Teaching ‘The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens’ to 200 students!

On 13th December I had the pleasure of being invited to teach roughly 200 students at PanyaDee British International School in Koh Samui Thailand. No, not all at once! I taught in groups of age and year levels. Having multiple cultures, nationalities and languages certainly kept me on my toes. I absolutely love teaching from my book and course The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens. Mostly I teach one year level or  work with teachers but on this day I got to teach every year level and then meet some of the parents.

My book and course The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens covers over twenty topics offering coping strategies and practical life skills in mental, emotional and social health including exercises and videos. Below is a summary of the topics taught at particular year levels at PanyaDee School.

Year 7. Age 11-12: ‘What I can control v.’s what I cannot control’

I had planned to do a session on ‘Choices’ and ‘How to Think for ourselves’ with this group but when they walked in and I saw how much younger they looked I immediately changed my mind. In Australia Year 7’s are 12-13 years old and at this young age, even a year or two younger makes a big difference. In the moments of them walking in and sitting down I made a whole new lesson plan and wrote up on the board two columns: What I Can Control and What I Cannot Control to begin a discussion on the way we think, behave, learn, act and react, our goals and how we make decisions. It is important to understand at this young age that we cannot control things such as if somebody else likes us or is kind to us but we can control how we react and behave. We don’t want to be getting upset over things we cannot control including others’ thoughts and behaviours, or the way we look, colour of our skin and our height. However we can control the way we want to feel about these things. What we do in response and how we react is our choice.

They were a well-behaved and well-mannered group of students who were keen to get involved, put their hands up and participate throughout the one-hour session.

Below is the group brainstorm we did on the board.

Year 8. Age 12-13 & Year 9. Age 13-14: ‘Choices’

12- 14 years old can be a difficult age group. Being cool and fitting in starts to become more important than doing the right thing, listening to your parents or even listening to yourself. Peer group pressure and even bullying can become intolerable and standing up for yourself increasingly difficult. It is also the age (depending on culture and country) where alcohol, drugs and sex become a factor. For these two year levels I chose the topic of ‘Choices.’

 

After a lengthy discussion around what choices are, how we create good options, make good decisions that are right for us, how to listen to ourselves and deal with peer pressure we also looked at where and how we actually make decisions. Do we listen to our head? Our thinking place of  logic, rationale and common sense but also questioning, criticising and uncertainty. Do we listen to our heart? What we feel, desire, want, love, hurt and pain. Or do we listen to our gut? Sub-conscious space of knowing, trust and intuition. How do we know?

With that in mind I posed a scenario to the group based on my knowledge of this age group and of the local expat lifestyle in this area. The scenario was: You are at a house party with all of your friends from your school and other schools and someone finds a bottle of vodka. All your friends start doing shots. You don’t want to. How do you come to the decision to say no and what might be the repercussions of making this decision?

We looked at the possible positive and negative outcomes on the physical self and the possible positive and negative outcomes on the emotional self. The large group was split into smaller groups to discuss and the results of all the groups were put on the whiteboard.  As you can see from the photo below there can be many contributing factors to the thought process. The idea is not to look at which column has the most/least amount of answers as the ‘correct’ decision to make but to look at what is actually in these columns and listen to your gut instinct to know for yourself what the right thing to do is. What you value (ie:wanting your parents to feel proud or needing to feel cool) will help dictate how you make your decisions. As you can imagine many more topics and questions around what is important and why, how you feel about these things and why etc then enter in to this type of discussion.

The year 9’s handled it well and participated fully whilst the year 8’s, being a little younger were easily embarrassed, giggling, teasing each other and it was clear to me it was ‘not cool’ to participate in this type of conversation. That does not mean it is not relevant. Maybe they didn’t have the maturity yet, maybe I hit a topic to close too home, maybe there is some underlying bullying or teasing within this group but my aim is always the same – 1. That if one student feels more confident to listen to themselves and stand up for themselves then I have done my job. 2. That this conversation may be remembered a few months down the track if they find themselves in a tricky situation.

 

 

Year 10. Age 14-15 & Year 11. Age 16-17: ‘Who Am I?’

Adolescence is the developmental stage of identity where the biggest questions (consciously or subconsciously) are who am I? And where do I fit in the world? Although adolescence is considered 12-18 years I believe these identity questions become more prominent in the later years. 14-18 years old is a great age to be delving in to the topic of identity and trying to understand who we are. It is a big question and can feel hugely overwhelming and confusing so I have developed a way of teaching this that helps create understanding and less stress.

