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benefits of dance in young people

For the love of dance

By children's health, dance & Art, Mental health, Music and singing, play, Theatre

Learning to dance is not just about mastering choreography or moving to the rhythm; it offers numerous physical, emotional and cognitive benefits, making it a valuable and enjoyable activity for children.

Here are some compelling reasons why children should learn to dance:

• Physical fitness
Dance is an excellent form of physical exercise that helps children develop strength, flexibility, and co-ordination. It promotes cardiovascular health, enhances muscle tone, and aids in maintaining a healthy body weight. Regular dancing can instill healthy habits that may last a lifetime.

• Motor skills development
Dancing requires precise movements and control of various body parts. As children learn different dance styles, they improve their fine and gross motor skills, which are essential for everyday activities like writing, playing sports, and self-care.

• Balance and posture
Dance teaches children how to maintain good posture and balance. These skills are not only beneficial for their physical wellbeing but also for their overall self-confidence and how they carry themselves in everyday life.

• Self-expression
Dance provides a creative outlet for children to express their emotions and feelings. It allows them to communicate without words, helping them develop emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Dance can also be very therapeutic and a great way for children to process their emotions.

• Confidence building
As children learn and perform dance routines, they gain self-assurance. The applause and positive feedback they receive boost their self-esteem and help them become more comfortable in social situations.

• Social skills
Dance classes often involve group activities and performances, which encourage teamwork and co-operation. Children learn to work together, support each other, and build friendships through shared experiences.

• Discipline and focus
Dance requires discipline and concentration. Learning complex choreography and striving for improvement instills a strong work ethic in children. They also learn the value of patience and practice as they work towards mastering dance techniques.

• Cultural awareness
Dance is a global language that transcends borders and cultures. By learning different dance styles, children gain an appreciation for the diversity of world cultures and traditions. This exposure can promote tolerance and open-mindedness.

• Stress reduction
Dancing is a joyful and fun activity that can act as a stress reliever. It allows children to forget their worries, even if just for a little while, and experience the joy of movement and music.

• Boosted memory and cognitive skills
Dance involves memorising sequences, steps and patterns, which can improve memory and cognitive function. It challenges the brain and enhances problem-solving abilities and cognitive flexibility.

• Creativity and imagination
Dance encourages creativity and imagination. Children often have the opportunity to choreograph their movements, fostering creativity and critical thinking.

• Lifelong love for the arts
Early exposure to dance can cultivate a lifelong appreciation for the arts. It may inspire children to explore other artistic forms such as music, theatre or visual arts.

• Career opportunities
For some children, dance can become a lifelong passion and even a career. Professional dance opportunities include becoming a dancer, choreographer, dance instructor or even working in the entertainment industry.

So, learning to dance is definitely not just about the physical movements; it’s about developing a holistic set of skills that benefit children in various aspects of their lives. It nurtures their physical health, emotional wellbeing and cognitive development while fostering self-expression, discipline and a lifelong love for the art form. Whether dancing for fun, self-expression or professional aspirations, the benefits of dance make it a valuable addition to any child’s life.

make maths fun for children

Incorporate maths into playtime

By Education, fun for children, numeracy skills, play
by Lucy Alexandra Spencer
Tutoring and Alternative Provision Director at Education Boutique,
part of the Eteach Group

When we incorporate maths into play, we create curious problem-solving thinkers who are ready to explore the world.

Incorporating maths into play is a well-evidenced catalyst for developing capable mathematicians, who are comfortable using maths skills in their everyday lives. The National Numeracy Organisation reports that half of the working-age adults in the UK have a numeracy level below the expected abilities for an 11 year old. It’s therefore vital that educators and parents work together to find ways to link maths to enjoyable everyday life events, in order for children to build a positive relationship with the subject and reduce the chance of developing maths-based anxieties and low self-esteem.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework sets the standard for providing early play-based maths experiences. It is supported by a report from the Education Endowment Foundation which found that play-based learning can be particularly effective at raising attainment in learners from disadvantaged backgrounds.

