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Building Social and Emotional Learning during the School Holidays

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

child inside a backpack. social and emotional skills for kids

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

If you are looking for a more extensive approach to preparing your child for Term 3, book now for our The Best of Friends® holiday and Term 3 Programs.

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References:

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.

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5 Tips on Preparing Young People for Greatness

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Posted on by Dr. Kimberley O'Brien

Greatness comes in many forms and is quite subjective depending on an individual’s age and abilities. For a child overcoming anxiety, greatness may be winning a public speaking competition or finding the courage to confront a new fear. For others, greatness may reveal itself through academic or sporting achievements, kindness, creativity or thoughtful leadership. In any case, discovering one’s unique strengths or passions is easier with the help of a caring coach, an attentive teacher, or a dedicated parent.

According to a recent survey of Australian students in Year 4 to 12, parents and teachers are the greatest influencers of a student’s sense of satisfaction and fulfillment (State of Victoria, Dept of Education and Training, 2017). Therefore, it is essential for parents and teachers to give sound advice on the subject of achieving greatness as defined by the child.

Leadership expert, Robert Kaplan (2013), developed a roadmap for reaching potential. In brief, he suggests greatness is achieved when we know our strengths, take the initiative and connect our daily actions to a clearly defined goal. For most children, defining a goal is easy but taking the initiative to make it happen is usually dependent on the adults around them. That’s where we come in!

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Foster their self-belief. For example, if you know a child who aspires to be a professional soccer player, help them find a great coach or coaching clinic. For those with more left-of-centre skills outside the areas of sporting or academia, keep an open mind to the activities available that might help push their strengths to new levels. Show them that you believe in them and make it happen!

  2. Research together. Show young people how to take the initiative by helping them to research and connect with experts in their field of interest. A child with a passion for making robots would be forever empowered if you showed them how to contact the Head Inventor at Battlebots. Imagine if they said yes to a Skype call?

  3. Use a wide-angle lens. Think broadly when it comes to inspiring young people. Be proactive and organise a range of guests to visit your school to spark an interest in every child. These could include artists, refugees, adventurers or someone with a “diffability” who is pursuing a passion. You never know when inspiration will strike!

  4. Set an example. Take on a challenge of your own and you will inspire others to do the same. Show some initiative and take steps on a daily basis to reach your goal. Share your journey’s highs and lows with the young people around you and make haste towards your destination.

  5. Work together. Challenges aren’t meant to be simple, but staying focused on the task at hand is easier when those around you are doing the same. Achieve greatness among your classmates, family or friends and your success will be even sweeter!

Power Up:

Our online Performance Psychology program Power Up! has been specially created for kids who want to push their performance skills to the next level. Power Up! gives them the power to: build self-confidence, cope with the pressures of competition, overcome self-doubt and negative self-talk, set goals and make plans to achieve them and maximise performance in any chosen field.

References:

  1. Kaplan, R.S. (2013) What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Roadmap for Reaching your Unique Potential.Ebook. HBR.
  2. Right School-Right Place (2017) State of Victoria. Department of Education and Training (Vic).
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Podcast: Children and Technology

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

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We have another Podcast to share with you. Dr Kimberley O’Brien discusses the psychological effects of technology with Radio Adelaide’s Ronan Banks.

Quirky Kid has produced a range of creative and engaging Therapeutic Tools.

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[00:00:00 – 00:01:16] Kids nowadays are more exposed to lots of screen time and parents are using this technology to effortlessly help in getting kids preoccupied, however this can result into massive meltdowns.

Reporter: What do you think about the modern day relationship between children and technology?

Dr. Kimberley: I often see kids using – well not often – but like, it’s becoming more regular that you see kids even as young as 2 using like, iPads, either in restaurants or while their mum’s are waiting in line, you know, in the waiting room at our clinics as well.
Kids are getting exposed more and more to screen time obviously and parents are using it as a way to keep the kids preoccupied. And, I think that’s great, except that there are usually some massive meltdowns involved – that I’m sure parents can relate to. As soon as they need to like pack up and go, and take the iPad away, these meltdowns are worse than your average tantrums. Because there is quite an addiction involved, you know, when it comes to the bright light, then in the middle of the game where you have to go through those stages to get to the next level again. So I think for parents, the tantrums can be more stressful because they last longer and are a whole lot louder. My advice would be try to avoid giving screens to kids under the age 5 because we can easily keep them entertained if we give them a book, and then you don’t have the meltdowns afterwards. Or even just a fiddle toy would do. There’re so many other options to avoid screen time that you can also carry in your handbag.

[00:01:17-00:02:37] This technology is damaging to the cognitive and social development of these kids thus giving them limited interest to interact with other kids or adults.

Reporter: In terms of long-term development, is it detrimental to their cognitive and social development?