After a discussion around the topic I set the task of answering some questions that are listed in my book The Key (listed below). They answered alone before sharing with the person next to them and then back to the larger group. Asking questions in this way allows young people to learn self enquiry skills and objectively look at themselves in the the different aspects of their life, to look at and understand the similarities and differences of the different ‘versions’ of themself.

Some of the students found the questions easy to answer and some more difficult. They seemed to enjoy the partner sharing part too, learning more about each other and themselves. The conversation moved also in to topics around calming ourselves after arguments or before exams including topics such as meditation, negative thought patterns, positive self talk and the concepts of success and failure and how we understand them.

 

Meeting the Parents

So after an inspiring, exhilarating (and exhausting) day, I had a ‘meet & greet’ with the parents after the school’s day ended. A group of parents from different year levels attended to hear about what their teens had encountered with me. I went through The Key’s topics and then specifically what topics were addressed in each year level. A lengthy Q & A followed.

 

Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens.

 

 

 

The Recovery Village, US

I have always believed it important to network and share with organisations around the world. This week ‘The Recovery Village’ based in the U.S. reached out to me.

They are a “leading, full continuum care treatment facility for adults struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our 110-bed facility offers a peaceful and therapeutic location near Colorado Springs (US) to provide a nourishing experience for the body and soul.” Their testimonials from people who have spent time there were very encouraging so I thought I would share their link.

If you are a parent and worried about your teen’s mental health, have a read of their article –  ‘Parents Guide: How to help your teen cope with mental health issues.

https://www.palmerlakerecovery.com/resources/parents-guide/

Teen Mental Health

There is a growing mental health crisis with our teenagers and young people across the world. In Australia alone 1 in 4 adolescents will experience mental health problems this year and suicide is the most common cause of death for 15–24 year olds. The stats are alarming. One person is one too many.

In my experience with counselling teenagers I have had clients as young as 12 years old suffering from anxiety, clients at 13 believing that their parents divorce was their fault, at 16 not being able to look past a pimple or scar to see who they are as a person and at 17 wondering why they should get out of bed when “today is just going to be as bad as yesterday.” I have worked with adults who at 30 were still stuck in negative thought patterns, at 40 were still traumatised from being bullied at school, at 50 not feeling worthy of love and even at 70 still haunted by teenage family abuse.

None of us are ‘immune to life’ — to traumas, to ‘bad things happening’, to feeling like we have failed, to holding on to past hurts and to the complexities of navigating teenage friendships.

But this is not all doom and gloom.

Life doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is that quite often we don’t know what it is we can try. In those moments we have lost perspective. We have lost faith in the world and we have lost trust in ourselves.

My past clients spurred me to write my latest book ‘The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens.’ The most common sentence I was hearing from adults after working together was, “I wish I had learnt those things when I was younger,” and from that I set out to write. The frustration I felt at working with adults who had been carrying their life’s anxieties and traumas around for 10, 20, even 40 years was deeply saddening to me. Five-minutes is too long.

I believe the answer is in education. Not education that says ‘go to school’ but emotional intelligence education, social-emotional education, life education, education of the self, the heart and the soul.

A friend of mine, Kosal Khiev once wrote a poem ‘Moments In Between the Nights’ and that title alone springs to mind when I think about educating teens. It’s not in the ‘going to class,’ but the moments in between — the moments when no one is looking, when your mind suddenly turns, when doubt, fear, embarrassment, a memory, sadness, anxiety or negative thoughts kick in. It’s in those moments that we need to learn the self-awareness, the skills, tools and coping strategies to find our own balance again.

We can teach young people how to gain perspective, how to process their thoughts, emotions, behaviours and understand how and why they react to situations the way they do. We can teach them to understand and redefine terms such as success and failure. We can teach them self enquiry and self awareness, teach them how to better understand themselves, better understand friendships and the roles they play, that there is always someone they haven’t thought of they can talk to, something else they can try. We can teach them how to breathe — to calm down and to steady the mind. And to remind them that they are in control, that they have choice — choice in their actions, reactions, thoughts and behaviours. That there is ALWAYS something they can do. Life doesn’t happen TO us, we need to learn how to get back in the driver’s seat.

Through self-awareness we can create behaviour change but we cannot change what we are not aware of.

Yes we can even break out of negative thought patterns or better understand and cope with anxiety. There are simple steps that can be followed and in my book and videos I guide teens step-by-step in a very simple, practical and no bullshit way. I don’t brush over topics or say “Oh you’ll be okay.” he book gently holds their hand and takes them on a journey of self discovery where they learn to better understand themselves, find their strengths and resilience and get back in control of themselves.

In psychology terms, adolescence is the developmental stage of identity. Who am I? It is a powerful thing to begin to answer that question as a teen. How many adults can truly answer it?

