Category Archives: emotion language

Using children’s books to help children understand their world

 

IMG_1324

I am a huge fan of books, particularly children’s books. I have my own mini library that I use with children and in training. Any training I deliver I always have a huge pile of books and resources with me to recommend, I see it as a vital addition to my training.

I love the storytelling in books, and how they can develop children’s imagination, curiosity, an interest in things outside of their experience. We know that reading to children develops their language skills, I read to both my babies on the day they were born, the first story I read both of them was Guess how much I love you by Sam Mcbratney. My babies have grown into wonderful women with a passion for books and a love of language. I like to think that grew from being read to throughout their childhood.

In my work with children who have social, emotional and mental health needs I use books to help children understand things that may be difficult for them. I use stories about strong feelings, books about emotions; these help us to talk about their feelings and emotions, doing this with the aid of a book helps the children to see it’s not just them. I also use books with children to help them see themselves represented in a book, books about 2 dads or 2 mums, books about mental illness, books with pictures of children like them, books about going to the hospital, new babies arriving. I have also written two children’s books about mental illness, so books are definitely something I passionately believe in!

But the one area that has been tricky to share in a book is poverty, how we do talk to children about living in poverty?. I have been interested in this for a long time, I used to work for The Children’s Society and led on some of the research with young children around their experiences of poverty for the Good Childhood Inquiry. This is one subject where there has been a lack of books for children, until recently. Kate Milner has just written a book for young children called It’s a no money day, it’s a story about a girl and her mum, they wake up and only have 1 piece of bread in the house, and no money, it’s a story about going to the food bank, the things they can do together that doesn’t cost any money. This book is beautifully and sensitively told. We shouldn’t need this book, but we do. Current figures say we have 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, with this set to rise to five million in 2020 ( The Children’s Society). Many of us working in education, children centers, nurseries and as childminders will be working with children who are living in poverty, maybe some of us are also living in poverty. Poverty is such a hard thing to talk about, many people find it shameful. This book doesn’t solve the answers, but it does help children to understand it’s not just them, it also reminds practitioners who find this hard, to think about how it can be for some of our families. This is a book we should all add to our resources.

Recognising feelings and emotions

 

IMG_1358

This week it is world mental health day on Thursday 10th October, a day when many organisations, nurseries, and schools will be focusing on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Raising awareness is so important, however, one day a year or one wellbeing week a year in a nursery or school is not enough to embed practice. One area that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how we enable children to have a wide emotional vocabulary and understanding. If we can help children from a young age to understand the feelings they have, to be able to interpret what is going on in their bodies, then we are setting them for a good foundation of emotional wellbeing.  

Along with this is helping children to understand we all have a wide range of emotions and that is ok, we don’t have to be happy all the time. Over the last few years I have worked with a few children who have a fixed smile on their face, at first it is easy to think they are happy, but once you spend time with them, you realise it is a smile that comes out of a place of feeling uneasy, unsure, a bit scared, and they don’t know how to express these feelings. We need to help children to understand it is ok that they are not happy all the time, they can be sad or angry or jealous or scared, these feelings are normal. The problem is when we think happiness is a state we should aim to be in all the time, this can set us up to feel like a failure. As adults we need to model and show children that we all have wide range of feelings and emotions and to be able to name them, part of this is by regular acknowledging how we feel and noticing how the children are feeling- ‘ Lily I can see you are feeling tired and a bit sad today, that’s ok, would it help to spend some time sitting quietly together and looking at a book?’ or children I am feeling a bit worried this morning, I have lost my keys, I keep looking for them, do you think you could help me find them. A rich emotional vocabulary needs to be what we constantly hear in our early year’s settings.

If we can help children to have an emotional understanding and vocabulary from a young age, we are equipping them with a tool for life. I often come across adults who have a really limited emotional vocabulary, they find it so hard to express appropriately how they feel, or they feel guilty about not always feeling happy with their life. This is an unnecessary burden to carry through life, as early years workers we can help to change this. 

I am being interviewed about emotional literacies by Kathy Brodie on her Early Years summit if you want to hear this and many fantastic interviews a link is here

There is a growing range of resources we can use to help children understand feelings and emotions and to support mental wellbeing. A few books I have written are:

Mummy’s Got Bipolar 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- ( for children aged 7 plus)

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Practical Guide for Professionals and Parents

Relationship and connection

 

IMG_1214

This first month of the new school year has mostly focussed on building relationships and making connections with new staff and new children. We will be working together a lot over the next year and I know there will be a mix of great times and challenges ahead!. In these first few weeks, we spend a lot of time observing the children, we hold lightly the information we have about how they were in nursery and how they are at home, these first few weeks are about finding out with curiosity and interest.

