. Then, at the end of every class, we reaffirm ways to use words to communicate well, so that everyone can feel heard and understood while resolving conflict in a positive way.

The class is a short 15-25 minutes each week. The format is designed to be one that families watch together. Engaging live at the time of the livestream - at 11 a.m. every Friday morning through the Twirl Facebook page - really enriches the experience, as kids can have their adults type in their names, comments or questions and the teacher and puppet friends can engage directly, speaking personally with whomever is watching.

For families whose schedule won't allow for the livestream experience, the class is available on Twirl's Facebook page or YouTube channel from the time of recording onward. In fact, for families that are new to the class, we encourage you to start with some of the first class videos, where we dealt with essential emotions like anger, worry and love.

The Feelings Corner class was initially created to address the rising anxiety around the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year, but the principles are simple and universal. Giving children the tools to understand, name, process and communicate their emotions, and identify and respond to the feelings of people around them, can make a hugely positive impact on their development.

Not only does it help navigate stressful times within a family group, it has a grounding, deeply positive affect on their confidence, their intellectual development and their language skills. These methods promote academic and athletic success, as well.

As these strange times move forward into ever more uncertain territory, it is vital to include our children in building skills and coping tools that help diffuse the rising anxiety levels everywhere. If you have serious concerns about your child's behavior or emotional wellness, Taos has professional resources through organizations like the Taos Clinic for Children and Youth, Taos Behavioral Health, Namaste Child and Family Development and Golden Willow.

Sesame Street has also done some beautiful work lately in providing video content to help discuss the various issues with our kids: sesamestreet.org/videos?vid=1829.

At Twirl, our content is created mindfully to reach kids on a personal level, featuring familiar faces, and help them know that Twirl is still a part of their world. And although we are saddened by the need to keep our Twirl facilities closed for COVID-19 safety reasons, we're still here to play and learn together, in new and various ways.

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