The school holiday period can be a great time to reflect on the last term, prepare for upcoming changes and review skills that need to be improved.
Returning to school is typically experienced with mixed emotions. For some parents, it is a welcome relief after what feels like a very long holiday. For others, the return to school signals the end of a carefree, relaxing break and there can be feelings of sadness and/or anxiety associated with the return to routine and the academic and social demands associated with the school.
Children and young people equally experience a range of feelings about the return to school. For some, there is great excitement about starting a new school, seeing friends or perhaps finding out who their new teacher will be. For others, there may be sadness about the end of the holidays or anxiety about a raft of possible concerns such as making friends in their new class or coping with the work/homework requirements.
A tried and test way to prepare for changes and transitions is by focusing on your child’s social and emotional adjustment.
Tips to Help Your Child Settle Into Term 3
Whilst a lot of focus is placed on the academic tasks associated with school, paying particular attention to a child’s social and emotional adjustment over the coming weeks/months is also critical. Below are 3 tips to get you started:
Make time to check in with your child about how they are feeling and coping with the school year so far. It’s important to really listen to what your child is saying. To do this, begin by just repeating back or paraphrasing what your child is telling you. Where your child is experiencing uncertainty try to normalise this and remind your child that it can take a few weeks to really settle in. It is not uncommon for children (and parents) to express disappointment about a new teacher they may have been assigned or about the discovery that they don’t have as many close friends in their class. Rather than jumping to solve the problem for your child, build resilience by encouraging your child to come up with some ideas about ways to help themselves cope in such a situation.
It can often be a good idea to make time to check in with your child’s teacher as soon as terms resume. Whilst you will, of course, wish to discuss their educational strengths/weaknesses, also address how your child is feeling about their progress and to highlight anything (e.g. camp, homework) that may be worrying your child. Make sure you also discuss your child’s social skills with the teacher. If they are struggling with friends, ask your child’s teacher how the school can help in facilitating friendships. If your child has had any ongoing incidents of bullying/teasing it is critical to mention this again and ask how they can help to ensure that such incidents don’t occur again during the next terms. Equally, if your child has a history of seeking attention from others in a class by misbehaving, check on how this is been handled at school. Teachers will undoubtedly find your insights into what works and what doesn’t work at home very useful.
Encourage friendships and further consolidate social skills in by organising playdates or outings with any new classmates made throughout the term. Whilst children often request existing friends, it can be worthwhile trying to extend friendship networks by inviting new children over. This is not only good for your child but can also help to expand social support networks for you as a parent. In secondary school, it is equally important to encourage friendships by providing opportunities for your son/daughter to have friends over or by offering to drive them to a movie etc. This not only helps foster friendships but also gives parents valuable insights into the type of friendships that your child is building.
Why social-emotional learning is so important
The importance of focusing on the social and emotional well being of children is becoming increasingly acknowledged. In the current climate of increasing rates of mental illness in young people and concern over youth suicide rates, the NSW government has reportedly decided to tackle the problem more aggressively by proposing to adopt a more preventative approach in addressing such issues. The Government’s decision to begin at the grassroots level and start better-educating school-aged children (from Kindergarten) about mental health issues is welcome news to everyone here at Quirky Kid.
The changes to the Personal Development, Health, Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus which are apparently due for implementation from 2020 include a more comprehensive effort to address social-emotional learning and mental health issues from primary school onwards. Beginning in Kindergarten, it is proposed that children will begin with simple social-emotional concepts such as feelings and building relationships with others, but as they progress to higher grades the aim will be to address important issues such as coping with success and failure, overcoming adversity, grief and death, coping with controlling behaviour in others, domestic violence, and substance abuse.
Helping Children to Build Important Social-Emotional Skills
Equipping children to cope with the social and emotional demands of school fosters increased coping and resilience skills. The evidence suggests that well developed social and emotional skills are both protective and helpful. Strong social and emotional skills in children not only predict fewer behavioural problems in the classroom but they are also related to positive academic outcomes and improved school performance (Myles-Pallister, Hassan, Rooney, & Kane, 2014; January, Casey & Paulson, 2011; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)
The government and other mental health agencies hope that by tackling such topics in school and by better-educating children about mental health, steps will be made to not only demystify such issues but will crucially equip children with a more effective toolkit for managing difficult feelings. It is further hoped that lessons learned at school will have a lasting impact as children become adults.