So, drawing on the evidence of the benefits, what can busy parents do to easily incorporate maths into play and everyday life routines?

Empowering every home to have a maths role model
By showing enthusiasm for maths and demonstrating resilience to problem-solving, parents can shape a child’s mindset for life. You don’t need to be ‘good’ at maths to be a positive role model. Even if you have had a rocky road with the subject yourself, now is a great time to draw a line in the sand and embrace the opportunities to form a collaborative partnership with your child. Together, you can help them to have fun and explore the wonderful world of numbers, shapes and statistics.

Don’t label the practise
Being ‘good’ at maths is so much more than buying your child every workbook on the internet or learning times tables. Don’t feel like you have to give maths at home a label, especially with younger children. What sounds more appealing to you – “Let’s do 20 minutes of maths” or “Let’s investigate the different quantities of ingredients needed to make the perfect banana smoothie?”

Learning through doing, will help a child develop many skills that link to a range of subjects, reaching much further than just the maths curriculum.

Utilising time efficiently
When your child has number facts or times tables to memorise, you can buy yourself some neon chalk pens and write the information on the bathroom mirror, for example. This means your child will be looking at and thinking about the content regularly, sometimes without being cognisant of the fact they are absorbing information. It’s an excellent routine to establish.

Additionally, creating a car journey routine where iPad maths apps, such as ‘Hit the Button’, ‘Prodigy Maths’ and others could be incorporated can work well. Don’t worry if your car journeys are device-free zones, play some of these great car journey maths games:
• Number plate maths
Make the largest or smallest number out of the numbers on passing registration plates.
• Guess the number
One player thinks of a number and the others in the car ask numeral questions to guess what it is.
• Number tennis
Choose a rule such as ‘add seven’ and go around the players in the car until someone gets out.
• Rule master
Count from one upwards and every time you get to a multiple of 10, create a new rule such as ‘clap instead of saying 10’.

Here are some of my other top tips for integrating maths into play:
• Cooking
The kitchen is a great place to incorporate numbers. Asking children questions such as: “How can we double this recipe?”, “What can we do if this ingredient is missing?” or “Can we cook it at double the heat for half the time?” are exciting ways for them to engage in maths.
• Shopping lists
Giving your child agency over shopping lists by using online supermarkets is another good way to incorporate maths. For example, you can challenge them to find where they can get items for the best price and ask them to organise the weekly shop while not exceeding a certain budget.
• Games
Gamifying maths is often talked about, but some of these may exist in your house already! Dust off Monopoly, a Lego set or try orienteering and geocaching on a sunny day.
• Collecting data
It can be helpful to consider how you can involve your child in collecting data. Family decisions such as holidays or meals can be a great opportunity to do this and for them to present their results.
• Sports
Dart boards can be an excellent resource to learn how to read the minute hand of the clock. Create a clock dart board and when you throw a dart read the minute hand value. How about quick mental calculations with three darts? The possibilities are endless!
• Music
The rhythm and beat of the music is an exciting way to incorporate counting. Games which involve counting in numbers in time to the beat of the music, for example, can work well, as well as counting how many times a certain word is repeated. Investigating speeding up and slowing down as well as recording audio messages may also capture your child’s interest.

Lucy supports children with emotional-based school non-attendance and helps families access LA funding, offering tutoring for children with additional needs. www.educationboutique.co.uk

kids playing and learning

The ‘Power of Play’

By Education, fun for children, Mental health, play, Playing

Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity (GOSH Charity) has launched a new, digital learning and entertainment hub to showcase the ‘Power of Play’ and how it helps children cope with life’s challenges, big or small.

The hub is packed full of free inspiring ideas, spectacular stories and fun activities to bring the incredible power of play to children of all ages and families.

