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.
The word ‘homework’ for many teenagers and their parents evokes feelings of dread, frustration and sheer agony. While most teens and parents understand the reasons for being given homework, namely to help develop sound study habits, to foster learning outside the school environment, consolidate the learning undertaken in class and foster independence and responsibility, homework time can quickly become a battleground in which family tensions can rise to boiling point. The debate surrounding homework and its benefits have been ongoing since the early 20th century.
During the 1940’s homework was given less emphasis as schools moved away from utilising rote- learning and memorisation as a key teaching focus to a more skills-based problem solving approach to learning. Again in the 1960’s, homework was given less emphasis as concerns were raised about it’s detrimental impact on children’s social and recreational activity time. Nowadays, there appears to be a more balanced approach with a recognition of the importance of children enjoying recreational time as well as time engaged in more structured homework activity.
Benefits of Homework
Research is clearly telling us that homework can have significant benefits for a child. Generally speaking, studies are showing us that academic achievement is improved for children who partake in some homework (Cooper, Robinson & Patall, 2006). However, there are additional factors which appear to influence the positive relationship between homework and academic achievement. Firstly, the relevance and applicability of homework appears important, with homework that has clear, specific learning purposes having a stronger positive relationship with academic outcomes.
Additionally, the time spent on homework does not simply have a linear relationship with academic outcome. Interestingly, research suggests that there is a point at which too much time given to homework can be counterproductive and fail to enhance academic achievement for children. Lastly, the amount and type of parental involvement can moderate the benefits of homework. Parental involvement in homework which is over-structured, controlling and negative can diminish the positive effects of homework on achievement for children.
Where should our focus be?
While there are a multitude of factors which may impact on how children respond to homework tasks, such as the family environment, their relationship with the school and teacher, personality factors and learning strengths and weaknesses, children’s organisational skills play an important role in how they achieve academically. Organisational skills are skills that relate to not only a child managing their own belongings and materials (for example, transferring their homework into their diaries and bringing the diary home), but also their ability to plan and allocate time to tasks such as homework (for example, breaking down projects into manageable sections and allocating time to each section accordingly) (Langberg, Epstein, Becker, Girio-Herrera & Vaughn, 2012).
For children in their teens, organisational skills appear to play a significant role in predicting children’s academic achievement (Langberg et al., 2012). The difficulty is, the teen years, particularly those around the transition into high school are a time when children’s organisational skills appear to be most compromised, given the changing environment associated with high school (for example, multiple classroom and teacher changes), increased demands on children to be independent and greater amounts of work (Langberg et al., 2012).
So how can parents help?
Research and clinical experience tells us that parents play an integral role in helping their children manage their homework tasks.
Evaluate your own attitude: Look closely at the messages your child hears or sees from you about homework. It is likely that if you have a negative attitude, your child will also. Reframe homework as a task that is part of every child’s schooling life and focus on the benefits it can bring, such as greater academic confidence, a sense of achievement and important life skills.
Establish a routine: work with your child to develop a shared structure of when and how they will do their homework. Empower your child to be part of the process and let them make some of the choices around homework time. Try to have family routines set, so children can plan homework and other activities around family time such as dinner. With your child, also establish some boundaries, such as charging their phone in another room at homework time and having the TV off as well as an appropriate timeframe for homework completion.
Set the scene: make the best of homework time and ensure your home environment is set up to help your child focus and feel comfortable. Set children up in a quiet area and ensure your child has appropriate seating, lighting and other things necessary for homework, such as pencils, snacks and water. It can also be helpful to look at your child’s goals and focus on how homework may help them achieve those goals (for example, how maths can help them in opening their own cafe).
Natural consequences: rather than engaging in a battle about homework, it may be appropriate for your child to learn the consequences of not handing in their homework given by their school. This may help to develop your child’s sense of responsibility and ownership over homework completion and relieve some of the pressure parents may feel with homework tasks.
Communicate with your school and teacher: find out from your child’s teacher your role in their learning and homework and what added supports you may need to provide for your child. Communication with your child’s teacher on homework tasks can also help you to support your child’s organisational skills, ensuring they are managing their time and on task for homework deadlines.
Timetable relaxation time with plenty of options: exercise and relaxation time are well established to not only be beneficial for our stress levels, mood and physical health, but also for our concentration and attentional abilities. Scheduling time off will help your child develop their own hobbies, skills, gifts and talents and support their learning.