 – – – –

* The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens is not a substitute for a specialised mental health counsellor or diagnosed mental health conditions.

Cultures of Thinking Conference 2019 (& radio podcast interview)

This week I presented at The 7th Annual Cultures of Thinking Conference facilitating a 90-minute workshop. Each workshop was capped at 30 people and I was thrilled to have a full room of teachers and educators from various schools in my presence. I held an interactive workshop to allow the room of educators to feel what it is like on the receiving end as well as to show how teachable these topics are. We brainstormed together the themes of ‘Success and Failure’ and ‘Tone of Voice’ – two topics from my latest book THE KEY, A SOcial Emotional Toolkit for Teens.

The group was up and moving around the room writing and sharing their thoughts on how they define success, naming something they felt they had succeeded in, how they define failure and naming something they felt they failed at. This produced great discussion. Teenagers are always setting themselves up for failure rather than success. How many times have we heard a teen walk in to (or out of) an exam and say “I’m going to fail?” But what does failure to them actually mean? Below 90%? Below 50%? Who are they comparing themselves to and why? What role do teachers, friends and parents play? How does this affect their self esteem? Their levels of fear or anxiety? What can we as educators do about fear, anxiety, breathing, calming down, self esteem, comparisons, judgements, jealousy? It raises so many questions.

In my opinion we can do something about ALL of these things. We can educate our teens in these topics by giving them real, practical and tangible coping strategies to handle their emotions and feelings. In my latest book THE KEY, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens there are tips, tools and strategies for all of these things and together we went through a few.

The second half of the workshop was focused on our tone of voice. Recognising the tone of voice we use when we talk to other people – seeing our role in escalating or calming situations and the impact our tone has. Role playing was both fun (and possibly daunting for those involved) in seeing the different scenarios get played out across the room. Our tone of voice also impacts the way WE feel. Our tone, our body language and our choice of words (positive or negative) together effect the way we feel in our day to day and effect the way we feel about ourselves. Recognising that often these are choices we make and we can choose differently greatly helps our ability to help ourselves. I showed a video from THE KEY course on Tone of Voice – to show the practical application.

Each tricky topic from the book has a video to explain – what is it, how do we feel/sense it, what can we do for ourselves in real life and when do we need outside help.

The feedback from the group was positive and I hope that everyone enjoyed my workshop as much as I enjoyed teaching it.

The next day I was approached by Lisa Entwisle from Wellthy Living Radio Show Podcast for an interview on my work.

Here is the interview:

Workshopping with teens in Romania

I was invited by my Romanian friend and colleague Ema to run a workshop at ‘Homing’ pop-up festival (25th June – 2nd July) in Timisoara, Romania, a city I had never been to in a country I knew nothing about. I had never thought to run a workshop there – I guess out of the naive viewpoint that locals wouldn’t speak English.

I agreed to be a part of this collaborative project on the concept of ‘home’ – leaving home, coming back home – in a country where young people finished school and almost immediately went overseas to further their career and educational opportunities. They learn German and English at school and are almost groomed to leave and start a ‘better life’ causing both a gap in the number of young people in the city and also a lack of connection between the older more traditional Romanians and the younger generation.

I was to run a workshop for ten teenagers and decided to run two evening sessions with adults too, mostly because I was there so why not! But here I want to talk about the teens. Ten 14-17 year olds and one twenty year old from the Heavenly Hell theatre group came and met me in the morning at Casa Artelor in downtown Timisoara for what was to be a three-hour creative writing workshop on the idea of home.

I had organised three to four activities and was a little nervous. By the end of the introduction I was feeling quite comfortable that I was on the presence of a group of confident, intelligent and perfect English speaking young people.

We never got past the first exercise which was about understanding where you think from and trusting yourself (trusting your gut) and believing in that space. We spent the next three-hours brainstorming, throwing around ideas, sharing concepts and thoughts and asking questions. Lots of questions.

The conversation turned to politics, spirituality, religion and trying to understand their place in such an orthodox country where thinking for yourself and voicing any opposition was still considered taboo by the powers that be. For me it was a tricky navigation of guiding young teenagers through trusting their doubts, concerns and their voice whilst recognising the country and culture that I was sitting in.

Once they recognised that sitting with me – an Australian author and counsellor was a safe place to voice their difficulties the questions got deeper and we went an hour over time allowing them to try and get to the bottom of what worried them – How do I found my spiritual path? How do I know if I am on the right path? Is there a wrong path? Where is God? How do we know?

And my favourite question that genuinely stopped me in my tracks when I had to answer this: “My priest tells me that if I don’t pray and come to church every week I will go to hell … but if you murder someone you can repent and still go to heaven. How does that make sense?”

