Way back in the last millennium when I trained to be a teacher, it was all about teaching children the three Rs: reading, writing, arithmetic. Emotional well-being was not listed anywhere in the training course content. Thankfully times have changed.
I feel privileged to work with people who are passionate about children’s emotional well-being and development. My overall aim is shared with my colleagues, we want all children to be able to grow and thrive in a happy, safe and secure school. When a child leaves us at age 11, we want them to be resilient and feel ready for the next stage of their education.
As a school, there is nothing more pleasing than seeing children arrive at the school gates and enter the classroom with a smile on their face. Our role is to do much more than teach children to read, write and be able to solve maths problems, we also work with families and the community to care for children, educate them, build resilience and improve social, emotional and mental wellbeing.
The changes in government over recent years has led to many shifts in education policy; demands on the curriculum and the assessment requirements for primary age children have become more pressurised. The bar has been raised for what children should be taught and what they should be able to do, and this can obviously have a knock on effect on a child’s well-being.
Some schools have shortened playtimes or lengthened the school day, some have given children extra lessons during school holidays, and there seems to be an increase in schools using very formal teaching styles, as they believe this is the only way they can cover the objectives and push the children to reach the required standards. I’m sure you’re all aware of the media reports that mental health problems in children and young people are rising, and we feel that it’s very important for us as a school to make sure that we provide a balance; we want to be a school where children are nurtured and have a wonderful, positive experience and are able to succeed, academically, socially and emotionally.
When we ask children what their favourite things are at school, the answer is more often than not, playing, being able to choose and being with their friends; it’s certainly not, doing a test, being inside all the time, not being allowed to talk in lessons, or only being able to play for a short period once or twice a day.
Last term some of my colleagues and I presented to a hall full of parents our thoughts on emotional well-being, and also focused on what you can do as a parent or carer to support your child’s emotional development.
Maria Daniels and Laura Goodey, both leaders in the early years, have become, by researching, studying and doing, our very own experts on play. They talked about how important play is for emotionally and physically healthy children. Jane O’Rourke, a child psychotherapist and our school counsellor, talked about a child’s behaviour and how their actions tell us about their needs, and how parents can support their child to develop resilience.
My focus was about how we support children at school, by using emotionally friendly language. We support children to develop a sense of self, and if things are going wrong and their behaviour changes, we look for the reasons why and help find a solution. We don’t say, ‘You’re bad, you’re naughty, you’re mad’; we do say, ‘It’s OK to feel upset or angry, and I’m going to help you to feel ok again,’ and use words such as, ‘I can see you’re feeling upset, worried, confused’. We help children to feel contained by setting limits and boundaries around behaviour, ‘It’s ok to feel like that, but it’s not ok to behave like that.’
Maria and Laura played a clip by American psychologist, Dr Peter Gray from Boston University; it is well worth a watch.
Some of Jane’s top tips are to take some time every day to really listen to your child, name feelings, 10-15 minutes of play every day, or ‘special time’ with each child and be in their world and let your child take the lead when playing.
As John Gottman writes in his book ‘Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child’, emotionally healthy children achieve more academically in school, have more positive relationships, have fewer behavioural problems, have fewer infectious illnesses, are more emotionally stable and are more resilient.
Thankfully, these days, we’re much better at focusing on the whole child, and not just the 3 Rs.