5 ways to support emotional wellbeing

5 ways to support emotional wellbeing

Acknowledge children’s emotions

At times, it can be very frustrating when children are ‘overreacting’ to situations that seem very trivial. However, it is important to remember that problems are relative. Cast your mind back to when you were a teenager. The problems you had then will seem irrelevant now. Despite that, you will remember your emotions being overwhelming and equally as painful as the emotions you feel now as an adult when things go wrong. As we grow up, our problems become more serious. However, at the time they are big and evoke strong emotions. It’s important to remember this with little ones. A two-year-old’s problems are going to seem irrelevant through the eyes of an adult. However, it is important to remember that they are relative to their age and are a big deal to them. Maybe you have given them the wrong pen, or their trousers are twisted and they can’t sort them out. Whatever the problem is, it is important to try to look at the world through their eyes and limited experience, and acknowledge how they are feeling.

Not only that, we must remember that small children are not developmentally equipped with the ability to regulate themselves, so they not only feel these strong emotions, but also don’t know how to control them! When we feel sad or angry as adults, sometimes, someone simply being there without trying to make sense of what is going on, can make a big difference. A simple acknowledgment of how we feel and someone telling us that they understand and are there if we need them, can have a huge impact on the situation. It’s the same for children. Just because their problems are small shouldn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge them and the big feelings that they have generated.

Be present

In this fast-paced, digital world that we live in there are lots of distractions. There are also lots of demands on us as parents and practitioners and most of us have a million and one things on our to-do list at any given moment! It’s understandable that we have to multi-task and that our minds can wander off in different directions. However, it is important to try to put all of these distractions aside when we are with children and try to be really present in that moment. There’s nothing worse than talking to someone who you know really isn’t listening or showing an interest in what you’re saying. Have you ever walked away from a situation feeling like someone just doesn’t care or feeling like they just dismissed what you had to say? If you have, you will know that it feels awful. Children talk a lot and it can be easy to just give a nod or quickly engage in a conversation as you are passing by to do another job or activity. I can be guilty of this myself running 2 businesses from home. However, if we can stand still and not only listen, but actually hear what they are saying and engage with it, magical things can happen. By being really present in the moment without distractions, children will feel valued and appreciated, which will build their self-worth and confidence.

Allow children to fail

Failure is never nice and it can be hard to see children struggling. Our instinct is to help and/or rescue them. However, it is important to allow children to test their own limitations and to get things wrong in order to build their resilience and confidence. Failure is a part of success and a person that can fail and keep going will succeed much more than someone who avoids failure altogether. Our brilliance is often found outside of our comfort zone. However, to reach it we need to put ourselves in unfamiliar territory and risk not knowing all of the answers. A person that views failure as a stepping stone to success, will be more confident and secure than someone who allows it to define them. Allowing children to test their own limitations and to fail, but also teaching them how to use that experience as a tool to develop, will give them more resilience and confidence in their abilities and strengths. 

Teach children about gratitude

We teach children to say ‘thank you’ but we rarely teach them about gratitude. It can sometimes be an empty phrase used through habit rather than being fully understood. Studies have shown that practising gratitude on a daily basis has a huge impact on our emotional wellbeing as it breaks the cycle of negative emotion. A person that can see the beauty in the small things will be happier than one who looks at their life through a more negative lens. By teaching children to give thanks daily for normal, everyday things and to explain why they are grateful for them, we will help them to view their life from a positive angle. This will not only nurture their emotional wellbeing now but will instil a practice in them that will support them to be happier throughout life in general. (Get a free pack at www.earlyyearsstorybox.com/gratitude)

Use stories to help children to process thoughts and feelings

Stories are an incredibly powerful tool to allow children to process their own thoughts and feelings. It is so much easier in life to go through a situation if you know someone who has already been through it and come out the other side. It gives you a light at the end of the tunnel. Characters in stories can be that ‘friend’ for children and can reassure them that everything is going to be okay at times when they feel vulnerable. Stories can also plant positive seeds in little minds and instil positive values. If you can also do fun activities that link to the story, you give children the opportunity to explore the themes and concepts even further. You get a lot more out of children if you are chit-chatting alongside doing something fun. By the activity linking to the characters and storyline, you can talk about themes and concepts as you are having fun together. This opens the door to many magical conversations that in turn, support children to process their own feelings and emotions too. 

