Psychologists’ Corner: The Meta-Moment: RULER For Families

Posted on Wednesday, August 7th, 2019
By: Clare Cosentino, PhD, Lauren Levenson, PhD, Shayna Nash, PsyD

In 2017, Gaynor selected the social-emotional program, RULER to be integrated into the curriculum. According to the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “RULER is an evidence-based approach for for integrating social and emotional learning into schools. RULER teaches the skills of emotional intelligence—those associated with recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, and regulating emotion.”

 “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

-Viktor E. Frankl

Picture this: You wake up on Saturday morning, head to the kitchen, and spy your child’s lunchbox sitting by the front door, still sealed from the day before. She forgot to empty out her lunchbox again?! You can smell the banana peel from five feet away. How many times do you have to tell her to empty her lunchbox when she gets home? You feel yourself start to get angry. What do you do next?

Emotions can either help or hinder relationships, and we all have moments that get the best of us. Here we’ll be taking a closer look at one of RULER’s four primary Anchor Tools of Emotional Intelligence, the Meta-Moment. Used correctly, the Meta-Moment can help students, parents, and educators handle strong emotions so that they make better decisions for themselves and their community.

The Meta-Moment is a brief step back from the situation when we pause and think before acting. We ask ourselves, “How would my ‘best self’ react in this situation? What strategy can I use so that my actions reflect my best self?” Over time and with practice, you can learn to replace ineffective responses with productive and empowering responses to challenging situations. This in turn causes better choices, healthier relationships, and greater well-being.

The following guidelines are for parents to use to apply the Meta-Moment to themselves, parent-child interactions, and to manage difficult emotions that come up in the course of a day.


Something real or imagined triggers an emotional response.

Step 2:  SENSE

You sense the shifts in:

  • How you are thinking (“They are judging me.”)
  • How your body feels on the inside(Racing heart, tension)
  • Your facial expressions, posture, and voice(Furrowed eyebrows, clenched fist)
Emotion Thought Body Expression


Perception of unfairness, injustice

Heart races, body heats up and tightens

Furrowed brows, pressed lips, clenched fists


Feeling of uncertainty or anticipated harm, obsessive thinking

Heart races, body shakes, palms sweat

Eyes pulled back, flight response

Think about: As many triggers as you can think of that might happen during a typical day in your family.

When you feel any of those triggers or emotions, that is your cue to take a Meta-Moment.

Step 3: STOP

Breathing and pausing help you to avoid responding in an unhelpful manner.

Basic ‘stop’ exercises:

  • Take a few deep breaths
  • Say a simple mantra (e.g., in/out, deep/slow, calm/ease, smile/release)


Imagine your ‘best self.’ What qualities do you possess when you are at your best?

Think about:

  • Who you want to be
  • How you want others to see you (your reputation)
  • The ideal outcome

Remember: Your ‘best self’ is different in different roles!


You choose and then use a strategy—either a thought or an action—to regulate the emotion effectively.

  • Breathing
  • Mindfulness/Relaxation
  • Reframing(see definition below)
  • Positive self-talk (see definition below)
  • Visualization
  • Distraction
  • Physical space/distance

Reframing: How else can I choose to think about this?

  • Remind yourself of your child’s point of view
  • How else can I think about this?
  • Put a positive spin on how you see the situation

Positive self-talk: Tell yourself something helpful

  • In response to sibling conflict: “My children are learning how to get along. Those are valuable lessons.”
  • “Forgot his homework again, looks like he needs some help with morning routines.”
  • “This is small in the scheme of things.”

Step 6:  SUCCEED!

You act in a way that reflects your best self.

There are two types of Meta-Moments, responsive (taken in real time, or after a trigger) and proactive (taking one before an emotional response occurs.) No matter which kind you use, set an intention.

  • What can you do differently the next time you are triggered?
  • What can you think?
  • What can you do?

…to be your best self?

…to encourage children in your family to be their best selves?