How Can Quirky Kid help develop your child’s social-emotional learning skills?
At The Quirky Kid Clinic, we are strong advocates for prevention and early intervention when it comes to children’s mental health issues. Prevention, is, of course, the preferred approach. In our experience, providing intervention to children and families before problems become too entrenched can often be the key to success. Where issues have been developing for some time, it can be much harder to address problems and for both the child and family such situations can feel insurmountable.
The Best of Friends® gives children the knowledge skills and confidence to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, develop and maintain friendships and make good decisions. Designed for children aged 7 to 11, the program teaches these critical skills to children in an age-appropriate and practical way.
So embrace this potentially challenging time with your son/daughter and remember children tend to take the lead from their parents. With this in mind, try to model calm, brave behaviour whilst at the same time keeping the doors of communication wide open. By adopting these strategies your child should feel a little braver about adapting to their new classroom, teacher and school expectations.
Term 3 Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Children
Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011). The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405-432
January, A.M., Casey, R.J., & Paulson, D. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?. School Psychology Review, 40(2), 242-256
Myles-Pallister, J.D., Hassan, S., Rooney, R.M. & Kane, R.T. (2014). The efficacy of the enhanced Aussie Optimum Positive Thinking Skills Program in improving social and emotional learning in middle childhood. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 909.
Last week Dr Kimberley O’Brien spoke to a local magazine about how to help children enjoy sport. We recorded this and would like to share it with you as a podcast and transcript below.
Quirky Kid runs our popular performance psychology program, Power Up!
[00:00:00-00:00:16] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces the challenge of getting children to enjoy sports.
Hi. You’re listening to Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, child psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic. We’re talking today about why kids might dislike school sports, and whether parents should be concerned, as well as how to encourage children to enjoy sports.
[00:00:16-00:02:56] Often children dislike school sports because of negative experiences, such as sensitivity to loud and overwhelming environments, pressure from authorities, perfectionism, discomfort with competitive environments, and lack of exposure to sports as a positive experience.
About why kids might dislike school sports, or sports in general: often it can come from negative experience. It could be that kids could be enrolled, even as toddlers, in some indoor KinderGyms or soccer lessons, that might have lots of noise, whistles, and other kids. If children are sensitive to their environment or have sensory issues, sometimes they can find these environments quite stressful.
Think about what negative experiences kids might have gone through in the past which might impact their perception of sports. Sometimes it’s pressure from parents to participate, or even a negative relationship with a coach, that might put them off the idea of participating in sports.
Other kids might be perfectionists and find it sort of frustrating or embarrassing to try a new skill. When they’re not good at something they refuse to participate, and they just don’t want to fail. Sometimes that can be one reason behind kids not feeling comfortable with team sports.
Another idea could be that they are not comfortable in a competitive environment. In some schools, children do become competitive with sports. Teachers can encourage competition between kids. Thinking about how the child might feel, they may feel inadequate or self-conscious when they’re in a competitive environment.
And another possibility around a child’s negative experience related to sports, could be that parents have had similarly negative experiences with sports. So parents might actually be reluctant to seek out opportunities for kids to participate in sports, just trying to be protective with their children and not wanting to put them in a competitive sports environment. They may avoid sports and maybe favour technology, for example, instead of sports. So when kids get to school, the idea of participating in sports might not be something that they’ve experienced before on a regular basis.
Other well-meaning parents might start off kids in a soccer or nippers type of environment, where there’s lots and lots of kids learning a new skill. And this can also be overwhelming for children.
[00:02:56-00:06:27] When you introduce kids to sports, start small, in low-pressure environments. Respect their resistance, and praise them for their efforts and improvements. It’s also important for parents to build a positive relationship with the trainer and model participation sports. For perfectionist kids, have them study theory online before attempting to physically learn a new skill.