New stories on the Power of Play hub show play helping household names like Beano’s Dennis and Gnasher overcome difficult situations. Play features in re-imagined classics including the first new Peter Pan story from GOSH Charity in 15 years. Alice, with Tweedledee and Tweedledum star in a brand-new poem, narrated by Matt Lucas, and the campaign to inspire the nation’s families to explore play is supported with a TV advert voiced by Olivia Colman. A brand-new Horrid Henry animation, and an audio book from CBeebies’ JoJo & Gran Gran.

The free animations, audio-books and activities will help parents and children deal with themes including loss, loneliness, sadness, illness and isolation, which many children have experienced during the pandemic. Life’s everyday challenges like making new friends or moving to a new environment such as a new school are also addressed through the lens of play.

GOSH’s dedicated hospital Play team, the largest in Europe, use their skills every day to support seriously ill children from across the UK to understand and cope with their treatment and recovery. This expertise has shaped each story, activity and idea on the Power of Play hub.

Research released earlier in the year by GOSH Charity revealed 66% of parents polled said they were concerned that the Covid pandemic’s impact on how children play will have long-term impacts on their child’s wellbeing. 74% of parents said that play has “helped their child cope” as the world around them has changed beyond recognition – the new Power of Play hub shows how play can be a brilliant outlet for children to express themselves and their emotions.

Laura Walsh, Head of Play at Great Ormond Street Hospital says: “Play is a superpower at the fingertips of all children, and it’s especially important at times of change or worry, when building our children’s resilience can help them to cope with life’s challenges. While the last 18 months have seen children adapt to circumstances none of us could have imagined, this September they’ll also have the ordinary childhood experiences likes starting school and making new friends. Using our years of experience as play specialists at GOSH, we have teamed up with GOSH Charity and some much-loved children’s characters to create our Power of Play hub and bring to life the transformative power of play. We’re really proud to offer parents free, trustworthy, practical tips and resources to help their children embrace play to overcome their worries and discover all that life has to offer them.”

A great learning and entertainment platform packed full of original stories, ideas and advice. Explore www.gosh.org/play

 

relationships matter

It’s good to talk

By Education, fun for children, play, Playing, Relationships
by Marsha Dann
Lead Teacher, Play B C Preschool

Why conversations matter in the early years

Building brains
A child is born already equipped to process language and able to distinguish between different speech sounds. Hearing words helps to build a rich vocabulary in the child’s brain long before they actually start speaking. The brain develops rapidly in the first three years and forms the neural connections that are used for all sorts of functions. During this critical period a child’s brain is flexible and particularly receptive to language input. It is literally shaped by the experiences encountered, reorganising itself as more language is heard, creating and strengthening more neural pathways.

Building relationships
Attachment theory tells us that we are born wired to seek relationships with others. When these relationships and attachments are positive and secure, children feel safe enough to explore the world and interact with others. This paves the way for learning and deepens understanding. Conversations with very young children help them to develop social skills. They learn that adults care about them and that they are valued and respected. Through meaningful discussion, children learn to identify and articulate their feelings and those of others. This fosters emotional intelligence and the development of self-awareness. They learn they have to take turns to speak and have to actively listen to what the other person says. This develops empathy, understanding and respect for others’ opinions.

Building knowledge
Language is used for communication but is also linked to memory, attention, problem solving and self-regulation. Good language skills support cognitive growth in general and literacy skills in particular. Conversations expose children to a wide range of information about family life, occupations, nature, animals and a host of other topics. They help them to learn, explore, and make sense of the world around them. They encourage questions, fuel curiosity and spark a love of learning.

Research suggests educational outcomes are significantly impacted by the quantity and quality of adult-child interactions.

Building vocabulary
A typically developing child will:
• At one, respond to their own name.
• At two, understand between 200 and 500 words.
• At three, use up to 300 words.
• At four, talk in sentences of four to six words.
• At five, have acquired almost all the grammar they will ever need for their first language.

