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Stop, Think, Act

A friend moving to a new town leaves your son blue. A child angry about cleaning her room when she wants to play says she feels red. And when you play the upbeat chorus of Pharrell Williams’ song Happy, your kids start dancing, exclaiming, “That’s yellow, that’s yellow!”

The “Mood Meter” is a visual representation of what you might be feeling by assigning colors to different emotions. Part of a broader initiative called RULER that schools like Corbett Preparatory School of IDS are implementing for social and emotional learning, the Mood Meter is one of four tools for managing feelings appropriately.

RULER stands for Recognize, Understand, Label, Express, and Regulate — a process that can help adults and students identify and manage their emotions. Developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, the RULER method incorporates research-based tactics of the Charter, Mood Meter, Meta Moment and Blueprint that benefit both school communities and families.

The Mood Meter in particular is a great way for parents to value emotional intelligence at home. By identifying how they are feeling openly together, parents and children can learn to make more thoughtful decisions. Three simple steps will introduce you to the Mood Meter and perhaps inspire you to look more deeply into RULER’s other strategies.

  1. Name your emotion: As Dr. Marc Brackett, the director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence says, “If you can name it, you can tame it.” The Mood Meter helps pinpoint emotions with its simple square split into quadrants of red, yellow, blue, and green. Each color corresponds to different emotions, which students learn to categorize based on their level of energy and pleasantness. Feeling pleasant with high energy puts you in a happy state of yellow. High energy and unpleasantness, however, shifts to red, which reflects emotions such as anger or fright. Pleasant and low energy is peaceful green, and unpleasantness and low energy show up in the blue quadrant with feelings that may include loneliness or disappointment. Every color is valued and has its purpose. Knowing how to regulate each quadrant is the key.

Corbett Prep’s Early Primary division leader, Marla Vildostegui, says the Mood Meter has helped her kindergarten class become more mindful about how their emotions change throughout the day and affect their actions. Their vocabulary improves as well, as they graduate from saying they

feel “fine” to using words such as “ecstatic” or “serene.” Teaching subtle distinctions between similar feelings empowers students to recognize the full scope of their emotional lives, see how their feelings fluctuate and eventually learn to manage their emotions, Vildostegui says.

  1. Think about how you want to feel: All emotions are valid. But certain emotions are more beneficial depending on what you want to accomplish. Feeling outraged could help you make a passionate argument in a debate, but backfire if you need quiet time to write or study. Knowing where your child is on the Mood Meter helps so you can encourage him to make deliberate shifts during the day. A charter, another aspect of RULER, may remind families of agreements they created together — how they want to feel at home, what they can do to have those feelings, and guidelines to prevent conflict.
  1. Shift your feelings. You may know you want to move from red (anger) to green (peaceful) but feel stuck. Having strategies at the ready make it easier. Does a certain kind of music invigorate you? Will a walk outside improve your concentration? Do you feel uplifted when you look at a beautiful photo or read an inspirational quote? The Mood Meter even has an app that lets you log your feelings and prompts you with suggestions if you need a change, further developing emotional intelligence in all areas of your life.

Schools that use the Mood Meter and RULER report that they have a healthier school climate where students are less likely to bully others and more likely to demonstrate better leadership skills and increased attention. Students may perform better academically as their work habits improve and distractions shrink, and teachers develop more positive relationships with students and experience less burnout.

The RULER approach also helps kids identify strong emotions in their Meta-Moments, in-the-moment, step back and pause techniques, to help them identify effective responses and strategies to combat challenging situations. And Blueprint, the fourth tool, works to develop empathy in kids as they work together to reflect on problems and gain other perspectives in working through conflicts.

Attaching feelings to colors with the Mood Meter is simple enough for even the youngest children to grasp, but the exercise benefits people of all ages. Whether your goals are for the living room, the classroom or the office, emotional awareness puts people in control of their feelings instead of the other way around.

To learn more about Yale’s RULER approach visit www.ei.yale.edu/evidence. For more information about how RULER is working at Corbett Prep visit www.corbettprep.com.

Dr. Joyce Burick Swarzman is Headmaster at Corbett Preparatory School of IDS, which sent a team of teachers and administrators to professional development at Yale this summer to learn about RULER.

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