I will never forget these incredible, bright, enthusiastic and inquisitive young human beings who both supported and challenged me in this new environment.

Here are some of the comments the students said afterwards.

“Such a fresh air in this traditional city you are. I didn’t get the answers but more questions to help put me on my path. Good to see that there are people whose stories can have a really nice impact on you. I’d love it if I could stay in this state of mind at least for a few more hours. This workshop was such an interesting one. Nice to meet you Romi.”

17 year-old.

“This meeting was really unexpected (in the most positive way). People like you inspire me to try new things – from religions to cultures and lifestyles and to be a better person. After getting to know a bit about you and your purpose I know that maybe that’s something that make me happy and feel fulfilled. Thank you for teaching us about what instinct and gut feeling is and how to use it. Thank you for coming to Romania and especially Timisoara. I will never forget you.”

17 year-old.

“In a really traditional country it is nice to have free and open discussions about such profound themes. I liked the first exercise but what I liked the most about this workshop is that the conversation flowed freely and it ended up being an interesting session of learning and deeper understanding not only of ourselves but the world. Good job Romi.”

15 year-old.

“… I was surprised to see how easily I could write because I have always said things in a complicated way in which people can not understand.”

17 year-old.

“It was a really good and relaxing atmosphere. I felt like I could talk about anything and it felt really good to see that there are people who share the same thoughts as I do because sometimes I feel like an outsider. At this workshop my mind felt relaxed because it didn’t need to always be prepared to give the ‘right answer’ and I learned how to handle my emotions and embrace spontaneity because sometimes what comes from the heart or the gut can be better than what comes from the brain. I felt that I received a new little family here when I was accepted as I am.”

15 year-old.

“Today I felt like I discovered a lot about myself and that felt really good. The boundaries that I had before just went away and I feel so much more ready to experience the beauty of life. I am not much of a writer but it was a really nice and warm experience.”

14 year-old.

“It was quite interesting to meet a person of likeminded mindset (double usage of mind – you know where this comes from). I read a lot of history and philosophy and the most recurring themes appeared here today. The gut of writing and the aspects of the body discussed were a cool way of looking at writing itself. It is also interesting how the other people interpreted it and even more how the discussion came about to a wider scope.”

20 year-old.

“Today was a very fun experience. We learned a lot, we chatted a lot and most important we had fun. The activities were smartly chosen because they had a purpose: to teach us how to handle life. I wish for myself in the future to participate in more workshops, projects and activities like this because I think it will help me grow up with hope, be smart and in a happy way.”

14 year-old.

 

 

Is Perfectionism getting in the way?

Perfectionism v. Good Enough.

If perfectionism gets in the way of you completing tasks, whether it be a project, sending off a manuscript, finishing a piece or art work or anything else, then check out my take on perfectionism… and rainbows. I teach this topic and more in courses for adults and for teenagers. Here is a little video I made on the topic from the jungles of Cambodia.

For more info on this topic and other tips, check out my book The 5-Minute Guide to Emotional Intelligence.

Asia Pacific Writers Conference, Indonesia.

On Tue 24th Oct at Ganesha University, a 3 hour (or more realistically, 4 or 5 hour) drive from Denpasar airport in Bali (through stunning mountains I might add), I was on a panel as part of the 3-day Asia Pacific Writers and Translators 10th anniversary conference.

This was my 5th one.

The topic of this 90 minute panel was:

Belonging and Writing:
Exile, Homecoming and Return Narratives.

Just a small topic!

I was one of three on the panel and last minute became the moderator also as ours had to head back home south to Sanur. I was worried that being both moderator and panelist would be a little tricky with Osamah Sami on the panel – an award-winning actor, writer, director and stand-up comedian, with a memoir Good Muslim Boy and movie Ali’s Wedding. A lively and confident personality as you might expect, but also a humble young man born in Iran to Iraqi parents who moved to Australia as a teenager. The panel was rounded off with writer and PhD candidate from Queensland Australia, Sophie MacNeill.

What unfolded quite naturally was a juicy discussion on ‘home’, ‘exile’, ‘belonging’ and ‘identity’ from a Muslim Iranian, Iraqi Aussie, a born and bred Australian Aussie of Irish decent, and a Jewish Australian expat living in Asia. As you can well imagine then, questions of belonging and identity were about as straight forward as our panel’s participant’s stories. ​The audience seemed to really enjoy the discussion and had plenty of questions for us. Thanks to everyone for coming down and thanks to the panel for their honesty and courage in their stories. The 3-day conference was as always, full of incredible authors, editors, translators and publishers. Northern Indonesia was such an incredible place to host such an event, most of us having never adventured to this area before. Here is (some of) the 200-strong gang from over 23 countries.