Dr. Kimberley: I think so. What I see, even in 15 years olds who have been doing a lot of gaming for long periods of time, is that they have really narrow group of friends with narrow interests. So they might have one close friend that they do lots of “gaming” with on the weekends (I’m probably not using the right lingo).
But, if it doesn’t have a screen and they have to go or something, like if it’s someone’s birthday, then it’s just so hard for them to be there. It just feels more boring than it would have if they didn’t have such narrow interests because their social skills have been depleted and they haven’t been practicing on weekends, or having more conversations with people of different ages about different topics, because of their narrow interests.
So we do see fifteen year-olds to want to broaden their interests, but that can be quite a challenge because they have to actually do stuff that they don’t enjoy to start with, the enjoyment will grow when they develop new network of friends and they get more physically be able to run, jump or climb, so that can get back to a normal balanced lifestyle.

[00:02:38 – 00:04:18] Kids these days have serious addiction to technology and it is making them more aggressive.

Reporter: So you think that addiction to technology is real and it’s happening at the moment?

Dr. Kimberley: Yeah, definitely.
I saw a really good documentary but I wasn’t able to find it since I watched it. It was based on a Chinese rehab program for adolescent boys that have screen addictions. These are boys that have been gaming all through the night, have dropped out of school and have been spending like, 22 hours a day on screen. Some of them doing things like peeing in a bucket, wearing adult nappies so they didn’t have to come away from the screen. They serious wanting to be the best in world at whatever they were doing.
In that documentary they were in full withdrawal when they have no access to a screen, and two of them in that period of time, like in that one month program, they broke out and they went straight to an internet cafe and started playing, trying to catch up after being away from it so long.
Yes I do see it as a serious addiction. You want to watch it, because they’re some really lovely kids that we worked with in that middle range, from 10-12 years old. Just lovely kids that are well educated. They have supportive families, but are becoming more aggressive, throwing huge rocks through the sliding glass doors trying to get back inside once mum gives up because of too much screen time on a Saturday morning. Or breaking into a filing cabinet trying to get the laptop, fully busting the lock, doing damage.

[00:04:19 – 00:04:27] Kids who have attachment to technology are showing aggressive behaviours thus causing damage.

Reporter: In terms of behavioural issues, there is obviously the attachment to technology but you are saying there’s aggression as well?

Dr. Kimberley: Yes definitely.

[00:04:28 – 00:05:06] Technology is not the main cause of decreasing attention span of children, there are also other factors to consider.

Reporter: I’ve read a study that the attention spans of children are decreasing because of technology. Do you find that this is true?

Dr. Kimberley: It could be hard to pinpoint that as a cause and effect because there are just kids with short attention spans, with or without technology. But I think teachers are using more technology in the classroom and then, I suppose when they turn the screens off, they have to be, you know – I mean it’s great to watch a YouTube video of something and then to have the teacher try explain every word, but it doesn’t have such an impact. I imagine the kids would become more accustomed to seeing things move and hearing different voices and different scenes. It’s hard to compete with.

[00:05:07 – 00:05:50] There are pros and cons in using technology in teaching. There are games that are educational that can help kids with spelling, reading, and mathematics.

Reporter: Do you think that technology should be used in school for children in reception like iPads and that kind of thing?

Dr. Kimberley: I know some school mums are sometimes annoyed at teachers that are giving little girls, like kindergarten/year 1/year 2, a lot of time on screens because that is something that they have tried to win as off time and only use it on weekends or something like that. And when they drop in to do reading at school and some kids spend the whole hour on screen and they feel that is not teaching. So, I think you get mixed reactions. Or the kids might love doing those educational games there are really some good ones out there that can really help children with spelling words, reading, mathematics. So there are pros and cons.

[00:05:51 – 00:06:30] Technology is beneficial for children but you have to managed the use of it.

Reporter: So do you think overall the increase use in technology is beneficial to children or detrimental?

Dr. Kimberley: If it’s managed, then beneficial, totally. I think it’s a great reward for kids to get all their homework done, and then have some time to do something they really enjoy. And to use it as a reward and use it in limited periods of time so that they don’t develop that addiction. I think they get used to logging off after 5 t0 10 minutes – it not such a big drama, but if it’s been 4 to 5 hours, thats a whole waste of the weekend I think. And it’s not the right parenting in my opinion.
Reporter: Yes, fair enough.

[00:06:31 – 00:06:57] Children in general should only be allowed to have screen time for 1 hour every day.

Reporter: One last question – so how long should children in general be spending on screen everyday?

Dr. Kimberley: Research says maximum of 2 hours but for me that feels like high school age when they have laptops and homework to do online and things like that. So I think two hours for those kids who have to do homework online. But for other ones, maybe two hours on weekends and one hour every day.

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Podcast: Helping Kids to Enjoy Sport

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

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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.

 

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Podcast: Making it easier for Kids to Manage Friendships in 2017

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Posted on by Dr. Kimberley O'Brien

Poscast on Helping Kids to make friends by Quirky Kid

Dr Kimberley O’Brien has prepared a Podcast as part of an interview to a local Magazine on how to help children manage friendships during 2017. Enjoy the podcast and read the transcript below.


 

Quirky Kid runs our popular Social and Emotional Program The Best of Friends.

[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.

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