Situational awareness means the ability to identify the who, what, when, where, and why in every situation
Mother: All this talk about feelings makes me nervous. I like to maintain total control.
Sister: It’s very hard to live with a brother who’s always mad or sad.
Shloimy: I’m not mad and sad! I’m always happy!
At our first session, I show Shloimy an emotion wheel depicting the six main emotions [The six basic emotions are: happy, sad, angry, surprised, scared, and disgusted] with emojis reflecting the body language of each.
We act out each emotion in front of a mirror. “How do you act when you feel happy?”
He smiles broadly.
“Great! What about angry?”
Shloimy scowls and draws his eyebrows together.
We spend a few sessions identifying a variety of feelings. We cut out pictures from magazines showing people with different expressions, and combine them into collages for each emotion. We act out the behavior that comes with each feeling to help familiarize Shloimy with his own emotions [The more aware Shloimy is of his emotions, the more he’ll be able to self-regulate his behavior]. We take turns guessing what the other is feeling.
But for Shloimy to accurately read emotions, he needs to achieve better situational awareness [Situational awareness means the ability to identify the who, what, when, where, and why in every situation].
“Thoughts come before feelings,” I explain to Shloimy. I show him the picture of the ice cream parlor again. “What is the boy thinking?”
“My ice cream fell, now it’s ruined, ” Shloimy says.
“That’s right! And how do you think that makes him feel?”
I introduce Shloimy to the word “trigger” — a cause. “Can you tell me what makes you feel happy?”
“When I get a new toy. Or win a race on my bike.”
“Excellent! Happiness is usually triggered by gaining a thing, an experience, or a relationship.”
I show Shloimy a picture of a highway with many lanes. I pick up a toy car and put a toy in its trunk. “Look, I’m putting a new toy in my trunk. My car is starting to drive in the happy lane.” I drive the car down the carpet.
“How does my car ride when it’s in the happy lane? Smoothly, staying in its lane. Look at my face when I’m in the happy lane: I’m smiling.”
Shloimy and I make happy faces. “But what if I lose my new toy?” I pop the trunk open and make the toy fall out.
“Now I’m angry!” My car starts careening wildly across the lanes. “Now I’m out of control. What triggered that?”
For homework, I give Shloimy an emotion wheel with blanks next to each emotion. His job is to chart his feelings, listing incidents that triggered each feeling.
When he returns the following week, the only emotion filled in is happy.
I discuss this with Miriam. “It seems like Shloimy still needs to learn to name his emotions and what triggers them.”
She’s a little defensive. “Maybe he really was happy the entire day?”
“You tell me,” I challenge her. “Was he?”
“I guess not,” she acknowledges. “He got upset when I told him to do homework, and he threw a tantrum at bedtime.”
“Perhaps Shloimy claimed to be happy because he’s uncomfortable admitting to negative emotions.”
Miriam is silent. “Yes,” she says finally. “I can understand that” [Miriam can help Shloimy by learning to be more open and accepting of her own emotions].
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 666)