Emojis are trending, whether in a text, social media platform, or as the focus of an entire movie. At Care Fresno this year, we have incorporated emojis as a tool to help us develop emotional health, build relationships, and address behavioral concerns with our kids. When kids enter the after school program, they are expected to write their name on a sign-in sheet and do an emoji check-in. They locate the clothespin that has their name on it, examine the papers with emoji options, choose the emoji that best represents how they are currently feeling, and clip a paper with that emoji to the designated location. For some kids, this requires taking a moment to reflect on their day before choosing an emoji, and it creates an opportunity for each after school program leader to see how the kids are feeling. The program leaders are also encouraged to do an emoji check-in alongside the kids.
On the first day of this year’s after school program, we explained the emoji check-in process to the kids at my site. They were excited because they think emojis are super cool. Most of our kids immediately put up the happy face option. However, after a moment, two of our kids took down their happy faces and replaced them with other options. One of the kids put up the tired face and explained how he was tired from running the mile earlier that day. The other kid gave me the full breakdown of her day in explanation of the sad emoji she put up. There have been many similarly explanatory conversations since then regarding why kids have picked their particular emoji on any given day. Through the emoji check-in, we have given the kids permission to express varying emotions and affirm that it is acceptable to experience different emotions rather than ignore them or stuff them down. The emoji check-in has been a helpful tool for me in starting conversations and showing kids that I care about how they’re doing and what’s going on in their lives.
When kids behave in a way that is different from how they normally behave, I am able to check their emojis to see if they came in feeling a certain way, which may have influenced how they are responding in the after school program setting. I can inquire about why they put up that emoji and see what is going on in their lives. One day, when the kids were having trouble paying attention to the Bible study lesson and listening to instructions, I had each of them share with the group their current emoji, which could be different from the emoji they put up when they walked into program. The emoji check-in was a tool I used mid-program to have a discussion with the kids about their behavior. The kids listened to each other and when they finished, I shared that I was sad because they weren’t listening and also happy that the kids who had been listening were able to answer the questions and learn new things. I let them know that I wanted them to be able to learn and to respect one another and the teachers, and that discussion was received well.
During our weekly team meetings, the Mission Care Residents who are returning for a second or additional year with Care Fresno are going through the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero, while the first-year residents are on a different class track. The premise of this book is that a person cannot be spiritually mature if they are emotionally immature. Through readings, discussions, and my interactions with others, I am seeing areas where I need to grow in my emotional and spiritual health, beginning with honesty about how I’m doing and what’s going on in my life. When the Mission Care Residents gather weekly for our meetings, we do an emoji check-in just like we ask our kids to do one. We then take it one step further by filling out a weekly check-in sheet indicating our emoji as well as one good thing and one hard thing that has happened in our week. Sharing with our peers how we’re really doing, even if it’s just by putting up a silly yellow circle, can be a very vulnerable thing. In greeting others, we are often taught to say, “Hi, how are you?” or some variation of that, to which the expected answer is, “I’m good/fine, how are you?” In contrast, the emoji check-in is a safe place for us and our kids alike to answer “How are you” with something other than “Good”; it’s an opportunity to be honest about feelings and reflect on how we’re doing, to be introspective and share without our feelings being judged. Recognizing our feelings is an aspect of emotional health that is important for spiritual health and maturity.
In the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazzero writes, “Take a few minutes and reflect on the implications of our God feeling. You are made in his image. God thinks. You think. God wills. You will. God feels. You feel. You are a human being made in God’s likeness. Part of that likeness is to feel. At the very least, the call of discipleship includes experiencing our feelings, reflecting on our feelings, and then thoughtfully responding to our feelings under the lordship of Jesus.”
Following Jesus requires submitting all of who we are to the lordship of Christ, and that includes recognizing our emotions and channeling them in appropriate manners. Thus, mentorship and discipleship involves learning how to become emotionally mature and teaching others to become so also. This is something that we at Care Fresno are beginning to explore this year with our kids at program and among our team, as part of our desire to become healthier in all aspects of life.