As part of our Skate and Create program, we aim to teach children skills which are useful in the rest of their lives. Some of these are practical skills, such as understanding electricity, using computers and how to have a balanced diet. And others are so-called ‘softer’ skills, which help out students navigate a path through life. One of these skills is anger management. Everyone has to deal with anger at some point, regardless of their circumstances. But many of our students are growing up in very challenging situations, where they may find themselves feeling like they can’t control their anger.
Our students in Afghanistan have to face the realities of conflict every day. Many of them have friends or family members who have been killed or injured in the fighting, or in the frequent attacks that occur in the major cities. Things that many of us take for granted, like access to education or freedom to choose a career, are unavailable to many young people in Afghanistan. This can lead to feelings of powerlessness, frustration and unhealthy levels of anger.
Recently there’s been some really interesting research about the mental health benefits of skateboarding. Any skateboarder can tell you that skating can feel meditative and even therapeutic. The focus on a trick, combined with the energy release from the physical activity, provides an endorphin rush and helps to regulate the mind. This is something we see on a daily basis in our students.
There are several ways we try to support our students to cope with difficult experiences. Our Back-to-School students in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif all have access to a Dari-speaking counsellor, who can help them to process adverse events in their lives. In Mazar-e-Sharif we also have a sensory room, where children can take time out of their schedules, relax and explore their feelings in a safe space. We provide training for our staff so they can connect with our students with empathy and we’ll soon have a Child Protection Officer in Afghanistan who will coordinate support and counselling for students. And we cover skills such as anger management in our regular lessons.
Recently the Skate and Create students in Kabul followed this lesson plan. They discussed what anger is and how it feels when we get angry. They demonstrated how they look when they get angry and they spent time describing the different sensations that come with this emotion: getting hotter, feeling short of breath, noticing an increase in heart rate. Understanding these signs is a key part of learning how to manage anger and respond appropriately to difficult situations. Then students did a little science experiment to represent how anger feels. They mixed vinegar and baking soda (you might remember this from lessons on volcanoes?!) and watched the mixture bubble up and expand. Then they added lemon juice to the mix, which calms the reaction down. They then explored what the lemon juice might represent in their lives. Is it someone else, who helps them to calm down? Is it a voice in their own heads that controls their reaction? Maybe it’s an activity that helps them to de-stress.
In the same lesson in Mazar-e-Sharif, students took a soft ball and imagined putting all their anger inside it. Then they drew all their energy and strength together and hurled that ball across the skatepark, showing that we can choose to ‘let go’ and separate our actions from our emotions.
The combination of the creative lesson and the freedom of skateboarding can be a powerful remedy for students who are struggling with complex emotions. And they know that within the walls of Skateistan, they are free to express themselves and own their emotions. We can’t change the challenges that our students face. But we can help them to navigate these situations and to cope with the world around them.
If you believe in the work we do to provide safe spaces and empower children, please consider becoming a Citizen of Skateistan today.