Help your child develop their organisational skills: Helping children become better organised not only enhances the possibility of homework arriving home, but also of it being completed on time! Develop an organisational system to help children remember to write down their homework and bring it home (for example, develop a colour coded timetable for each subject or a checklist for what they need to remember to pack before home time). Visual reminders with pictures of what a child needs to remember can be helpful. Additionally, when your child receives an assignment help them break it down and plan out how they will approach it. It is often helpful for children to work out what is most difficult so they can work on those tasks first when they feel more alert and focused.
Set an example: children will generally find it difficult to go off and start their homework if the rest of the family is enjoying a TV show. When your child is doing their homework try and engage in a similar activity, such as reading, completing your own work or household chores. This demonstrates to your child that you too have discipline and responsibility and that you are respectful to the effort they are putting into their work. Being interested and helpful without being too interfering or directive will also help develop your child’s sense of responsibility and independence in homework tasks. Praise your child for effort and commitment and utilise rewards that are unlikely to compete with homework activities, such as verbal praise and time with you rather than extra TV or iPad time.
Develop incidental learning experiences for your child: take opportunities to learn outside desk-based homework time. This will help foster your child’s enjoyment in the learning process.
Recognise when things are difficult: Some children find learning more difficult than others and may find homework tasks overwhelming and deflating. If you are concerned your child is having significant difficulty with their homework tasks, consult with their teacher and utilise resources that may be available, such as homework club, learning support or tutoring. Most schools have a homework policy which may be helpful in reviewing homework for your child.
While homework can be a tricky time, particularly for teens and their parents, supporting children in developing their organisational skills, sense of independence and responsibility can help foster a sense of achievement and confidence that will help set them up for future success!
1. NSW Government Education and Communities Public Schools NSW Fact Sheet: Homework: a parent guide http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/learning/homework/index.php
2. Langberg, J., Epstein, J., Becker, S., Girio-Herrera, E. & Vaughn, A. (2012). Evaluation of the Homework, Organization, and Planning Skills (HOPS) Intervention for Middle School Students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as Implemented by School Mental Health Providers. School PSychology Review, 41 (3), 342-364.
3. Cooper, H., Robinson, J. & Patall, E. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76 (1), 1-62.
4. Knollmann, M. & Wild, E. (2007). Quality of parental support and student’s emotions during homework: Moderating effects of students’ motivational orientations. European Journal of Psychology of Education, XXIII (1), 63-76.
School can be both an exciting and a challenging experience. A young person’s experience of school is influenced by many factors, such as peer relationships, learning ability and family life. Problems in these areas can lead a young person to develop a negative experience of school. Actively avoiding school, either by not attending school or not staying at school for the duration of the day, is known as school refusal.
School refusal can occur at any time during a young person’s schooling, however it is more likely to occur during high school. An Australian study prepared by Youth Support Coordinators highlights the increased likelihood of school refusal during periods of transitions, such as the move from primary to high school or the move from one school to another (2009). Australian research suggests that up to 9% of school population may experience school refusal at some point in time (Withers, 2004).
There can be multiple factors contributing to school refusal among children. Two significant factors appear to be experiences of anxiety and bullying (Kearney, 2007). Anxiety often manifests as physical symptoms, such as headaches and nausea, which can make it difficult for parents to distinguish whether their child’s complaint is medical or psychological in nature. Seeking medical advice and monitoring the timing of physical complaints can help discern the nature of the complaints. Being bullied at school is also another major contributor to children becoming fearful of school and thus attempting to avoid school (The Monash School Refusal Program). Other common factors include:
Difficulty in peer relationships
Fear/difficulties with teachers
Transition to high school
Traumatic life event
Warning signs that may indicate school refusal
Some indicators that your child may be school refusing are:
Frequent and unexplained absences from school
Frequent lateness to school
Absences on significant days (e.g., days on which tests or specific classes are scheduled)
Frequent requests to go to sick bay
Frequent requests to call home or to go home during the day
In the home
Complaints of physical symptoms when getting reading for school, e.g. headaches
A reluctance or refusal to get dressed for school
Negative comments about school
A reluctance to talk openly about their experiences at school
What can parents and teachers do to support children experiencing school refusal?
It is important for parents and teachers to address the initial concern(s) of their child, while at the same time supporting them to maintain school attendance. Asking open questions and engaging young people in collaborative problem solving allows them the opportunity to express their feelings and feel listened to. Things that may be helpful in addressing school refusal in your child are:
Identify the issue: Gaining an understanding of why your child is anxious about school can help with problem solving and developing strategies around helping them back into school. For example, if you child is being bullied, then a collaborative approach with the school on how to manage the issue may be the first step. If your child is nervous about a transition, then working through their fears and worries and equipping them with skills to manage stressful changes may be more appropriate. Seeking guidance with a Psychologist can help to clarify the issue behind your child’s school refusal and help to put in place effective strategies to facilitate your child’s transition back into school.
