Interventions to help support children to develop social & emotional skills
Children who have experienced developmental gaps need us to meet them where they are developmentally; It can be helpful to use developmental tools to map out a child’s development in each area.
The Fagus materials help you set SMART goals according to a child's actual developmental state so you can target interventions more appropriately. Monitoring progress against these SMART targets enables you to measure the impact of interventions as well as provide an evidence-base to support funding decisions.
When it comes to interventions to develop children's social and emotional skills, especially for children that have experienced adverse childhood experiences there is no quick-fix solution, A handful of strategies implemented over a term by a few staff will not work; nothing short of a whole-school approach will create an environment that enables children to feel safe, supported, valued and ready to learn.
So when a school doesn't have the expertise to implement the interventions to support the development of child's social & emotional skill sets, where do they start? The range of approaches for promoting social and emotional skills in schools' can be divided into three main groupings:
(All images below are from the content presented at Beech Lodge School's Childhood Trauma and Social and Emotional Developmental Workshops)
1. Ethos and values - Whole-school interventions
Whole-school interventions define the entire school community as the unit of change. A whole-school intervention/approach involves coordinated action between three core components: (i) curriculum teaching and learning, (ii) school ethos and environment, and (iii) family and community partnerships. It involves all pupils, staff, parents, the community and outside agencies and fosters the importance of the nurturing approaches for child development with a focus on wellbeing and relationships and being able to demonstrate social, emotional and academic progress for the children that are struggling and delivers a holistic framework of support, such as empowering all staff to build confidence and capacity to improve teaching, modelling good practice at all school levels and behavioural engagement - having a toolkit for all staff to recognise their impact on pupil's behaviour. At the school ethos and environment level, skills are reinforced in non-curriculum-based ways through policies, whole-staff training, and daily activities designed to promote a positive school climate. These interventions must provide the context for universal classroom and targeted interventions. They also might include:
- Understand the huge impact that ACEs have have on children’s social, emotional, neurological, sensory, physiological, moral and cognitive development. Training needs to be topped up regularly.
- Explore interventions, policies, approaches and procedures that support and accommodate children and are suitable for the school.
- Wider school policies should be reviewed too. Zero tolerance and punitive behaviour policies, for example, are ineffective for children who have had difficult childhoods.
- Front line staff are equipped to support pupils whilst the SLT can embed the knowledge they have acquired into school policies and procedures.
- Schools should consider restorative practices to improve and repair relationships between people and communities. For example, creating a space where conflicts can be discussed and resolved; providing appropriate resources (scripts) to support discussions; and introducing whole-class negotiations as to appropriate next steps for adverse behaviours.
- These children benefit from the most qualified and experienced staff who truly understand what has happened to them and the impact it has had on their bodies and minds; staff who will be there consistently and compassionately, no matter what is thrown at them. These staff need to be effectively supported too
- Understanding that the emotions behind the behaviours. We need to validate and explore why children are distressed instead of reacting to the unwanted behaviours. New narrative around behaviour by taking up a developmental approach. No longer labelling behaviour but reframe so the educators know what the child needs to regulate themselves. Not manipulative but afraid of not being in control. Exhausted not lazy. Attachment needing not attention seeking. Not violent but lonely and fearful.
2. Approach - Universal classroom-based interventions
Universal classroom-based interventions teach a range of skills through a developmentally appropriate curriculum and using an enriched environment with plenty opportunities to explore the world, opportunities to learn to play, and social skill groups to explicitly teach them skills such as turn taking and waiting. Teachers are generally trained to deliver lessons that teach skills including modelling social and emotional skills; providing opportunities for pupils to practice these skills and giving them the opportunity to apply these skills in various situations; emotional identification and regulation, effective communication, problem solving, conflict resolution and coping skills. Such effective interventions include:
- Building affective bonds – Forming positive, trusting relationships with pupils and being responsive to their individual needs
- Cognitive Restructuring – Perspective taking; recognising anger triggers; distinguishing between helpful and unhelpful thoughts
- Modelling - Role-modelling appropriate behaviour/social skills and giving pupils the opportunity to apply these skills in different situations
- Emotional literacy – Understanding, identifying and labelling emotions; recognising physical and environmental cues of emotions; providing opportunities for pupils to verbalise their emotional experiences
- Relaxation techniques
- Scaffolding - Children may also need scaffolding to develop their executive functioning skills. When we scaffold a child’s development, we provide frameworks and support so the child can use their skills; for example, we might scaffold a writing task by providing sentence starters, suggested vocabulary, or boxes showing how much to write. Adults in school mayneed to act as the child’s ‘external brain’, modelling questioning, thinking and problem solving, and providing a narrative to daily life e.g. ‘Oh look, it’s raining outside. Let’s check we’ve got the right clothes so we don’t get wet. What do we need?’
Some specific universal interventions Beech Lodge use are:
Dan Hughes' PACE framework:
The relationship-based approach - positive relationships with insecurely attached children and help them feel safe at school. Through interaction with attuned, empathic and reliable adults, new neural pathways form allowing access to high regions of the brain and recovery.
The role of a key adult will accelerate progress - this needs to be a consistent, caring adult who is accessible to the child on a daily basis, long term.
Look at the way you communicate with parents and pupils:
3. Interventions - Targeted interventions
Targeted interventions are designed for pupils that may need extra input due to their life circumstances or exposure to stress. Often conducted through small-group work, these programmes reinforce and supplement classroom-based instruction for pupils who need early intervention and more intensive support. Targeted programmes, which usually involve teacher training and parental involvement, address the enhancement of coping skills and cognitive skills training which aim to help pupils' reshape their thinking. For example, in a nurturing classroom children are encouraged to create strong bonds that allow them to feel safe and explore their wider environment much as they would in a secure attachment relationship.
Sensory processing difficulties often exacerbate the problems identified and often present in children that have had insufficient or inconsistent care because the senses have formed a large part of an infant's early attachment experience for example they have never been rocked. When a child experiences high levels of pleasure their processes are integrated, between and within the sensory systems. The child can increasingly interpret, understand and respond to information received via the senses. Children who have been through trauma frequently present as dysregulated, sensory-seeking or sensory-avoidant. The result of this over/under sensitivity to sensory stimulation does not fit well into the classroom.
Closely linked to this sensory difficulties are problems with the sense of interoception (a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what's going on inside your body). This sense in often underdeveloped or impaired in children that have experienced ACEs and means that the are lacking in physiological literacy and may need an adult to interpret the body signals of a child - and suggest a solution.
Such sensory adjustments could include:
Pressure/wobble cushions, weighted lap blankets and shoulder weights, fiddle objects, frequent sensory snacks, flexibility around posture, frequent yoga and breathing exercises, massage, self-regulating sensory boxes and quiet spaces.
Resources from Family Futures
Resources from Family Futures
Resources from Family Futures
For more information:
This is a useful document (link below) entitled ‘Emotional and Mental Health - A Resource for Schools - Reducing Barriers to Learning' helps you:
- Understand about social and emotional health in schools and gives you hints and tips about how you can identify children who may need support around social and emotional health.
- Address pupils’ specific needs in order to provide the most appropriate interventions and offers suggestions for evidence-based quality interventions.
- Review how the provision is meeting the pupils' needs and identify next steps.
- Celebrate effort and success!