Let’s Talk About Emotions- The Glitter Jar

The Glitter Jar

This week, my Coastside Leadership Academy co-founder and I did a presentation for parents and teenagers about the science of emotions and how we can support teen’s social emotional learning. I began my part of the presentation with the glitter jar. 

I was introduced to the glitter jar by Dr. Lisa Damour in her book, Under Pressure, and I think it is a great visual to use for teens and their families. The glitter jar is simple, a jar of water mixed with sparkling glitter. The glitter represents emotions when we are upset. When the jar is shaken, it creates a fast swirl of glitter moving in all directions. When we have an emotional response to something, thoughts and feelings also swirl in our minds, just like the glitter, making it hard to think, hear, learn, or communicate. It takes a little time to let glitter settle, figuratively and literally, to bring ourselves back to an emotional state where we can do these things. Deep breaths, going for a walk, drinking water or tea, or playing an easy game, are all things I do with students when they come to my office with a shaken glitter jar. 

There are many glitter shaking scenarios that I have helped guide students and parents through, but one of the most common has to do with texting and immediate communication during the school day. Before all of us had cell phones and unlimited texting plans, we used to have to wait to talk to our parents after school when we got home. This allowed time for the students to figure out how to handle the situation. Now, I am seeing that if something happens to a student during the day, they start instantly texting their parents for help. It is a natural reaction of any parent or caring adult to want to jump right in and make their child feel better, so the parent may email the teacher or call the school counselor in the middle of the day or class period as the emotional situation is still unfolding for the student. 

When this happens and a caring parent is too helpful, the student misses an opportunity for growth. They are not given the time to figure out how to calm themselves or come up with a plan on their own. The situation was solved for them instead of encouraging a social emotional lesson. 

A suggestion from Dr. Lisa Damour, is to give your student a notebook. If something emotional or upsetting happens during the day, have them write it down in the notebook. When the parent gets an emotional text in the middle of the day, I encourage them to respond with. “I am really sorry that happened, it sounds really hard. Write it down in your notebook, and let’s talk about it tonight.”

Later that day, review the notes with your teen from their school day. Sometimes things resolve themselves throughout the day, and when the student goes back over the list they decide that it isn’t a big deal. This practice empowers the teen to feel their feelings, think about what they should do to help settle their own glitter, and make a pathway forward that works best for them. 

Remember to validate, validate, validate a teen’s feelings. They are human and it is normal and ok to feel emotions big and small. Trust that your teen is able to come up with solutions on their own. Keep in mind logical consequences are great teachers if you find yourself in a situation where you want to help your teen feel better. Our role is to support and guide their social emotional growth and so they can settle their glitter on their own as adults. 

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