Keep things calm and predictable: Keeping morning routines and school routines (such as classroom and playground routines) calm and predictable can help to minimise your child’s anxiety about attending school and can facilitate positive school-based experiences. Routines can include things that you know your child finds calming, such as taking a shower, drawing, walking to school and meeting their friends at the gate.
Keep an open dialogue: Be your child’s advocate and support and keep the dialogue and communication open with the school as to why your child is fearful about attending school and what your child needs at school to help them feel safe. Help your child identify which staff they would feel safe with involving to support them and check in with these staff members regularly. Also be open with your child on the importance of school attendance and what things they, the school and you as a parent can do to support them.
Develop a sense of school connectedness: Feeling like a valued and important member of the school community can develop a child’s sense of confidence and happiness at school. Ask your child’s teacher for ideas of how to foster your child’s interests and gifts at school and strengthen school-friendships by inviting friends to play after school and on weekends. Praise your child for their efforts in attending school and don’t let the small gains they make go unnoticed.
Set some goals: Confronting feared situations is never an easy task, however, setting small goals with your child can help them gain a sense of confidence and mastery over their anxiety. With your child and their support team (eg. teachers, friend, grandparents), set small achievable goals to help them get back into their schooling, such as going to school for the morning, having mum walk them in, sitting near the teacher. Help your child challenge and replace any unhelpful thoughts along the way (eg. “I hate school”) and look for more realistic, helpful thoughts based on their experiences (eg. “going to school in the morning was ok, I was able to see my best friend and read my favourite book”). Reward your child for every achievement and continue to set small achievable steps to help them reach the goal of being back at school.
Withers, G. (23-24June, 2004) Disappearance: Some recent statistics and a commentary on non-attendance in school. Paper presented at the Learning Choice Expo conducted by the Dusseldorp Skills Forum: Sydney
Kearney, C. (2011). Dealing with school refusal behaviour: A primer for family physicians – workable solutions for unhappy youth and frustrated parents. Journal of Family Practice Online, Vol 55 No 8.David, P.
McLaughlin, R & Peace, D. Youth Engagement Strategy: Understanding and Addressing Chronic Student Absence Behaviour, School Refusal and Truancy in Primary and Secondary Schools: A comprehensive summary of reports http://education.qld.gov.au/studentservices/behaviour/docs/youth-engagement-strategy.pdf
Dudley, A. & Rollings, S. (2001). Anxiety and School Refusal. Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology, School Refusal Program
Social exclusion in the school environment is increasingly being recognised as a form of relational aggression or bullying, in which a child is exposed to harm through the manipulation of their social relationships and status (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Social exclusion can take many forms, with children reporting a range of experiences from being deliberately excluded from a peer group to having rumours spread about them, being called names and being purposefully embarrassed. In any sense, social exclusion is fundamentally entails a lack of connectedness and participation from a peer group. Australian research suggests that approximately 1 in 6 children report experiences of social exclusion, however, this may under- represent true prevalence rates given the difficulties in measuring social exclusion which is often undertaken in covert and hidden ways (Edith Cowan University, 2009).
Who does it affect?
While belonging and connectedness to peers is important at any age, it is particularly relevant in adolescence. Research suggests that adolescents are particularly sensitive to peer rejection and as a group, may experience the most significant mental health effects such as depression and anxiety in response peer rejection. Adolescence is typically a time of increased independence from parents and family and increased dependence on their peer group. Identities are developed in relation to peer groups and peer group differences can become highly salient. The difficulty for adolescents is that ingroup and outgroup rules are fluid and as such, maintaining peer relationships can be fraught with complication (Leets & Wolf, 2005).
Studies on the neurological profile of children suggest that their brain areas for emotion (such as the Anterior Cingulate Cortex) become more activated in response to peer rejection with age, peaking in adolescence. In contrast, adolescents show significantly less activation in the brain regions which govern emotional regulation such as the Ventrolateral Prefrontal Cortex in response to peer rejection in comparison with younger children (Bolling, Pitskel, Deen, Crowley, Mayes & Pelphrey, 2011). This unique neurological profile for adolescents suggests that social exclusion at this age may be particularly distressing and that they may have significant difficulty in managing their distress.
Effects of social exclusion
Research suggests that the physical, emotional and mental health of children exposed to social exclusion can be compromised. For example, lower immune function, reduced sleep quality, reduced ability to calm oneself in times of distress, reduced self esteem, feelings of anxiety, depression and aggression have all been observed in children who have been excluded from a peer group (DeWall, Deckman, Pond & Bonser, 2011).
So what can we do?
Children and adults all have a core need to be loved and valued within secure and lasting positive relationships (DeWall et al., 2011). Helping children develop and maintain these secure relationships both with their family, peers and wider social group is an important part of their development. Research is telling us that children become aware of social rejection from a young age (Leets & Wolf, 2005) and can reason as to why it is wrong to exclude others from preadolescence (Killen, 2007). Thus talking with your child from a young age about inclusion of others, feelings that occur when exclusion is encountered and strategies to manage social exclusion is important. Some helpful tips are:
For the excluded child:
Be open, available and calm when your child needs to talk with you. Children often worry about upsetting or worrying their parents, so it is important to remain calm and engaged with your child.
Be responsive to your child. Affirm to them that they have the right to be safe and feel secure and that you will help them by talking with the school and providing a safe haven at home. For older children, listen to the action that they would like you to take and negotiate with them when it would be appropriate for you to talk with the school, for example, if they are still being excluded at the end of the week or if things escalate.
Be affirming. Tell and show your child that they are unconditionally loved and valued as a person. Enlist the support of family friends to share positive messages about your child and engage in their gifts, talents and interests. Build a circle of security around your child.
Make your home a safe haven. Minimise the risk of online social exclusion and bullying by monitoring technology use and using privacy settings and parental controls. The change of email addresses and mobile numbers may be necessary.
Help your child manage emotional distress but talking about their feelings and developing some self-coping statements such as “relax, don’t take it personally”. Help your child focus on their gifts, talents and interests.
Build your child’s friendships. Having one close friend has been shown to strengthen a child’s connectedness to school and self esteem. Help your child identify a friend or friends that share similar interests and foster the friendship through play dates and scheduled activities.
Use the high five principal. Help your child identify five people that they can seek support from and /or things to do, one for each finger, if they are being excluded. For example, seek out a special teacher, find a friend in an older year, go to the library or offer their help to the teacher on duty.
Develop ways your child can have some clear boundaries. Help your child communicate their distress and name the inappropriate behaviour of others through statements such as “I don’t like what you are doing and you need to stop” , “That is bullying and it is not right”. Help your child know that they need to seek support if the social exclusion continues.
Develop a tone in your family and school that demonstrates an environment of mutual respect and responsibility.
Have clear and well communicated policies on bullying and social exclusion and explore these regularly with the school community.
Encourage class-based discussions on the meanings of ingroups and outgroups and common misperceptions, such as “kids who wear glasses are not good at sports”. Find examples in everyday life that will challenge these misperceptions. Extend discussions to help children realise the moral and emotional implications of social exclusion.
Facilitate teamwork and an atmosphere of inclusion by choosing working or sporting groups based on arbitrary characteristics such as birth months, favourite animals or having a rotating system by which every half day, the group rotates by one member.
Develop strong networks between teaching staff and children by including children in lessons, school activity planning and open discussions. Having the principal visible and available can also help develop an atmosphere of inclusion and connectedness.
Get the wider peer group involved. Social exclusion thrives when surrounding peers do not intervene. Help children understand why it is important to help others and strategies to do so, such as saying things like “stop that is not fair, leave her alone, she’s my friend” or know a teacher whom they can approach.
Again, programs like ‘The Best of Friends’ can be offered school wide to ensure the social skills and communication strategies are consistently applied.
1. Leets, L. & Wolf, S. (2005). Adolescent rules for social exclusion: when is it fair to exclude someone else? Journal of Moral Education, 34 (3), 343-362.
2. Killen, M. (2007). Children’s Social and Moral Reasoning About Exclusion. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 6 (1), 32-36.
3. Bolling, D., Pitskel N., Deen, B., Crowley, M., Mayes, L. & Pelphrey, K. (2011). Development of neural systems for processing social exclusion from childhood to adolescence. Developmental Science, 14 (6), 1431-1444.
4. DeWall, C., Deckman, T., Pond, R. & Bonser, I. (2011) Belongingness as a Core Personality Trait: How Social Exclusion Influences Social Functioning and Personality Expression. Journal of Personality, 79 (6), 979-1012.
5. Edith Cowan University (2009). Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, CHPRC http://deewr.gov.au/bullying-research-projects
We were welcomed by a fantastic crowd during the conference. Belinda presented the many aspects of performance psychology for your people, drawing on great examples relating to achieving peak performance. We enjoyed answering questions from other delegates at the ACER stand.
The best news has come from Gymnastic Australia that has now confirmed Power Up as their program of choice for young performers. We will provide more information about this great development soon.
If you have any questions about Power Up! please contact us on 02 9362 9297 to arrange a demonstration.