Every year Transition School makes an all school project. Through the subjects the children study, the whole school focuses on the exploration of a single theme or human quality. The theme they explored this year was:
Self-awareness and self regulation
“I learned that hate and anger can make your body feel bad. Anger just comes out whenever it wants, but people should be able to control it so that it does not harm. Hate is when you dislike someone or something which later on becomes severe. I’m stuck with hate, so I’m trying to get rid of it by doing ATB, which centers myself and gets rid of the past and makes my mind fresh. ATB makes me feel like going into a new world that helps me to get the sad stuff out of my mind. When I do that I fall into peace.”
Transcript from a 14 year old boy written reflection on how to deal with emotions such as anger.
Self regulation/conscious control, – not as repression or struggle, but as a sense of conscious self adjustment to both the inner and outer needs of the moment –, requires a well developed sense of self-awareness, the ability for self-sensing, and honesty.
To us self-awareness and self regulation are the main skills that a person needs in order to develop. It is a long process that ultimately leads the person to find the deeper sense of self. It is, we could say, the journey of life, or the journey to a more fulfilling life, and the first steps into self-awareness/self-sensing and self regulation/conscious control can be started at any point in one’s life – the sooner the better.
Throughout the year we have been playing games where the children needed self-control and honesty in order to stay in the game. Most of these games were played with the eyes closed. At the end of each session we facilitated a sharing in which children had the opportunity to be honest and recognize, in a safe way, whether they had managed to control their impulses to “cheat”, or whether they had given in to the need to win – to the need to be the best, to the fear to lose, to what others might think…
We would begin each sharing by asking the children to close their eyes and show with one hand how many times they didn’t manage to control themselves: keep their eyes closed where relevant, or control their reactions/impulses. They would do this by bringing up a finger for each time they lost this control (a fist would mean 0 times and 5 fingers would be 5 or more times). We then asked them to open their eyes and an open discussion would follow.
With this open discussion we offered a space where children could feel safe to recognize what had happened to them. In this discussions we are always attentive to help children move out of judging, out of “good and bad”, and to lead them into simply recognizing one’s own limitations and into identifying what to work on for next time and why. This requires us to keep an attitude free from any judgment throughout the process; we carefully tailor our language to help children feel that what we are doing is part of a process of self growth. The attitude we adopt helps children feel that it is very important and useful to be able to recognize one’s own limitations/difficulties and to work on them: It transmits to them that there is nothing bad about not managing and that one can use difficulties to come to know one’s self better, to learn, to progress and to grow.
During the games, as well as in all the other ATB activities, we kept encouraging the children to notice how they were mastering their impulses in order to be able to stay focused on the activity. We encouraged them to see if their will power could be stronger than their need to look (in activities with closed eyes); to see what others were doing; to do something different from the activity at hand; to attract attention; to prove themselves; to win; or whether their will power could be stronger than fear, worry, moodiness…
We acknowledged and encouraged the children when they were able to be honest by thanking them for their effort to stay true to themselves. We noticed that by the end of the school year the children had begun to value more being true than proving themselves, showing off or winning at any cost. We could see this honest involvement in the exercises in all types of activities, from games to deep relaxations.
As self regulation is based on the capacity for self-awareness, parallel to working on self-control, we helped the children to continue developing their capacity for self-sensing – The more proficient children get in the language of their body: the sensations, the more able are to regulate themselves. We did this by proposing exercises where they could experience different sensations in their body and through their body. As part of this work we had sharing, discussions and explanations about the different sensations one can feel inside the body and with the body.
This ability to sense and differentiate sensations, which might seem simple, and is often taken for granted, is actually a rather long process. Like learning a new language, which is very different from one’s own. It requires a lot of patience and repetition, especially with the younger grades. But if time and patience are invested into developing this ability, all the effort pays off later on, when children are more able to know what is going on in themselves and how they feel in any given situation. This gives children confidence and a sense of trust in themselves, while opening the possibility for a more conscious self-regulation.
We interspersed with all the above short exercises that help to effectuate changes in one self. For instance we worked on what we call with the children: “the quiet”, “find the quiet”, “the quiet inside”.
The quiet. First we guide children to close their eyes and to ease themselves into immobility. We then ask them to listen/notice the sound landscape around them. After some moments we invite them to listen to the silence that is always around the skin of their bodies. When we feel that they are tuned to the later, we ask them to sense in their body or around their body one place that feels particularly quiet, calm and peaceful. Once they find it they place one a hand on top of it. If this place is around the skin they put their hands together. From here we assist any child that might be lost or might be having a difficulty following or understanding what we are doing.
When all of them are with “the quiet” we ask them to sense this quietness as texture, temperature, density, colour, and to notice how it makes them feel to be tuned to “the quiet inside”. After that we either conclude the exercise or ask them to let “the quiet” spread to their whole being and stay with that sensation for some moments.
Before opening their eyes we remind them “to remember to remember” that “the quiet” is always with them, that whenever they need or want, at anytime and in anyplace, they can always get in touch with it. To conclude either each child shares with the group the sensations he/she experienced and how they made him/her feel, or takes some minutes to write about the experience.
With exercises like this, children become aware that once they know what is happening in them, they have tools for managing themselves.
Here follow some extracts from the 14 year old end of the year feedback papers. The children reply to the question: “what did you find most useful from ATB classes?”
“To be able to calm down when I need to. To be able to fully relax my body, muscles and the ability to feel more what is going on around me. Many times throughout the day I find myself being tense with the breath or a muscle, and using what I have learnt in ATB I am able to relax my body.”
“The most useful activity in ATB for me has been the one where we had to center ourselves, find the quiet, to settle down and get rid of the restlessness. It was useful because anytime I needed to calm down I would do the exercise. ATB has helped me to work in a group, to understand and listen to others. It has helped me to listen to myself, to my body.”
“It is a very good subject and I use many things it teaches in daily life. I think that ATB is the basics of how to live a life.”