The quality and quantity of children’s vocabulary at age five is a strong predictor of how well they are going to do in the future. Research suggests children with larger vocabularies have better brain connectivity and stronger links between the areas of the brain which process language. They are likely to do better at school and therefore have better life outcomes. This is why conversation is so very important. It is vital for the overall development of very young children in areas of language, cognitive, social, and emotional growth. When you talk to your child you show them how to express thoughts, feelings and ideas. They learn new words, grammar and concepts and begin to reason and make connections between things.

Talk to your child about any and everything because creating an environment that promotes rich language experiences can literally change their lives.

Play B C Preschools offer teacher led provision. We prioritise relationships, sensitive interaction, and fun but challenging learning through developmentally appropriate activities for our wonderfully diverse cohort. More than just a place, at Play B C every day is a learning adventure. Contact info@playbc.co.uk to arrange a visit. www.playbc.co.uk

There’s no ‘i’ in ‘team’!

By fun for children, Mental health, play, Relationships, Sport
by Sarah Nesbitt
Kiddikicks

It is well-known that regular exercise is beneficial for a child’s physical development. What may come as a surprise though, is learning just how useful group sports can be when it comes to developing important social skills.

Working as a team
Interacting in a group sports class will help your child to recognise the importance of working as a team and interacting not only with other children, but also with their coaches. They learn about leadership, team building and communication, all of which are important life skills that will help them in school, their future career and personal relationships.

Bringing people together
Group sports classes bring together children from various religious and cultural backgrounds, which will undoubtedly provide a valuable experience. Teammates must understand how to adapt to, and accept, each other’s cultures so they can work together. Learning how to get along with people with different personalities and of different cultures is a skill that will be needed throughout life.

Coping with wins and losses
Developing a child’s competitiveness while teaching them to both win and lose gracefully can help them learn how to tackle obstacles and accept the setbacks that life will naturally throw at them. Playing sports like football will demonstrate the fundamental lessons of winning and losing which are important for a child’s development.

New friendships
Group sports classes build a child’s confidence and regular classes allow new friendships to blossom. It’s a good idea to encourage your child to get to know their new friends with out-of-class play dates or days out. It’s also useful for new parents to build a support network of new friends in their local neighbourhood. It’s a win win for adults and children alike.

Finding a class that focuses on developing skills and encouraging everyone to have fun while keeping fit, is a great start for children less than five years of age. www.kiddikicks.co.uk, Tel: 020 7937 7965 Office hours 10am – 3pm daily during term-time info@kiddikicks.co.uk during the holidays

outdoors in summer

Six fun outdoor activities

By environment, fun for children, Green, play, Playing

Summer is here and to make sure your family has months filled with laughter and excitement, you can easily plan adventures outdoors. This can be something as simple as a walk through your local park.

Here are some of the best ways to keep your little ones entertained in the great outdoors during the warmer months.

1. Craft and complete a nature spotting sheet
To educate your little ones about the beauty of nature, you can craft your own nature spotting sheets. The RSPB has created a spotting sheet for beautiful birds. If spotting blackbirds and magpies sounds exciting, this can be used as a template for your spotting sheet.

You could make your own sheet beyond spotting birds. This can include a range of flowers or plants, as well as butterflies and other insects. If your children enjoy arts and crafts, they will also have fun making these before going on the walk. So really, this is two activities rolled into one!

2. Build a fortress out of sticks and shrubs
Children love to play and be as imaginative as possible, so a few sticks and shrubs can be enough to entertain them for the whole afternoon. Depending on how many people you are with, you can even make rival fortresses and vote on which one is best.

The outdoors can be an unpredictable playground. Children will be using sticks and other natural materials from the ground, so these must be checked by an adult to ensure nobody gets a nasty splinter.

3. Have a scavenger hunt
What could be more exciting than a scavenger hunt? This is a great way to let children think imaginatively about the world around them. You could, for example, make a colour-coded sheet and let your little ones find items that match these. For example, set them off looking for green leaves, purple flowers, or brown sticks.

