Dealing with emotions

Student Needs

  • Self-awareness: their own, and on the part of the instructor
  • Recognition that emotions are normal, and sometimes difficult to explain or contain
  • Compassion tempered with reasonable expectations
  • Understanding that emotional regulation may be impaired
  • Gentle assistance in seeing how behaviour may be impacting others
  • Respect that frustration can be high when students feel misunderstood, or believe that their experiences have been devalued, or they are embarrassed.


  • Stay calm; provide time and space to process feelings or express thoughts.
  • Use empathy to acknowledge the emotion.
  • Affirm that there are a wide range of possible emotional reactions, and there is nothing wrong with an authentic reaction.
  • If you are concerned about behaviour in response to an emotional reaction, ask whether there are strategies the student has used in the past to cope.
  • Help the student to feel grounded through the use of practical, information-oriented questions.
  • Draw on resources when the situation is beyond your expertise.
  • Personalize strengths, and depersonalize shortcomings (the problem is in the situation, not the person)
  • Be aware that anxiety can sometimes look a lot like anger.  It’s helpful to see it as a product of a difficult situation rather than a personal criticism.

More about the Mental Health by Design course.