Sharing and making friends are other skills that should be encouraged to support children’s social interactions, said Goodstart Senior Child & Family Practitioner Alma-Jane O’Donnell.
“We know bullying is a problem in older age groups so at Goodstart we focus on how to increase self-esteem and self-belief in children under five, as well as help children make friends and form relationships with their peers and educators,” she said.
“If children have a strong sense of self they are less likely to experience negative social interactions and more likely to have positive relationships and things like bullying may be reduced.”
Children use relationships with their caregivers to form their “sense of self” and it is through positive caregiver relationships that children learn that they are interesting and important in this world, she said.
Children with a stronger sense of self have:
- Improved self-esteem.
- Decreased stress and anxiety.
- Decreased depression.
- Increased persistence, particularly for challenging tasks.
- Improved problem solving skills.
“Making and keeping friends may sound easy for us adults, but for young children, this may be something new and difficult,” she said.
“Just like supporting a child to walk or to learn to write, our role at Goodstart is that of behaviour coach and supporting the child to learn the steps involved for making and keeping friends and promoting and teaching pro-social skills to young children will positively impact their behaviour, learning and health outcomes.”
Goodstart Salisbury North has a strong focus on teaching children emotional regulation and confidence through a mindfulness program that supports children to connect with themselves through yoga.
Centre director Nicole Nistelroy said teaching children to be more aware of their physical reactions and able to link them to their behaviours is helping them develop the confidence they needed to deal with challenging social situations in later years.
“When children are more in-synch with their bodies and more in-synch with their behaviour and reactions, they are more confident and more likely to stand up for themselves if they experience something they don’t like,” she said.
All age groups of children at Salisbury North participate in regular yoga sessions and activities that focus on belly breathing, counting breaths and feeling their hearts beat.
“It is about trying to encourage them to slow everything down and naming what they are doing to help them make sense of situations and make good decisions,” she said.
For example, if two children want to play with the same toy and one of the children snatches the toy away, an educator will talk the children through the experience as it is happening.
“Often a common and immediate reaction to this scenario is to push or bite or snatch the toy back, so an educator will narrate the experience and explain to both children what has just happened- so by giving them the words the children can express themselves and it also models a way of managing the situation,” she said.
“The educator might ask, ‘how fast is your heart beating’ and follow it up with ‘you look really angry’,” she said.
“This helps the children to connect their emotions to the event that occurred and the language that describes that event: if someone grabs my toy away I feel angry and my heart beats faster,” she said.
“Parents could even try it at home when referring to themselves and that shows that everyone gets angry and that’s absolutely normal. If children see and hear adults they trust doing it they see that it happens to everyone and even to people they care about. They also learn from adults about how to respond.”