This can be a short activity, or it could last throughout the whole walk. We all know the British summer can be unpredictable. To make sure you’re ready for any weather, remember to pack a reliable girl’s or boy’s waterproof jacket. Then you can scavenge in the rain and sunshine.

4. Barks and crafts
There are lots of opportunities to be artistic in the outdoors. Tree-bark rubbing, for example, is a simple and easy way to create a masterpiece. This imprints the textures of the bark onto a piece of paper, which can be cut into a collage and displayed on the fridge.

This is the perfect activity to do on a walk. Rather than bringing a bag full of paints, all you will need is some paper and a soft crayon. Crayons are soft, so it is easier to print the woodland textures. Even better, you can use these prints to create a guide on the different species of trees in the park.

5. Collect wildflowers to press and cherish
Sprouting flowers are one of the best things about spring. Flowers are beautiful, but unfortunately, they don’t last forever. To make sure you can see these all year round, your whole family can collect wildflowers on your walk. These can range from daffodils to primroses – or whatever you can scavenge.

There are lots of ways to press wildflowers. The most child-friendly option would be to place the flower between the pages of a book. It can take up to three weeks for the wildflower to flatten completely, but this will be worth the wait.

6. Enjoy a delicious picnic as a family
Walking can be tiring, especially when you’re taking part in so many fun activities. So it’s always a good idea to bring a selection of snacks and drinks. A picnic in the park is a fun break for your little ones to recharge their batteries. But remember to bring a picnic blanket to sit on to avoid damp grass, or you might have to eat your treats in the trees!

These are some of the best ways to make a walk exciting. It’s always a good idea to spend time outdoors, especially during the warmer months. Which activity will you do first?

Article supplied by www.muddypuddles.com

 

The communication and capabilities of a newborn baby

By baby health, Education, Language, play, Relationships, sleep
by Karen Emery
Founder of Haven & Base,
Perinatal Practitioner, Parent Coach & Children’s Sleep Advisor

It wasn’t too long ago that we thought newborn babies couldn’t do much at all, other than eat, sleep and cry. But the exact opposite is true. Newborn babies are born with amazing communication capabilities and are primed and ready for social contact with their parents and caregivers right from birth. More importantly, brain science has shown us just how important this early communication is between a baby and their parent for a baby’s brain development.

Many parents are unaware that a human baby is born with an undeveloped brain and that a baby’s brain and nervous system grows most rapidly in the first few years following birth. A baby’s brain grows and develops in response to their environment but crucially in response to the interactions that a baby shares with their parent(s) and caregivers. Communication is more than talking. It’s any form of message sent from one party to another through sounds, words, or physical hints like body language. From the first moment that your baby is placed in your arms, you and your baby will be communicating with each other. These first glances, sounds, and touches literally shape the way in which your baby’s brain will grow and develop.

Everyone knows that babies cry but did you know that every baby has their own crying repertoire? Every baby has a unique and different cry for a different reason. Unlike other mammal babies, human babies are born completely dependent upon their parent or caregiver for survival and their ability to cry is very important for alerting an adult that something is wrong, or a change is needed. Babies have different cries for different reasons: a hungry baby may cry in a low or short pitched tone, while a baby who is angry or upset may cry in a choppier tone. As your baby grows, you as a parent will be able to recognise and understand what need that your baby is expressing. Even if we as parents cannot always work out why our baby is crying and what our baby is trying to express to us, it’s always important to respond to your baby’s cry for help. Responding to your baby’s cries (even when we may not know what they are crying for) helps to make your baby feel safe, secure, listened to, and heard. You cannot spoil a baby when you are meeting their physical and emotional needs.

