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Jewish World Review April 19, 2001 / 26 Nissan , 5761

He Works/She Works
By Jaine Carter and James D. Carter

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Consumer Reports

Helping children deal with negative emotions -- AMERICA is still in shock, weeks after the Santana high school shooting in Santee, Calif. No matter how many times we see children lying dead in the streets or students crying in confusion, it is still difficult to comprehend.

How could a kid shoot fellow students, and why would a kid do such a hideous act of violence? Whom can we blame? What about the shooter's parents? Shouldn't they have recognized that their child was in emotional trouble? Why didn't the shooter's friends and teachers pick up a signal that tragedy was imminent? What role does society play in allowing our nation's children to resort to violence in order to solve their emotional problems?

Similar questions haunt us every time we experience another school shooting. Yet the shootings continue. In our fear and anger, we wonder if there was anything we could have done to prevent them ... or to stop them in the future. The sense of powerlessness is overwhelming, leading to enormous fear. Could a similar tragedy happen in our town, in our schools, to our children?

Of course, it could. Children are everyone's business. As we have pointed out many times, children may be only 25 percent of our population, but they are 100 percent of our future.

Psychologist Deborah Rozman, executive vice president of HeartMath, a training and consulting organization that focuses on emotional mastery, is working on solutions. Rozman's group has been hard at work convincing school authorities that today's children are sorely lacking in life skills, including how to control and deal with their emotions. Early intervention is the key.

"Life skills can make it easier for anyone to deal with the unexpected," says Rozman. "After a crisis like Santana, we all feel a wide assortment of painful and confusing emotions." Fear leads to anger and anger is the result of feeling powerless.

According to Rozman, powerful emotions are carried in our memory and can affect us for years or even a lifetime. "It's very important to acknowledge feelings and to allow yourself to feel them."

Dwelling on negative emotions too long can cause emotional scarring that makes it difficult to let go of the pain and anger. Letting go of anger is critical to emotional survival.

Powerful emotions have a way of sticking in our subconscious, springing forward whenever a memory trigger is activated. HeartMath experts say crisis experiences like Santana have made us pay more attention to the emotional and mental health of our children, but not enough.

Rozman adds, "We have to acknowledge that emotional and mental health is as important as any other subject that we can teach our kids. We need to give children tools to help them manage anger, stress and feelings that stem from uncertainty. We can help empower children by acknowledging and emphasizing the importance of emotional balance and mastery."

Presently, HeartMath's ( system is being taught to only 20,000 people a year. These programs provide simple tools that help people deal with crisis, anger and pain. All schools should be implementing similar programs with parental attendance mandatory. Rozman suggests that emotional control begins with a system that can, and should, be taught. The following is a sample.

1.) Recognize what you are feeling. Do this by talking with a friend, family member or a counselor. If the pain is causing confusion, try writing about some of your thoughts and feelings. Think don't act. Sometimes this can help release some of the emotional energy accumulated from the event and makes it a little easier to share your feelings without aggression.

2.) When you feel waves of emotions related to an event or situation coming on, try to shift your attention for a moment to the area of the heart. Gently breathe, slow and easy. With each breath, pretend you are breathing through the heart. Science has shown that by focusing on the heart and holding your emotional energy in this area, you can actually balance your nervous system, balance heart rhythms and help ease the ill affects of stress on the body. It can also help lessen some of the emotional charge so you can start to assimilate your feelings and get more clarity.

3.) Have compassion for yourself and the other people affected by the event. Allow yourself, and others, the time needed to accept what happened. Know that each person may experience the situation differently. Some may need to express more, others less. Back off and give it time. Some may feel emotional pain more than others and need more time to recover. It's an individual process. Compassion and care are essential in any healing process.

4.) Understand that you don't always get an answer as to why the event happened. Accept that. "Being too attached to an answer can keep you feeling trapped in a cage of emotional pain," says Rozman. "Let answers find you. Trust your intuition."

Jaine Carter, Ph.D. and James D. Carter, Ph.D. are management consultants and authors of the book, ''He Works She Works -- Successful Strategies for Working Couples." Comment by clicking here.


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