So when you’re thinking about how to introduce kids to sports, here’s some tips on how to do that:
Step one, start with a small environment, a few kids. Think about how to increase their exposure to sports gradually. You might use a soft toy rather than a ball when you’re practicing catching or throwing, at home in a safe setting. Or instead of starting small, you might enroll your child in a one-on-one coaching clinic. For example, tennis, rather than starting with a large group setting like soccer or large team sports.
It’s also really important to build a positive relationship with the coach or trainer. This will help young people to feel safe with that unfamiliar adult, and to boost their motivation to go along on a regular basis. Parents can probably relate to this one when it comes to choosing the right swim teacher for their toddler. If the relationship is really positive between parent and teacher, then often kids will feel safer and be more interested in participating. Having a regular coach or trainer rather than having a different person each week will also help kids to feel more comfortable, more willing to participate.
Another point when it comes to helping kids cope with sports, is to respect their resistance. So if kids are resistant to participating, don’t push them or punish them. Try to praise any improvements that you’ve noticed. “It’s great that I saw you watching the other kids today.” “I noticed you were listening to the instructor today.” Just highlighting the positives rather than letting them know what they’re not doing.
It might also be worthwhile to shop around and find an environment that suits you and your child. It could be that something more open. For example, circus skills with a free trial lesson might make you and your young person feel more comfortable, rather than paying in advance for a full term and then increasing the pressure on participating week after week.
Parents are also encouraged to model participation sports. That could just be playing beach soccer or backyard cricket. Leading by example will help young people also want to participate. Sometimes just laughter will help to lighten the mood when it comes to participating in sports, but adults should keep in mind that it’s good to laugh when adults are playing sports, but not so much when a child’s learning a new skill. Try and refrain from laughing if they’re struggling with a new skill, because kids might become self-conscious.
For those kids that I mentioned before, that may be perfectionists and prefer to not participate until they’re good at a particular skill – these kids often benefit from doing online tutorials before they even practically participate. Lots of theory and following instructions online can make kids feel comfortable enough to attempt to ride a bike or attempt to serve a tennis ball. So keep that in mind as well.
[00:06:27-00:08:35] Performance psychology offers a few tips on how to help kids enjoy sports. Let them choose their sport, give them breaks, point out their improvements, and praise them for trying. Make sure that they’re doing sports in a low-pressure environment that praises effort over results. Get them to score how much effort they put into their sport on a weekly basis, and hopefully you will see improvement over time as they get more comfortable.
Now just finishing up: I’m going to take you through final tips to help kids, teachers, and parents, and help kids to enjoy sports more. All this information is linked to performance psychology. We know that Olympians often use performance psychology such as goal-setting, arousal regulation, and positive self-talk to help them get the best out of their sporting performance. You can find out more about this in our “Power Up” program which is the only performance psychology program for children, developed by Quirky Kid. So if you want to find out more, have a look at “Power Up” on the quirkykid.com.au website.
So these final tips are: let your child choose their sport. Having more choice will increase participation and motivation. Number two, give them regular breaks. Number three, point out their improvements, not their problems with the new skills. Number four, praise your kids for trying. It’s really important to be mindful of the environment in which they’re learning that new sport or participating in sports. So if there’s competition or a coach putting pressure or putting down students that are not reaching the results that they would like, remember to look for a new environment that praises effort over results. And last but not least, ask kids to score themselves in terms of effort. That might give them a 6/10 for the first week, and then get them to monitor their effort week after week. Over time I would hope that as they feel more comfortable in the environment, they are more likely to want to go back and continue practicing that new sport.
All right, I hope you’ve enjoyed that little session about kids and sports. And keep in touch! I’m Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:00-00:00:17] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces friendship challenges as children transition from the holidays back to school to start the year 2017.
Hi. It is Doctor Kimberley O’Brien here talking about best friendships as we move into 2017. The new school year often brings some challenges when it comes to friendships, especially when kids are just returning to school and maybe they’ve spent a lot of time with family over the holidays.
