While many may be familiar with the saying “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” the Payette Boys & Girls Club is working to teach kids that — all too often — words can hurt people.

Rachel Lopez is a youth development professional at the youth clubhouse and teaches the club’s Emotional Safety class on Thursday afternoons. She also works at Payette Primary School as a preschool teacher. 

Lopez took time before the clubhouse class on Feb. 13 to tell the newspaper what the class is all about.

“I use a couple different programs; One of the programs we use is the Second Step program and it’s a social-emotional program  so the kids understand their feelings.”

Lopez, who has 24 years experience as an educator, also uses a program called ‘Zone regulation,” to help students understand how to respond to said feelings, “like the feelings of anger and sadness and those kinds of things, even happy, and how they respond to those in a positive way versus a negative way.”

Lopez said she uses these programs because of how easily kids understand them.

Sandy Kendall, director of the Payette club, says the class factors in to the club’s Triple Play program.

“Every day out of the week, we focus on some form of whole-body wellness,” she said. “Thursday’s is our thoughtful Thursday, it’s all centered around emotional safety and wellbeing and helping the kids to understand what their emotions are, and that their emotions are okay to have but how to react with those emotions.”

With bullying being a hot-button topic in schools and legislation today, Lopez said knowing how to positively deal with one’s own emotions can change their perspective regardless of whether they’re a victim or a bully themselves.

“It’s okay to get angry … it’s not okay to beat someone up when you get angry,” is the message Lopez tries to get across. “We want to be able to help them at this young age, so as they go on through life they know how to use those tools that we’re giving them.”

Kendall added that teaching kids how to recognize those things which may trigger negative feelings and how to respond to said triggers is also a key component of the club’s teachings. The club teaches students to use the phrase “flip your lid” to indicate when they may be experiencing a trigger, so they may remove themselves from the situation momentarily to deal with it more effectively.

“They don’t always have control over those triggers, but they do have control with how they respond to them,” said Lopez. “To have control over how to respond in a positive way, they’re going to feel better about themselves in the end.”

One exercise Lopez used in her Feb. 13 class to illustrate how words can hurt involved a giant paper heart; Each student was invited to share unkind words they had heard from peers or at home, crumpling the heart as they shared with the class. Then they were invited to write those words on the wrinkled heart. Lopez described the exercise like this: Like the crumpled paper heart, the effects of unkind words upon human hearts don’t iron out entirely.

Lopez said that the results have been positive, with much of the terminology she teaches being used by her students.

“They’re starting to recognize when they’re feeling [a negative] way, and what they need to do,” said Lopez.

To help students cool down, Lopez and other staff and the club allow students to get a drink of water or sit on a bench at the front office as needed to avoid having students ‘flip their lid.’

“Being able to step out of the situation that is getting you to that level … is key,” said Lopez.

Kendall adds that over time, students have had to utilize cooling-down techniques less and less.

“We’re not telling them ‘Well, you should’ve done this, you should’ve done that …’ We talk it through and they come to those conclusions on their own,” said Kendall. “We’ve noticed that several kids are spending less and less time up front, because they’re just starting to process by themselves … and it’s been a really beneficial thing for the club.”

Kendall notes the club is working to create a “cool-down corner,” working to help kids cope with stresses further.

“There is nothing worse than being a kid, it’s the hardest job in the world,” Kendall noted.

She credits Lopez with making the class work as well as it has.

“Rachel does an amazing job,” said Kendall.

She talked about the club’s weekly schedule and how it’s designed to give kids a well-rounded experience.

“We have a theme everyday,” said Kendall. “When they’re here, they get something every single day that just betters who they are.”

Corey Evan is a reporter at the Independent-Enterprise and Argus Observer. He can be reached at (208) 642-5258 or by emailing coreye@argusobserver.com. To comment on this story, go to www.argusobserver.com.

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