In the first few weeks with the children I use an all about me tool I have developed, it’s a small bag with a few key items in it. I use this to tell the children something about me, who I am, what I enjoy and to talk about what we will do together. In my bag, I have a small wind up swimmer, a pressed flower from my garden, a photo of my family, a shell, a pot of bubbles and a small lavender bag. This tool is really useful to start conversations with children about what they like and what they enjoy. Sometimes, when you discover a child’s keen interest, it can be a key to their involvement. When I know a child has a keen interest in something, I will bring that into the sensory play and emotion work over the weeks and months that we work together.

This week I discovered one of the children I am supporting has a passion and a huge knowledge about Minecraft, this is a new subject for me, I don’t know anything about Minecraft. However, I agreed that I would go away and find out, I haven’t been very successful in this, I have downloaded the game but I am not doing very well!. Over the next few weeks, I am sure, I will be learning more about how it works. I have managed to acquire some Minecraft toys, and I will be using those over the coming weeks with sensory play.

As adults when we connect with a child through something they are interested in, we are showing them that we care, that they are important, that their passions and interests matter. When a child feels that an adult cares and is interested, then they will start to trust you and work with you. Listening to them and finding out what they care about is key to building a relationship with them.

I have a book about listening to children titled Listening to young children in an early years setting: A practical guide published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers this has more ideas and suggestions about listening to children.

 

 

Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing and social skills through playing board games

img_0007

We are in week three of the new term, this term a big focus of my work is helping the children I support to grow in confidence and to be able to manage their strong feelings when things don’t go the way they want it to. This term I am loving board games!, they are becoming a key part of each session with children for the term. Board games were really popular when I was a child and when my children were little, but they seem to appear less often in family homes, I think one reason is they have been replaced with games on screens.

The reason I love using board games is they help to teach children so many skills, turn taking, waiting, listening to others, resilience when someone else wins or you come last, you notice other peoples reactions and faces and are able to extend the emotional language and understanding. Games are also great for extending children’s language and communication and with some games encouraging early counting skills; they also often bring lots of laughter and joy. My favorite games at the moment are Rocket Kerplunk ( a variation on the old Kerplunk), pop up pirate and lotto games.

It is not unusual for children across the ages to find it really hard to be with other children, to understand the social skills around waiting, turn-taking, listening and increasingly they have low resilience in being able to cope with things not going their way. May practitioners who carry out intervention work with children across the ages will use board games to support this. When a regulated and calm adult is scaffolding and supporting the board game play, this can be a safe space and a safe way for the child to work on these skills. I have also found that children and young people are happy to chat about their day, how they are feeling, what is going on for them when they are engaging in a game.

In this time of an increase in technology, many children are losing out on the chance to play board games. Often children are playing screen games on their own, the screen games do not teach the same social and emotional skills. My main encouragement to parents and staff who support children, is to play lots of these sort of games. I was encouraging parents before Christmas to buy the child a board game for Christmas. In the post-Christmas time now is the time to find board games in charity shops! with lots of families making space in their house or children have grown out of some of the younger games, now is that chance to buy a great variety for little money.

Navigating through change

img_1561

Some people thrive on change, they become bored quickly and need variety, I have lots of variety in my work, which I love, but I am not massively keen on change! and I quite like a structure to work within. I usually start my school year with a list of children and schools to support, I know pretty much what the year ahead will look like. A key element of this is that I know how to support children and staff through the changes ahead. I have learned through the nurture work how vital it is support change, the children we work with find change challenging, but also some of the parents can find change really challenging and overwhelming as well. So far this school year very little has gone to plan and so far there have been far more changes than normal and more than I would like!.

I have been reflecting these last two weeks about how we support parents through change. We all know that some parents find the move to nursery or school a huge challenge, their baby is getting older, they need to trust other adults to take care of their precious one, and that is not always easy. Often schools and nursery will set up meetings before the start of the new year, in our role we meet with parents and explain what we do and listen to their stories about their child. These are important, but sometimes there are parents who need something extra, if I am honest I am not quite sure what that extra looks like, it’s a question I am asking myself this week. I wonder whether sometimes we forget how big a change this is for parents, and if they experience change as frightening, the transition of their child to school or nursery can be extremely frightening.

Over the last week I have been experiencing transition and change within my family as my youngest has moved to university. She had a gap year, so all year we have talked, prepared, thought about the changes this will bring. However it is still hard, so much has changed, it’s the little things you can’t quite prepare for. I watched Bakeoff with her each week, she would bake in the day, we would eat it while watching the program. It sounds so minor, but watching Bakeoff this week without her was horrible!. I have found myself returning to Kristin Neff words about self-compassion a lot this week, often saying to myself it’s ok to be sad, but it will be ok.