Every year I take a photo of me with the AP banner, so here is this year’s….

There are many workshops on offer throughout the conference. I feel so fortunate to be meeting with such experienced people in the industry. I went to ‘Editing: An Insider’s Guide’, hosted by Cate Blake from Penguin Random House and Ian See from University of Queensland Press in a small group where we had the opportunity to listen, learn, share and ask questions.

Holistic Counselling

So what exactly IS Holistic Counselling. What does it mean to say you are a holistic counsellor or that you want to go and see one?

Holistic Counselling looks at all of you. It recognises that people are not one-dimensional and that all the different parts that make up a person need to be factored in, to be able to fully understand the person. Holistic Counselling looks at mind, body and spirit.

Here is a 1.26 second video I made  explaining Holistic Counselling.

When I say I am a holistic counsellor, I am saying that I will take in to account your mental, emotional, physical and spiritual thoughts, ideas, fears and concerns. I will acknowledge that upbringing, religion, society and culture can play a role and I will listen without judgment and help clear past blocks and help you to step forward with ease, flow and confidence.

Tips for Journalling

Here is a short 4 video series to help you journal. For those who have never journalled, have stopped somewhere along your life journey, or are just curious to hear more.

Journalling – Writing in your diary – Self Writing

There are just as many reasons why people don’t journal, as why people do.  One reason for not journalling I often hear is “I don’t know what to write” or “I don’t know where to begin” so here are my 4 Key Questions in one minute videos that you can ask yourself.

4 Key Questions:

Question Number 1.

Question Number 2.

Question Number 3.

Question Number 4.

Happy Journalling

THE KEY: Hear what the students had to say

Teaching TEENAGERS about EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is no easy task, but I was up for the challenge.

My latest book THE KEY became the workbook in my curriculum that I recently taught to grade 7 (12-13 year-olds) at Bialik College in Melbourne, the top academic school in the State.

But academia doesn’t factor when talking about emotions, as the Head of Middle School discovered when he attended one of my classes to find that it wasn’t the usual ‘smart kids’ putting their hands up, but everyone else also.

One-hour weekly classes, over a ten-week period, teaching roughly 75 students in total.

We truly started from the beginning:

“Does anyone know what emotional intelligence is?”

The response was 100% “no”.

As with every topic, they were asked to write down what they thought it might mean before bringing it in for a group discussion.

A large range of topics were covered using the tools of writing therapy, discussion, youtube, some activities, and journaling homework.

This course was about discovering your identity and thinking for yourself. There was no right or wrong, nothing was being marked or graded, this was about YOU, your thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns. Who are you? All big topics but when broken down in to smaller topics, it all can just make sense.

It is impossible to wrap up the course in one piece of writing so I will share with you some student feedback given to me on a few of the topics covered.

ON IDENTITY:

“I can be myself. I don’t need to hide anything”

POSITIVE THINKING:

“I thought I couldn’t do it (a task) but then I changed my thought pattern in to a positive one and I did it”

FRIENDSHIP:

“I started being more honest with my friends and they were honest to me and we made a stronger friendship”

ON SUCCESS AND FAILURE:

“I used to think I constantly failed but it really depends on how you define things”

FRIENDSHIP:

“Instead of saying ‘no’ to someone, I helped them with what they needed. It made me feel like a better person and a helpful person”

JEALOUSY AND ENVY:

“I watched something and I didn’t feel jealous and it felt really good”

LEARNING BREATH:

“I did better in a test because I took deep breaths first and felt much more calm”

TONE OF VOICE:

“I stopped a fight from happening by changing the tone in my voice”

APOLOGIES:

“I apologised to someone and I meant it for the first time ever”

EMPATHY:

“When walking down the street, I saw a homeless guy so I went to Coles and bought him a loaf of bread and vegemite”

TONE OF VOICE:

“I have used a different tone of voice with my siblings this week and we have had less arguments and a much better relationship”

NEGATIVE THOUGHT PATTERNS:

“I was disappointed with myself and used the 4-step process to feel better”

JEALOUSY AND ENVY:

“I got a mark on a test and my friend got higher and I was fine instead of jealous”

TONE OF VOICE:

“I now get in to less fights with my family with understanding my tone of voice”

FAMILY:

“That my parents divorce was not my fault”

A few other topics covered: Choices, Unconditional Love, Comparisons, Happiness, Sadness and Depression.

NEXT STEP?

To get this curriculum in to EVERY school. Any suggestions, advice, partnerships welcome.