To get unlimited access to storybooks with linking resources for just £9.99 for the whole year and to receive 2 free limited-edition storybooks just visit www.earlyyearsstorybox.com/subscribe and use the discount code PARENTA-5

 


 About the author

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

Easing anxiety in young children

Easing anxiety in young children

With mental health issues on the rise, it is no surprise that many children, in addition to adults, suffer from anxiety. This isn’t always easy to identify in young children since their big emotions and behaviour can just be part of their growing up and understanding the world. Quite often, a child’s anxiety is not obvious until they are at school. If we can recognise early signs of anxiety, however, we stand a great chance of being able to help a child ease their worries before they become too big. 

There are always going to be some children in your setting that are naturally quiet and nervous. Fears become a problem, however, when a child stops doing things because of them. Take clinginess, for example. This is a normal part of childhood development. However when a child’s clinginess becomes excessive, so much so that they might be unable to play with other children or be in a different room from their main carer, it could be a sign that there is more going on for that child. So how can we help them?

Firstly, stay calm. Children that are anxious can show very demanding and difficult behaviour and it is often hard for us to see behind this and recognise the anxiety and uncertainty there. They need you to be calm, understanding and reassure them. If a child feels that adults do not understand their worry, then this may exacerbate their behaviour.

The best way to help a child with their worries is to encourage them to talk about them. This may be easier said than done with young children who are yet to develop their language. Talk doesn’t just have to take place directly with an adult though, children are so creative and may wish to express themselves through drawings, role-play or talking through puppets. Sit back and observe – they may just communicate in a way that you are not expecting. Again, stay calm – children aren’t going to choose to open up to you if you are not calm.

There are a few tools available to buy that help children express their fears, such as worry boxes and worry dolls. You could implement these simple ideas into your early years setting without having to spend a lot of money. Cover a box in wrapping paper and put an opening at the top; there you have a worry box! Have each child’s photo nearby and explain to your children that if they are worried they can simply pop their photo inside and an adult will come and have a chat with them.

Before expecting a child to communicate their fear to you, we need to consider whether or not they recognise that they are scared. If a child can’t recognise their feeling, they are going to struggle to talk about it and deal with it. We need to teach children to recognise feelings – first in others and then in themselves. How? Have pictures representing different feelings in your setting and ask the child to match them to how someone is feeling in a story. Can they make those faces in a mirror? Which of those emotions are you feeling right now? The goal is that if they can communicate their feeling to you when they are happy and calm, they might eventually be able to communicate their feeling when they are sad, angry or scared. Don’t forget to label these emotions for the child as well – “I can see that you are feeling scared”.

“If a child does communicate a particular fear or worry to you, try to respect their feelings no matter how big or small the subject matter may seem to you. Not all fears make sense but they are still very real for a child.”

There are some fantastic books available to help children understand their feelings. I love the Trace Moroney “When I am feeling…” books, plus “All Kinds of Feelings” by Emma Brownjohn – both of these are great for young children. Another favourite, albeit for the older members of your setting, is “The Huge Bag of Worries” by Virginia Ironside, which stresses the importance of talking about your worries.

If a child does communicate a particular fear or worry to you, try to respect their feelings no matter how big or small the subject matter may seem to you. Not all fears make sense but they are still very real for a child. Of course, you may find you are faced with a safeguarding issue, in which case it is essential that you follow your setting’s safeguarding procedure. However, if the fear is of something day-to-day that doesn’t usually pose a threat, try not to reinforce the fear by quickly taking the child away from the thing that scares them as soon as you see it. It is important to help a child try and deal with their worry rather than remove it. Instead, talk about the thing or situation that they are scared of, approach it together and, most importantly, let the child know that other people have fears and worries as well.

Building a child’s confidence is another fundamental part of overcoming anxiety. Start with the situation that they are comfortable in and build on it. If a child can’t cope with playing in a big group of children, then don’t put them straight into this situation and expect them to cope with it. Instead, build up gradually. Encourage the child to play with just one close friend, then, as they become more comfortable, gradually bring more children into that play. This will need to be done slowly and carefully but is a great way of building confidence in social situations.

As is the case with so many areas of early years development, dealing with anxiety in young children ultimately comes down to language and communication. If we can help children to share their feelings, experiences, and to understand our words of reassurance, then we can hopefully conquer any concerns that our young children may have and allow them to continue to grow in confidence.


About the author

Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.

Website: www.createvisualaids.com     Email: gina@createvisualaids.com

Boys will be boys! Exploring gender within the context of superhero play

Boys will be boys! Exploring gender within the context of superhero play

Superhero play is a great context that engages children and it can be useful to reflect upon if both boys and girls are participating in this play. Sometimes the children’s heroes of choice can be male dominated and we can find ourselves drawn towards the stereotype of the damsel in distress rescued by the strong male hero. What messages does this type of play give our children in relation to gender, overtly or covertly?

We all know boys who are sensitive and good writers and we know girls who like nothing better than to kick about with a football or dress as Spiderman. But being masculine and feminine is not about which sex you are born into, it is about gender, which is a concept steeped in culture and strong opinion.
Children appear to enjoy deconstructing polar opposites like good and evil, death and life and also love to unpick gender roles in terms of what would be considered male and female. Superhero play is the perfect opportunity to incorporate these ideas and explore these extremes, and even to blur the lines a little. This play involves power and powerlessness, control and chaos and can enable our children to consider what is meant by these ideas.

There are a number of ideas that we encounter when considering gender, such as the nature-nurture or mars-venus debates, however, it is not always helpful to think in these terms. Effective practice would suggest that we always start with the child as a competent learner and build our provision around them. On the other hand, it is helpful to for us to know how an understanding of gender develops.

Kohlberg’s developmental theory (1966) suggests that children’s understanding of gender develops with age. The first stage, gender labelling, occurs by the age of around three years old when children can label themselves and others accurately according to gender. A year or two later, children in the gender stability stage can appreciate that this gender classification remains constant over time, for example, that a boy grows up to be a man. However, it is not until around six or seven years of age when children enter Kohlberg’s final stage, gender consistency or gender permanence, where children realise that gender remains consistent and is not linked to time, context or physical features. So by about eight years old, a child would probably realise that if I were to cut my hair short and wear my husband’s clothes, I would remain a woman, despite appearances. A younger child might not be sure or may even say that I had changed into a man. Therefore within early childhood education, the children we are working with do not have a full understanding of the permanence of gender, they are developing their own sense of gender identity and working out that of others, mainly using behavioural and visual cues.

Here are some ideas which will help you to use superhero play when supporting children in relation to gender:

  • Allow children to play with gender and accept their choices, if a boy wants to dress as Wonder Woman, that’s OK, just as we should accept a girl dressing as Spiderman
  • Allow opportunities for children to celebrate as well as resist gendered ways of playing
  • Reflect upon how you react to children playing in gendered ways or children who resist playing in these ways
  • Ensure that all practitioners in your setting have an understanding of gender issues
  • Help children to use inclusive rather than gendered language and model this
  • Practice flexible gender roles through pretend play i.e. a boy can be a caring mother figure and a female practitioner can be Superman
  • Talk with the children and encourage discussion about ideas relating to gender. Can boys and girls play the same games or visit the same places Are there any times when boys and girls need to be separated?
  • Observe the children as they play and make a note of the different play choices that both boys and girls make. Track where they play and how they engage with the resources and then compare this data for boys and girls. What do you notice?
  • Join in with children’s play and role-model by facilitating storylines and scaffold their learning
  • Avoid making generalisations about how boys and girls play, as this will reduce the likelihood of creating gender stereotypes

We also need to be cautious when we are choosing activities and resourcing our learning environment, for example, insisting that there are no boys or girls toys, just toys and no colours reserved for one sex, all colours are for everyone. It is important that these messages get through to our children within our settings. We must ensure that our resources are free from stereotypical images and avoid any bias that can so easily creep in. We can focus on strength in terms of character rather than muscles and think about our own super skills. Superhero play is like a gift, offering us many opportunities to work towards gender equity and explore issues related to gender in our settings.

Questions for reflection:

  1. How will you support both boys and girls to join in and learn through superhero play?
  2. How can you ensure a balance between competent, strong, girl superheroes as well as the damsel in distress, and how can you be sensitive to children’s needs as their understanding of gender develops?
  3. In the light of the female heavy workforce and limited male role-models within early childhood education, reflect on your own relationships with boys in your setting. Are there any aspects you want to develop to support boys further?

About the author

Tamsin GTamsin Grimmer photo2rimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email info@tamsingrimmer.co.uk

Supporting children to process their emotions now and in the future

Supporting children to process their emotions now and in the future

Everything a child consistently hears, sees and feels creates a blueprint for how they view themselves, the world and their place within it. The programming that we receive throughout our early years acts like a ‘default setting’ that subconsciously controls how we respond to the world around us.

Only 5% of what we do is conscious, meaning that 95% of the time we are on autopilot, with the majority of our actions, reactions and decisions being guided by our subconscious mind, which is made up of belief systems that we acquire throughout our formative years.

It’s therefore crucial that we look at the consistent messages that our actions and words are giving to children in our care. Our intentions are always from the right place. However, the subconscious mind takes on the literal messages it is receiving. Even though our hearts are in the right place, these literal messages can actually have the opposite effect of what was intended.

An example of this is a family who want to mould a little winner and instil a growth mindset in their child. They might say things like: “We are winners. If we come second, we may as well come last” or “Failure isn’t an option – we are going to win!”. They might also only ever reward their child when they come first. Here, their hearts are in the right place and they are clearly trying to plant positive thoughts into their child. However, the literal message that is being given is that failure is not an option. By programming a child with this belief, their subconscious mind is going to view failure as something to avoid. This actually creates the opposite of a winning mindset, because failure is a part of success. In order to reach our brilliance, we have to step out of our comfort zone. However, by doing this, we also risk failing. If a child’s subconscious mind is programmed to avoid failure, they are most likely never going to fully reach their potential, because 95% of what they do is silently guided by a belief that prevents them from being in situations where they can fail. They might also become a perfectionist or cope badly with failure, which will impact on their resilience and again, prevent them from soaring to great heights.

It works the same way for how children process their thoughts and feelings, therefore it is crucial that we look at the programming that is being given to children through our words and actions. If we want children to process their emotions in a balanced way when they are older, we need to make sure that the literal messages they receive when they are younger are conducive to this happening. It’s best to look at how we want our children to function as teenagers and then ask ourselves if what we are doing now is teaching them to respond in the same way.

We want teenagers to:

  • Know that we are there to support them and to help them with any problems they have
  • Know that their feelings are important
  • Know that no problem is too big or small and that we will help them to work through things no matter what
  • Come to us, rather than isolate themselves

The list goes on. However, if we want children to do all of these things when they are teenagers, we need to programme them with beliefs that facilitate these actions when they are younger.

I have a three- and five-year-old and at times their reactions can be so hard to navigate. They go into meltdown over the smallest things. However, it is also important to remember that problems are relative. Cast your mind back to your 14-year-old self. The problems you had then will seem trivial now. However, you will remember your emotions being big and painful. This is because as we get older, our problems get bigger. However, the emotion that we feel in relation to those problems is pretty consistent. It is the same with toddlers. They might lose it over being given a red pen instead of a blue pen. However, this problem to them is huge and painful. A three-year-old’s problem through the eyes of an adult, will always seem trivial. However, it’s important to remember that problems are relative and the emotion a toddler feels in that moment will be the same as the emotion we felt at 14 when our friend blanked us, or the emotion we feel in our thirties when something goes wrong in life. If we want teenagers to know that their feelings are important, we need to consistently teach children this when they are younger. It can be so easy to say things like “It’s not the end of the world”, but to them, it is. I have to remind myself constantly that although whatever my children are losing it over is not a big deal to me, it is to them, and it’s important that I acknowledge that and help them to find a solution.

Now I’m not sat here on my high horse professing to be perfect! I am far from it. We all have bad days, make mistakes and sometimes react in ways we shouldn’t. If we do, this is a great opportunity to teach children about taking responsibility and saying sorry. Modelling perfection is not great as it creates the same ‘fear of failure’ belief that I talked about earlier. The key word here is ‘consistency’ because it is the consistent messages that will create a default setting for our little ones. It’s important to have strong boundaries and to teach children about consequences. However, it is also important to look at how we are we doing this and to make sure that the literal messages are creating a blueprint for how we want children to act in the future.


 About the author

Stacey Kelly is a former teacher, a parent to 2 beautiful babies and the founder of Early Years Story Box, which is a subscription website providing children’s storybooks and early years resources. She is passionate about building children’s imagination, creativity and self-belief and about creating awareness of the impact that the Early Years have on a child’s future. Stacey loves her role as a writer, illustrator and public speaker and believes in the power of personal development. She is also on a mission to empower children to live a life full of happiness and fulfilment, which is why she launched the #ThankYouOaky Gratitude Movement.

I’m killing the baddies!

I’m killing the baddies!

There is something rather shocking about hearing a three- or four-year-old shouting, “Die, die!” or “I’m gonna kill you!” Yet, these cries are regularly heard within our early childhood settings. When we are faced with notions of killing and death, how should we respond?

Death is difficult for children to understand. It is an abstract idea and one which is hard for many adults to grasp. Theorists1 consider the concept of death to be made up of five main components:

  • Inevitability – we will all die one day
  • Universality – death applies to all living things
  • Irreversibility – it is permanent
  • Cessation – when we die, our normal physical functions will cease
  • Causality – it is a product of cause and effect

Pre-school-aged children are unable to understand the ‘dead-ness of dead’ and children generally understand more about this concept as they grow older. For example, five-year-olds can understand that death is inevitable and irreversible, six- to seven-year-olds can understand about universality and cessation but children might not understand the causality component until they are nearly 10 years old1. This fits with the idea that children learn in different ways and at different rates, making it difficult to generalise about their levels of understanding. It is generally accepted that the older the child, the better their understanding of death. In the light of this, we cannot assume that young children fully grasp what words like ‘kill’, ‘dead’ and ‘die’ mean, and therefore we must not be concerned if children are using them in their play.

Some educators may feel that talking about death is one thing, but killing is a whole different matter because killing is about deliberately ending a life. However killing and death cannot be separated from each other and the narrative of killing is commonly observed within our children’s play. As educators, we can use their play as an opportunity to explore these difficult concepts.

When children engage in superhero play, they are playing with the concepts of killing and death, winning and losing, goodies and baddies, good versus evil and so on. With a few exceptions, most superheroes fight evil and serve the purpose of good, however, since some children are experts on the backstories of superheroes, be wary of generalising that ‘all superheroes don’t kill people’ because this is not technically true and you may stand to be corrected!

 

Some ideas of how to appropriately support children in thinking about death include:

  • Have an ethos of permission within the setting so that words like ‘kill’, ‘dead’ and ‘die’ are not banned from your vocabulary, but instead, prompt discussion
  • Engage in socio-dramatic play in which children role-play events from their lives
  • Read stories and books which include death or deal with bereavement and grief
  • Provide opportunities for children to make up their own stories (e.g. helicopter stories)
  • Use puppets and role-play to prompt discussion
    Introduce children to the idea of life-cycles, for example, butterflies
  • Raise some chicks from eggs, butterflies from caterpillars, or look after a class/setting pet
  • Think about changes over time in the natural world e.g. growth and decay
  • Share some memories about a special person that you know who has died, and reminisce about the good times you shared together
  • Answer any questions about death as honestly as possible remembering that it’s OK to say, “I don’t know!”
  • Use correct language: dead, death, dying, died, buried etc

Death is somewhat of a taboo subject with young children, however we need to talk to them in developmentally-appropriate ways to help them to gain an understanding of this difficult concept: the context of superheroes can provide a useful introduction to this subject. We have a responsibility to support children to recognise death as the final part of the life-cycle in order for them to grow into well-adjusted adults, who understand that death is a part of life.

Remember that playing at killing the baddies, is indeed play and is not fully understood in terms of the dead-ness of dead. So we can use this play as an opportunity to support children to develop their understanding of death.

 

Reference
1 – Panagiotaki, G., Hopkins, M., Nobes, G., Ward, E., & Griffiths, D. (2018). Children’s and adults’ understanding of death: Cognitive, parental, and experiential influences. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166, 96.

Further reading
Kübler-Ross, E. (1969). On death and dying. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company
Slaughter, V. (2005). Young children’s understanding of death. Australian Psychologist, 40(3), 179–186
Stickney, D. (1982). Waterbugs and dragonflies – explaining death to children. USA: The Pilgrim Press

 


About the author

Tamsin GTamsin Grimmer photo2rimmer is an experienced early years consultant and trainer and parent who is passionate about young children’s learning and development. She believes that all children deserve practitioners who are inspiring, dynamic, reflective and committed to improving on their current best. Tamsin particularly enjoys planning and delivering training and supporting early years practitioners and teachers to improve outcomes for young children.

Tamsin has written two books – Observing and Developing Schematic Behaviour in Young Children and School Readiness and the Characteristics of Effective Learning.

You can contact Tamsin via Twitter @tamsingrimmer, her Facebook pagewebsite or email info@tamsingrimmer.co.uk

Ways to support children on the autism spectrum in your setting

Ways to support children on the autism spectrum in your setting

Autism is a lifelong condition that affects how people communicate and how they experience the world. When working in early years, you are likely to come across children that are on the autism spectrum. Diagnosis is often made at a very young age, therefore, as an early years practitioner, you may find yourself in the important role of supporting families that have only recently discovered that their child has autism. You may also find that there is a child in the setting whom you suspect is on the spectrum, however a diagnosis has not yet been made. Either way, many of the steps that you can put in place to support a child with autism, are beneficial for all children, so by making your setting as autism-friendly as possible, you will be ready to meet the needs of lots of different children.

It is important to understand that there is no one typical child with autism. Individuals can display different features of autism to different extents. The following points, therefore, may be relevant to one child but not to another. Here are some ways that you can support a child that is on the autism spectrum in your setting.

  • Be aware of your language and speak very clearly, keeping words to a minimum. Individuals with autism often take things literally so expressions such as ‘hop in the car’ or ‘break a leg’ can be confusing.
  • Don’t expect this child to understand your body language. Elements of social communication such as these don’t come naturally to people on the autism spectrum.
  • Allow processing time. Say something, then wait. The child needs time to process what you have said, and prepare their response. If you give an instruction in one tone of voice, then give it in a different tone of voice a few moments later, the child may have to go back to the beginning of their processing, hence delaying a response.
  • Use visual aids and any other non-verbal communication. Children with autism find it hard to understand spoken language and are often visual learners. Using clear, simple signs such as Makaton or Signalong, can be really effective and there are short courses you can do to learn these.
  • Display your routine and where possible, stick to it. People with autism love routines. A child can find it really distressing to not know what is happening in their day. Use something such as a visual timetable to show children what is going to happen in the day in order to ease their anxiety.
  • Following on from the above, deal with change sensitively. Again, this is where your visual timetable comes in handy. Whilst changes are sometimes unavoidable, you can help the child cope with this change by showing them visually what is going to happen.
  • Recognise behaviour triggers (such as change). If someone is struggling with communication, they are likely to feel very scared, frustrated or angry at times. Try to recognise the causes so that you may be able to relieve or prepare the child for the upcoming trigger.
  • Have a safe/calm place for your child to go if life gets too much. Recognise that it is not wrong to be angry, but that our job is to teach the child the most appropriate way to express that anger.
  • Get to know any special interests that the child has. I’m sure they will make you aware of them! Using these special interests is a great way to get them to learn or to join in with something that they might otherwise not want to. For example, if a child is really into trains, then put numbers on the trains to support recognising numerals. Pretend to be a train when lining up with other children. Serve meals on a train place mat if that means that the child will feel more comfortable joining in with meal times.
  • Be aware of any sensory needs that this child may have. People with autism experience things differently to others. It could be that they really can’t stand the feel of a certain material on their skin; they may not feel pain as easily as someone else would; they may not be able to cope with a particular noise that was otherwise unnoticeable to you, such as the hum of a light or the whine of a radiator. If you can recognise these needs, then you can help eliminate distress.
  • Use social stories – this is a short story that teaches a child how to deal with a certain social situation. You can find out more about these here.
  • Teach awareness and acceptance to others – use your circle times to talk about the fact that everyone is different, that we all need help with different things, and that this is OK.
  • Build good communication with the child’s parents or caregivers – perhaps a home/school diary so that you can be aware of anything that may have bothered the child at home, and so that you can share the child’s ups and downs whilst in childcare. Be aware that the parents may be on the autism spectrum themselves.
  • Try to provide a calm environment.

Besides following the steps above, the most helpful thing that you can do to support someone on the autism spectrum is to demonstrate empathy – try to understand the world from the perspective of that child. That way you will find yourself in the best possible position to support them.

To find out more about autism and related conditions, I recommend you visit the National Autistic Society’s ‘About Autism’ page.


About the author

Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.

Website: www.createvisualaids.com     Email: gina@createvisualaids.com

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