I wonder if we need to learn to use emotion language more with parents, in my role we use it all the time with the children. Maybe we need to acknowledge more with parents that they may be feeling overwhelmed at this change in their lives, that it’s ok to find this hard, that it’s ok to be worried and a bit scared. I know that Penn Green do some fantastic support work with parents through transitions.  Dr. Terri Rose in her book Emotional readiness has some excellent examples of supporting parents and children through change. It’s something I am going to thinking about more over the next few weeks in relation to my role.

Building trust with staff and children

 

IMG_3793

The first week of the new term can often feel like a harsh shock to the system, for both the children and the staff. This week I have been visiting some of my new schools. I was reminded again that the role of a nurture worker is as much about supporting staff as it is supporting children.

Children who arrive at school feeling overwhelmed, frightened, confused, may show us those huge feelings in a strong way, e.g. kicking, biting, scratching. These feelings are overwhelming for the child, but they can be frightening, shocking and overwhelming to the adults too. I and my colleagues spend a lot of time explaining, interpreting the children’s behaviour to staff. We also spend a lot of time listening, being present, reassuring staff.

When you start in a new school, the emphasis is on building relationships, over the next year we are going to work very closely, I will be in each week, supporting, guiding, and leading staff in how to support the children. I need the staff to learn to trust me, I need to trust them, the child needs to learn to trust all of us. Sometimes, we encounter staff and schools who have had limited experience of children who have encountered a difficult start in life and can be really shocked at some of the behaviours they see. I need to remind myself this is ok, the staff will adapt. I need to quietly but firmly reassure them we can change this, we can support the child, we will enable the child to feel safe, secure, loved and that they belong and from this we will seee change. I have found myself repeating a phrase this week, ‘It will be ok, I know it is hard but we can do this, I am here to support you’. I know that will be a phrase I will repeat a lot; it’s not to deny the stress of working with a very scared and cross child, but it hopefully reassures that they are not on their own in this.

At the start of a new school year, I know I need to hang onto the knowledge and hope that change is possible and will happen. Sometimes I think the staff must think I am mad when at the beginning of the year I am saying, I am not worried, I know we will see change. I need to be the one holding onto that hope. This is the 5th year of this role, I have that knowledge and experience to carry me through the tricky first term, knowing that ahead of us, in a few months, all could be very different.

This morning I was walking in our community meadow, this is a practice I do each Sunday morning. At the bottom of the meadow is a view into the valley across the way. This morning the sun was shining down, it looks like a window. I was reminded of the words by Julian of Norwich, All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. I expect I will be saying this a lot to myself over the next few weeks!.

Be the love

IMG_0611

It is the last week of term, the last couple of weeks have felt quite challenging in my nurture role. A number of the children I work with have been finding life particularly hard, and they show this in ways that can be quite demanding for everyone. This weekend I have been visiting family, while away we visited Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. As we walked into the building the choir were practicing, the space was filled with beautiful music and then I saw the Tracy Emin art work above the door with the words ‘I felt you and I knew you loved me’. I arrived in that space feeling shattered, quite stressed, my mind buzzing with the week ahead. The mix of the words in the art work and the music stopped me, forced me to stop, breathe, notice. Those words felt very pertinent to me, I have been regularly telling staff that the children we work with need to know they are safe, they need to know they belong and they need to know they are loved, isn’t that what we all need?.

Tracy Emin described the reason for her work

“The Church has always been a place, for me, for contemplation. I wanted to make something for Liverpool Cathedral about love and the sharing of love. Love is a feeling which we internalise; a feeling very hard to explain. I thought it would be nice for people to sit in the Cathedral and have a moment to contemplate the feelings of love, it’s something we just don’t have enough time to think about and I hope this work creates this space in time.” Liverpool Echo, September 2008

The idea of loving the children we work with can be challenging to some. Dan Hughes developed a model for adoptive and foster parents called PLACE ( sometimes called Pace)

Playfulness
Love
Acceptance
Curiosity
Empathy

This model is also used by many people who work children, including the team I work with. Dr Jools Page has also developed a model called professional love, which looks at how early years practitioners develop a professional loving attachment with the children they work with. Both of these models are helpful to remind us how essential it is that the children we work with know they are loved and accepted, these are both underpinning needs for a child to have a good wellbeing.

When we are working with children who are overwhelmed, scared, unregulated, as adults we need to be the calm, loving, trustworthy person for them. By consistently using scripts and reminding the children- “I can see you are …., I am here for you” we are accepting them, loving them and empathising with them.

When we work in this way it can be emotionally challenging for ourselves, it can be exhausting. We need to ensure that we are loving ourselves, taking care of ourselves, some of the ways we can do this are by eating well, having time to rest and if possible getting time outside, there are more ideas on our wellbeing in my new book Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff.