Friday 23 June 2017

Rebuilding emotional resilience

In response to challenges brought about by ongoing earthquakes, a group of early childhood centres and primary schools in Christchurch recently carried out a programme to help reduce anxiety and build emotional resilience.

A desire to improve the emotional intelligence of young children led to a special programme within Christchurch’s Te Ara Tūhura Cluster.
The cluster, comprising seven primary schools and 30 early childhood services, recently implemented an emotion coaching intervention project in response to a trend reported by teachers and principals.
Following on from the serious earthquakes and ongoing aftershocks, teachers were noticing high levels of student and whānau anxiety, often manifesting as challenging behaviour at school. 

Alissa Jardine with a student from Kidsfirst Kindergarten in Christchurch.

Kidsfirst Kindergartens Belfast teacher Alissa Jardine was released to run emotion coaching training sessions for 25 early childhood and new entrant teachers within the Te Ara Tūhura Cluster.
A research-based approach first developed as a parenting technique, at its heart emotion coaching aims to build up a child’s emotional intelligence (EI) and capacity for self-control.
Emotion coaching involves recognising, understanding and responding to children’s emotions in an accepting and supportive way. This in turn helps the child to understand and manage their own emotions.
The cluster’s project links into the wider Canterbury community, and supports the region’s current wellbeing campaign All Right?, led by the Canterbury District Health Board and Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.
The training programme
With a background in early intervention in the disability field and for the Department of Corrections, Alissa’s role in the project included training, coaching and mentoring the teachers in how to use emotion coaching with their students.
This was made up of a two-day session with a focus on active learning, a multisensory approach with multimedia tools to illustrate neuroscience, meta-emotion philosophy and the development of emotion coaching skills. The training material is based on the international Tuning into kids parenting programme, psychologist John Gottman’s work, and Alissa’s prior work experience, which involved working with fathers in prison to help them see the emotions behind the behaviour of their children.
“It aims to equip children with the skills of self-control by understanding emotions that lead to their behaviour and how to modify these,” explains Alissa. “It’s based on the building of deep connections and relationships with them.”
Learning to identify separate emotions can help children understand and calm the feelings as they move through them.
“If a child can name their feelings, they can tame them. Emotion coaching is helping them to calm and control strong feelings. If we dismiss their emotions, children receive the message that they shouldn’t feel them, and they learn to hide or suppress how they feel, and this has wider implications for their mental health.”
The project relates to Te Whāriki through the principles of Relationships – Ngā Hononga, Family and Community – Whānau Tangata, Holistic Development – Kotahitanga, and the strand Wellbeing – Mana Atua. It also has resonance with The New Zealand Curriculum’s key competencies ‘managing self’ and ‘relating to others.’
Alissa points to the programme’s links with recent findings from the Dunedin Longitudinal Study, namely, the connections between a child’s self-control and their positive pathway into adulthood.
“In our cluster, we believe this contributes to us achieving our vision of preparing akonga for the future,” she says.
“The ability to ‘bounce back’ and to build strong resiliency are aspects of EI and are very poignant for our tamariki in Ōtauahi.”
Key teachers within the cluster attended the training sessions, on the understanding they would transfer their newfound knowledge and skills back to their own school or early childhood centre.
It’s important that both early childhood and primary teachers took part, says Alissa, in order to maintain continuity.
“We’re building strong links across the learning pathway by using similar strategies, shared language and understanding, which in turn supports better school transitions,” she says.
 
A child at Kidsfirst Kindergarten in Christchurch.
 
The role of Story Hui
Towards the completion of the project, Alissa and her team used Story Hui as an evaluative tool. This process allowed for indepth collaborative inquiry as well as individual evaluations by the teachers.
Story Hui is a group storytelling process that uses different forms of communication to tell a story. This process is being used in schools to help reveal and celebrate aspects of success that can be otherwise difficult to identify.
For Te Ara Tūhura Cluster, the Story Hui process brought to light the strong impact of the emotion coaching project.
Participants indicated that children were displaying higher levels of EI in a short period of time, were calmer and more able to focus.
“The teachers are inspired and some have made changes to their vision and overall pedagogy. One teacher noted that she has been teaching for 30 years and never claimed to know it all but this programme has reignited her passion for teaching,” says Alissa.
Plans are currently underway to introduce and share emotion coaching techniques to other schools and whānau members within the cluster.
 
RESOURCES USED IN THE EMOTION COACHING PROJECT
·         The Tuning in to kids programme was developed by Dr Sophie Havighurst and Ann Harley in Melbourne, Australia, and has been evaluated in multiple randomised controlled trials. The studies show the programme leads to positive outcomes, including improving parenting, parent-child relationships and children’s emotional competence and behaviour. The programme has been particularly effective with children with clinical-level emotional and behavioural difficulties. www.tuningintokids.org.au
·         The All Right? wellbeing campaign completes regular in-depth research into how Cantabrians are doing. This gives a wealth of up-to-date knowledge about how people are feeling and the hurdles they are facing. All Right? is a Healthy Christchurch initiative led by the Canterbury District Health Board and the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. https://allright.org.nz
·         Story Hui is a group storytelling process being used in schools to reveal and celebrate aspects of success that can sometimes be invisible. Find more about the process by visiting www.elearning.tki.org.nz/Professional-learning/Story-Hui2/Story-Hui
·         The Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study (or Dunedin Study for short) is an internationally-renowned research programme that has followed the progress of 1,000 children born in Dunedin in 1972-73, from birth to midlife. www.dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz