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Parents learn to regulate emotions to help children

About a dozen parents at West Heights Elementary School will be participating in a pilot project aimed at improving their emotional well-being.

The goal is to ultimately teach children how to manage their emotions and improve their learning ability. By arming primary caregivers with skills to regulate their emotions, organizers are hoping their children will pick up on the strategy as well.

"This project is the start of a program to educate parents and students about how emotions work and how we can learn to manage them to enable us to be better learners, and to enjoy better health, both emotional and physiological," said program founder Dr. Kathryn Patten, the outreach coordinator at SFU's educational neuroscience laboratory.

Patten is a Mission resident who has taught in elementary and secondary schools, as well as at the university level for 34 years.

"I have long believed that curriculum has always addressed cognitive needs of students, but neglected emotive needs," Patten explained. "Today's world is increasingly more stressful and we do not teach our students how to manage emotion."

Participants will learn about how emotions function in the brain and the body, identify emotion-releasing strategies, and develop new ones.

There are many strategies to regulate emotions, and research shows none of them are bad, but there are different ways to use them, said Patten, who completed her PhD in neuroscience and neuropsychology of emotion at SFU in 2008.

For example, when someone is anxious, agitated or afraid, they're not at their best operating level and need to cognitively intervene in order to curb the emotion that will flood them. One method is to walk away, but you can't do that all the time, said Patten.

It's also not helpful to "beat yourself up," she added.

"Focus on positive self talk. Negative self-talk is okay as long as it's solution oriented."

Parents who have volunteered for the program will attend one workshop every week for six weeks after school, followed by monthly support group meetings. Child care, snacks, and meals will be provided. The pilot project is being conducted by volunteers and an anonymous donor is supplying the meals and activities for the children.

Data collected from this project will help develop curriculum and delivery of future emotional literacy programs.

Patten has been conducting similar workshops since 2008 for students in alternative learning programs, and foster parents, but this is the first time it's being done in the Mission school district.

The school board unanimously supported the program, which is set to begin this spring.

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