[00:00:21-00:01:28] On average, age 7 is when solid friendships begin to form between children, although there are many factors at play, such as when the child started spending time with other kids, as well as the gender of the child.
When do children start to form solid friendships? We know that this differs depending on the child. Some children are exposed to playgroups from the age of 2 or 3, and then preschool, so often kids are starting to form closer friendships if they’ve been in social situations for a longer period of time, whereas other kids who start school at the age of 5 and haven’t been to preschool or day-care sometimes feel quite shy in the company of other kids, so they may take a little bit longer to form some solid friendships. Generally speaking, around the age of 7 is usually when kids start to pair off in having one close friendship. Of course, this doesn’t always stay the same, especially for girls. Around eight years old girls will often have some challenges with their friendships, so that could be that jealousies start to occur, even competition between girls to try to win over certain friends, and when more popular girls could also start to take place.
[00:01:30-00:02:47] Quality and quantity are important when it comes to friendships. Parents should model having friendships with more than one person to encourage their child(ren) to do the same.
What can we teach our children about friendship? I believe it’s important to teach children that it’s about quality friendships, friendships that make you feel good all the time, not hot and cold friends where sometimes they’ll be nice and sometimes they won’t, because when friendships are unpredictable kids can often feel anxious about approaching that person, not sure whether they’ll be friendly or not. Having someone who’s consistently nice and kind is really important in a friendship.
You can also teach your children to have more than one friend, which I believe is important, rather than just a best friend because in my work with young people, sometimes having a best friend can inhibit the formation of other new friendships; they’ll become quite clingy with one person or they won’t want to go to school if their best friend is not there. Particularly in kindergarten if they’ve been paired up with one buddy or person, if they’re not there sometimes they don’t want to go to class, and they can become quite emotional.
I think it’s important for moms and dads also in the playground to model having a broader group of friends, rather than just one consistent friend that they talk to every morning or every afternoon because that gives them options when that person is not around.
[00:02:49-00:03:26] Encourage your child to acknowledge people around them, whether it be through verbal or non-verbal greetings.
What strategies can parents use to help their child develop strong relationships? As I said, modelling good relationships is a good place to start, always using eye contact and saying: “Hello.” So, greetings. If children don’t feel confident with verbal greetings, try non-verbal greetings, teaching them that just a nod or eye contact, a smile is just as good as a verbal greeting and they shouldn’t force themselves to say: “Hello,” if they don’t feel ready. Eye contact is a good place to start.
[00:03:33-00:07:06] School/playground observation by yourself or a professional is a good place to start to determine if there are other factors (such as bullying) affecting your child’s formation of friendships, and whether your child needs help developing their social skills or if there is an issue with other children at school which may require a schoolwide intervention. Also, weekly playdates are beneficial for the expansion of critical social skills, as well as “The Best of Friends” program at Quirky Kids Clinic.
What can you do if your children are struggling to build friendships? At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ll often go to the school and observe the children in the playground and the classroom to see what’s happening in their environment, because it might be that the young person is quite sensitive to bullies, exclusion, loud noises, or rough and tumble play. There are lots of things that can inhibit children from forming close friendships, so doing a good observation, or asking a school counsellor, or external psychologist to observe the playground is a good place to start to get an objective view of things. Sometimes class teachers can be helpful, but other times they may not want to be dealing with friendship issues; they might suggest that the children solve things themselves, which can also present challenges for young people. I think it’s good to help your child by doing the observation or having someone do it, and then putting some strategies in place to help.
For example, if there is exclusion or bullying going on, it’s more about addressing that issue rather than skilling the individual up with better social skills. Sometimes a schoolwide message about the importance of including others or something along the lines of being kind can really promote that inclusive practice in the school rather than pulling girls aside and talking to them directly; that can sometimes start more trouble in friendship groups. A whole-school approach is often more successful.
