Learning to think green not red

Good teaching is always rested on good attachment, trust, and building wonderful relationships.

A professional development opportunity for teachers in the early years is giving children strategies to build the social skills and emotional wellbeing necessary to assist them to flourish and become more resilient. Bedrock Journalist Fiona Stutz looks at the Fun Friends program and the important role educators play in introducing resilience into a child’s life.

The Pathways to Resilience Trust is a charitable organisation in Queensland whose aim is to promote social and emotional learning and resilience in children through education and working with centres and schools to implement social and emotional learning programs. The Trust offers a suite of programs to assist in teaching cognitive, behavioural and emotional skills in a simple, structured format. Educators in early childhood settings are utilising the Fun Friends program to help four to seven year olds increase social-emotional competence and resilience while decreasing and preventing worry and emotional distress.

Training manager James Ryan works with teachers to help them better deliver resilience programs to children. James said most centres and schools approach the Trust once they realise children need to be resilient, or socially and emotionally intelligent. Once they have established what is needed in the centre or school, what has been tried, what has worked and has not worked, employees can be educated on the basics of neuroscience and emotions, then trained to run programs such as the Fun Friends program.

Early intervention

The Trust’s website claims that research shows that as many as 20% of preschool age children already exhibit moderate to clinical levels of emotional and behavioural disturbance, indicating the importance of early intervention. Fun Friends aims to prevent the onset of later life emotional and behavioural difficulties. Skills taught in Fun Friends include: building a sense of identity, how to relax and self-soothe, social skills, recognising and regulating emotions in self and others, how to be kind, empathic and make friends, how to be brave and try new things and positive coping strategies, including positive ‘green’ thinking.

The Trust works with the children and teachers to practice then runs the resilience program with the option of adding further professional development.

“The first session of Fun Friends is about understanding, looking at how we are going to attach this child to the classroom, and to the group of children within them. It is about belonging and connecting – that’s the foundation of it all. Good teaching is always rested on good attachment, trust, and building wonderful relationships,” he said.

However, the program also goes similarity into differences; the development of empathy, how we are the same, and how we are different.

“If kids don’t understand that even though our skin is a different colour, we all feel hurt, angry or sad, then we have that sense of empathy is developed, which is so important.”

The second session deals with feelings and helping children understand, build a vocabulary about feelings and learn how to be smart with emotions.

“First of all you have to identify your emotions. Looking at where you feel different feelings in the body – we call them body clues. Then it goes into exploring feelings in ourselves, other people – how do you recognise what a feeling is in somebody else? You might see it in their facial expressions and so forth.”

The cognitive behaviour aspect is also explored in the program, and includes the concept of ‘red and green thinking’.

Helpful thoughts

“Red symbolises thinking that is unhelpful, and green symbolises thinking that is more helpful. If you want to feel a bit more confident, happy and connected to your friends, if you want to stay in the part of your brain that awards for problem solving, then you will need to think in a more helpful way.

“Red thoughts aren’t bad, but they take you in a different direction. You are not going to feel confident or pleasant on the inside if you have unhelpful thoughts. It’s not about judgement; it’s about taking the stigma of judgement away from unhelpful thoughts and negative feelings.”

‘Step plans’ are also looked at in their program, where you learn to break anything challenging down into more manageable steps, he said.

The Trust works closely with teachers to implement these strategies to the children and coach them through it.

“Some teachers will grab ‘red and green’ thinking and use that as a stick to beat the kids around the head with; you know ‘you’re having unhelpful thoughts get out of that, what are you doing? That’s wrong.’ Therefore we have to fine tune a bit and mentor.

“When you look at program implementation, even if a program is evidence-based, unless it’s actually implemented with support, its only 5% effective. If you give the people that you’re helping to run the program support, it’s 85% successful. Support is so important. You can’t just deliver one day’s training and expect educators to get it and be able to run it with any sort of fidelity,” James said.

Professional development by the Trust is provided for teachers; once complete, they can chose to continue to receive support or start implementing practices on their own, he said. Training encompasses:

Early Years Learning Framework

Outcome 1:Children have a strong sense of identity

Outcome 2:Children are connected with and contribute to their world

Outcome 3: Children have a strong sense of wellbeing

Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners

Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators

National Quality Standard Elements

Area 2:Children’s health and safety

Area 4:Staffing arrangements

Area 5:Relationships with children

For more information on the program or the Pathways to Resilience Trust, visit http://www.pathwaystoresilience.org/

What is resilience?
Resilience refers to a person’s ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, and to achieve good outcomes regardless of life events, circumstances or background. According to the Trust’s website, research shows that resilient children are happier, do better at school, have increased confidence, form good relationships, show fewer behavioural problems, take on and persist with challenging tasks, and are more able to communicate effectively.