Category Archives: emotion language

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

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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.

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Navigating through change

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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

 

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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

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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.

Hope for the future

 

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This weekend I attended the wedding of a beautiful couple, Harry and Grace. During the reception, I had the usual conversation with other guests about jobs, when I am asked what I do I usually say I work with 4 yr olds who are finding life very hard. Or tell them my daughter’s description of my role “mum works with 4 yr olds, plays with play dough and says I can see you are really cross but it’s not ok to bite”. People, always look slightly taken aback when I describe my job and often ask how can a four-year-old be in such a difficult place. One person on Saturday asked me what hope there was, and my answer was lots. One of the main aims of my job is to share an emotional language, to encourage and help the children to recognise how they are feeling, what they are feeling and to help them manage those feelings. If we can put in place from a young age an excellent emotional intelligence we are offering children a fantastic starting point to life.

At the wedding on Saturday, I was reminded by the wonderful hope we have for the future, it was fantastic to see how this couple and their friends have an amazing emotional intelligence, there was no sign of any toxic masculinity at this wedding. This was a wedding full of men and women expressing their true feelings, this was a wedding where the best man and the groom publicly said how much they loved each other, where the bride publicly told her bridesmaids how important they were in her life. This was a truly equal wedding, with bride and groom walking in together, with tears from both as they greeted each other, with women leading the service and all speeches by an equal mix of men and women, including a speech from the bride’s father and the groom’s mother. This wedding gave me hope for the future, this wedding reminded me that times are changing, that there is a growing emotional intelligence and I firmly believe that will make for a better world and a better future.

Order of service by Joel Baker

Where did you find joy this week?

 

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One of my jobs this week was to proof read the book I have coming out in December ‘ Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff. I love the whole process of writing a book; I find the subject takes up a lot of my thinking and reflecting time, but once I have finished it I often move on in my thoughts to the next project or just take a break from that level of thinking. When I get to proof read the final edition I am reminded of ideas I had, research I had done, some sections I read remind me of the time I wrote it and the feelings I had at that time. That was my experience this week; one small section talks about experiencing joy, finding joy in our work, in our lives, looking out for joyful moments. As I was writing this section, my close friend, Liz was dying of cancer, so to be honest life didn’t feel very joyful at the time.
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One of the suggestions I make is having a practice of gratefulness, at the end of each day asking two questions what am I grateful for today? and where did I find joy? This is a practice I have tried to embed for a long time. It can be a real challenge when days are truly dreadful it can be really easy to get caught up in the gloom and negativity, but this practice encourages me to find something, even if it was small that I am thankful for and that brought me joy.

This week the main joy for me has been in playing with waterbeads. My daughters describe my job as messy play and telling a child ‘i can see your feeling really sad, I am here for you!– not a bad description of a nurture workers role!. In the nurture work this week I have been introducing my four years to waterbeads. I love this sensory tool as they are messy play without being messy ( I have a few children this year who hate the feel of messy play), through using waterbeads you can bring out lots of language and conversation about feelings, touch, emotions. Most of the children adored these; it was so delightful to see their faces light up, they pulled the most wonderful faces of surprise, delight, and pure joy. Several of the children repeatedly commented while running their hands through the tub; ‘I love this so much, I am so happy’. Even when other moments in the week have been more challenging, remembering the children’s joy has been joyful for me.

 

Taking the time to stop and listen to children

 

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The children I work with have now been in school for four weeks, I have spent the time watching, observing, listening and getting to know them and then assessing them using the Thrive assessment. From this week we start the intervention work, the Ta’s and I start working together with the child to build up their sense of feeling safe, feeling they are special and meeting their needs.

During the observation period, it is so important to see the world through the child’s eyes; we often focus on what overwhelms the child, what they find hard but I also love to discover what it is that excites them, that they are fascinated by. Once we glimpse this, we can then incorporate this into the nurture work and sensory work we will be doing. We know that children respond well when they are doing activities that link to their interests. I am always encouraging early years practitioners to follow children’s interest, and I believe we need to do this also in the nurture role.

This year some of the interests are Thomas the tank engine, owls, and dinosaurs. One little boy told me this week, with such passion and depth of feeling how he “adores owls” as he told me about his love of owls he put his hand on his heart and said “ I love owls so much’. Until this conversation I wasn’t sure what made him happy, this one conversion brought him alive, his eyes were sparkling, he was animated and enthusiastic, this was the first time I had seen this response. Another child loves Thomas the tank engine, the one way to engage him is to talk about Thomas and the characters.

This week I will be hiding Thomas and his fellow engines in lavender sensory rice, I will be hiding dinosaurs in crazy soap, and I will be playing with owls, fabric and boxes. I know from experience that keying into the child’s interests and incorporating this into the nurture activities will engage them, it will help them to feel they have been noticed and valued and help them to feel special. It’s amazing how much emotion language you can use with Thomas the tank engine or a dinosaur!.