If you do think your child is having some struggles socially, the Quirky Kid Clinic also offers a “The Best of Friends”, a social and emotional learning program which was developed 12 years ago because of the constant referrals for individuals, usually parents saying: “I’m concerned my child is not forming close friendships.” That could just be from having a bad experience in the past and not feeling that they can trust new friends, or it could just be that they’re very shy and they prefer the company of one person rather than groups.
“The Best of Friends” program helps kids to develop one-on-one social skills first, with those greetings as we talked about, developing to-and-fro conversation skills, learning how to approach a group. It starts off developing the one-on-one friendships and then looking at how to have two or more friends, which is often slightly more challenging before even considering having a group of friends, which is even more challenging.We talk about having a very best friend or a best friend forever, it’s also very important to consider that’s quite a lot of pressure to put on a young person to maintain one friendship for a long period of time, so please consider having more than one person over for playdates (on a weekly basis is often good).
One at a time to start with so that kids can develop those one-on-one skills before having more than one friend. Having weekly playdates is a great way to develop social skills in a safe setting. You can observe the kids playing, and maybe give some feedback if that’s something you would do with your child, around how to help them to lead play or how to help them to take turns so that they can have more successful and longer playdates down the track.
[00:07:12-00:08:43] Kids who are distracted by devices or doing a lot of their social interactions online miss out on the opportunity to learn and practice their social skills. Face-to-face relationships need to be encouraged, demonstrated, and practised.
How is friendship changing for children in today’s society? I think that friendships are obviously moving more online, so social media is becoming much more important to early adolescents, and so face-to-face friendships are on the decline, while online friendships are increasing. I think it’s just so important to have lots of face-to-face time because there are so many subtle social cues that you learn to pick up when you’re spending face-to-face time with friends.
Those social cues can be missed if kids are spending more time online socialising. For example, social cues might be that you’re leaving a space next to you when you sit down so that someone can come join you, or someone might be looking for a seat and someone who picks up on the social cue would move aside and make some room for that person. Kids start to sometimes lose their ability to pick up social cues if they have their heads down, even at lunchtime using laptops or iPhones to play games rather than observing other kids’ play and observing the social nuances in the playground. Having more opportunities to play freely is a good way to maintain social skills, and parents are also encouraged to model those social skills by socialising more often themselves.
On that note, I hope that you have a really social 2017, and lots of great playdates at your house and also in the community.
Take care. I’m Dr. Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Please send your questions for my next podcasts.
Understanding the peer relationships of academically gifted students continues to be a concern of both researchers and practitioners in the field of gifted education. On one hand, the literature suggests that in most situations, being intellectually gifted is generally an asset socially and emotionally (Robinson, 2008) and gifted students tend to be well-received by peers (Neihart, 2007). On the other hand, some evidence reveals that many gifted students express that they do not “fit the mold” and “feel different”, and this sense of difference may, in turn, lead to general feelings of unease or lack of competence in social situations and difficulties creating and maintaining relationships with other people, including peers of the same age (Gross, 2015).
Common social and emotional experiences for gifted children can reflect:
differences in their abilities compared to same-age peers
tendencies toward introversion and perceived issues with social acceptance
conflicts or anxieties associated with their inner experiences of giftedness
a critical and self-critical nature, often resulting in perfectionism or low self-worth
It is clear that there is no single manner in which a child can be gifted. Emotional and social difficulties vary, also, from one gifted child to another. These difficulties have their roots in asynchronous development. Gifted children have emotional, physical, and intellectual development that are not equal; not in ‘sync’ according to Miraca Gross, director of GERRIC (Gross, 2001).
Academically gifted children have an intellect above their emotional and physical age-level. An intellectually gifted 5-year-old may have the intellect similar to that of an 8-year-old, emotional development similar to a 3-year-old, and physical development on par with a 6-year-old. The higher the intellect, the more out-of-sync with emotional and physical development they may be.
A gifted child understands concepts that he is not able to deal with emotionally. Death, the future, or world hunger may become overwhelming concerns. Situations like this can create frustration and distress.
What can you do to support your gifted child emotionally ?
You can support your child to:
Make time for friends.
Be open to new friendships.
Practise being a good host.
Practise friendship skills by role-playing situations.
Be a good listener, use eye contact to show interest and caring for others.
Avoid bragging, while still being sincere about their own abilities.
Participate in a variety of group activities, to create different friendship opportunities.
Accept those who think and act differently from you.
Spending time with like-minded peers can provide your child with opportunities for engaging with those who think and learn in similar ways. They can share their values and interests, and challenge one another. This is likely to result in improved chances of being understood, with better prospects of forming stable and supportive friendships, and the comfort of feeling accepted.
Remember your child’s emotional needs may be at a different age-level to their intellectual ability. Recognise your child’s chronological age and comfort them according to their needs. A 6-year-old with the maths skills of a 10-year-old will still likely require the emotional support appropriate for a 6-year-old.
Some of the issues described throughout this article may be addressed by providing appropriate educational and counselling interventions. For example, The Best of Friends program has been carefully designed to meet the social and emotional needs of gifted students. You can find our more about the program by visiting http://bof.quirkykid.com.au or https://childpsychologist.com.au/workshops/
For more information about how to support the social and emotional needs of your child, contact us with any questions.
Adams-Byers, J., Squiller Whitsell, S., & Moon, S. (2004). Gifted students’ perceptions of the academic and social/emotional effects of homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping. Gifted Child Quarterly, 48(1), 7–20
Gross, M. U. M., (2001) From “play partner” to “sure shelter”: What do gifted children seek from friendship? GERRIC News, 4-5
Gross, M. U. (2015). Characteristics of Able Gifted Highly Gifted Exceptionally Gifted and Profoundly Gifted Learners. In Applied Practice for Educators of Gifted and Able Learners (pp. 3-23). SensePublishers.
Neihart, M. (2007). The Socioaffective Impact of Acceleration and Ability Grouping Recommendations for Best Practice. Gifted Child Quarterly, 51(4), 330-341.
Robinson, N. M. (2008). The social world of gifted children and youth. In Handbook of giftedness in children (pp. 33-51). Springer US.
Bullying in schools has become a nationwide concern, with many anti-bullying practices being implemented in every state. Social and emotional learning (SEL) can provide an effective foundation for reducing bullying in schools. Practicing SEL skills will create a school environment that fosters positive interactions. Here are four characteristics of SEL, that aim to curb bullying in schools:
1. Open, supportive relationships between students and teachers.
Opencommunication between students and teachers presents an opportunity for students to learn positive conflict resolution techniques. These techniques allow students to resolve problems before they escalate into fully fledged bullying.
2. Solid communication between schools and families.
Families need to be involved with their child’s school. When a parent is actively engaged in what happens to their child at school on a daily basis, they can help teach positive behaviour and reinforce messages from the teachers. Working as a team with the child’s school, ensures that the same positive messages are being taught on a variety of levels and in a variety of environments.
3. Emphasis on respect and tolerance.
SEL requires school policies that highlight respect for peers, acceptance and appreciation of everyone’s differences. A school community in which students understand and embrace differences is a place where positive behaviour will thrive.
4. Teaching skills that allow kids to recognise and handle emotions, and engage in caring peer relationships.
In addition to school policies requiring respect and tolerance, students must be taught how to engage in positive social interactions and develop caring peer relationships with one another. Teaching students how to express and handle emotions positively will support responsible decision-making and avoid negative scenarios that could escalate into bullying.
SEL skills arm students with the ability to handle their emotions in a positive way that results in enhanced social problem solving, supportive attitudes toward others, and overall academic success. Social and emotional learning provides students with many benefits that enhance the school community as a whole, creating a caring and nurturing environment in which bullying has no place.
Quirky Kid has also recently published a comprehensive SEL program called The Best of Friends. Find out more about it online. Equip your child with some of our therapeutic resources such as the Quirky Kid ‘Face It’ cards, which are designed to increase emotional awareness. Most importantly, please feel free to contact us to learn more about the benefits of social and emotional learning.