Babies love talking! Although a baby doesn’t say a meaningful word until they are about a year old, they love to ‘take turns’ communicating with you as a parent or caregiver with facial expressions, gurgles, coo’s and body language. Why not give this a try? Find a moment when your baby is quiet but alert and give this ‘turn taking’ a go. Position your baby in front of you gazing into their eyes. What ever your baby does – you copy. If your baby gurgles, you gurgle back. Always wait for your baby to respond. This is a beautiful way to connect with your baby but don’t expect a full-blown conversation for hours at a time. Newborns can only manage this type of interaction for a few moments at each sitting before it can become over stimulating for their immature nervous system. As your baby grows and develops you can spend longer gazing at one another and conversing for longer periods each time but it’s always best to follow your baby’s lead. When your baby has had enough, they may look away, grimace, arch their back or posset (spit up milk). Crying is usually the last signal that your baby has had enough, and a change is needed.

This is the second article of three in a series about babies. In my final article, which will be available in the summer edition, I will discuss sleep tips for babies aged from birth until three months old.

You can learn more about how to communicate with your baby by visiting www.havenandbase.com

Karen Emery is available for VIRTUAL one-to-one parent-baby consultations.
You can email her for an appointment at hello@havenandbase.com

Sun protection – myth busting

By environment, Health, play, Safety, Summer

I can’t get sun damage on a cloudy summer day.
Even if you can’t see any blue sky, a significant amount of UV rays can still get through the clouds, so it’s best to apply sunscreen if you’re out and about during the summer.

I can’t get sunburnt in the UK; the UV rays aren’t strong enough.
Wrong! Always protect your skin. Even in the UK.

My sunscreen says it’s water resistant, so I don’t need to reapply regularly.
Despite what the packaging promises, swimming, sweating, rubbing, or towelling down means you will end up removing the sunscreen from your body. Always reapply after sporting activity or at least every two hours.

My skin is only damaged if it turns red.
Sunburn and skin peeling is the extreme end of skin damage from UV rays. When the skin ‘tans’ this is damaging your skin and putting you at risk of skin cancer in the future.

I can’t get sunburnt through windows.
Wrong! UVA radiation can penetrate glass. This can be a car window, or even your windows at home. Be sure to protect your skin if you’re on long car journeys or spend a lot of time sat by sunny windows.

SPF25 is half the SPF protection of SPF50.
SPF50 does not offer twice the protection of SPF25 even though it offers a higher level of protection, so don’t be fooled!

Common missed spots for sunscreen:

Eyelids
The sun’s rays can damage the eyes and surrounding skin over time. The skin of the upper and lower eyelids is thin and fragile, requiring protection. Eyelid cancers account for about 5-10% of all skin cancers and occur most frequently on the lower eyelid. The best defence against this is to wear sunglasses that offer adequate protection against UVA and UVB which cover as much skin as possible.

Back of knees
The legs are the commonest anatomical site for melanoma in females. It is important to reapply sunscreen regularly to achieve the SPF on the bottle, this is particularly true if you are in and out of the water or sweating excessively.

Ears
The ears are a high-risk area, particularly for non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These occur as a result of UV exposure from sunlight. Skin cancer on the ears is more common in men than women.

Tops of feet, sides of face, hands and underarms
The same principles apply for all these areas of the body. Any areas of skin that are exposed to UV sunlight should ideally be protected by sunscreen. This should be broad spectrum, containing UVA and UVB protection, with an SPF of at least 30. Try not to miss any areas and leave your skin vulnerable to sunburn.

Scalp and hair
Skin cancers can develop on the scalp. Men, with reduced or thinning scalp hair may be particularly vulnerable to sun damage in this area and should ideally wear a hat. For women, ensure that sunscreen is applied adequately to the margin of the hairline.

Lips
The lips are often an overlooked site for non-melanoma skin cancer. These most commonly affect men over the age of 50 years with fair skin types. The lower lip tends to get more sunlight than the upper lip and is therefore more likely to be affected by skin cancer. Don’t forget to use a photoprotective lip block or lip balm to block UV rays.

The V (neck and chest)
Dermatologists advise that sunscreens should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors and then regularly reapplied every two hours. One way to avoid missing areas may be to apply sunscreen before getting dressed.

Source: www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk

shy-child

Overcoming shyness

By children's health, Mental health, play, Relationships
by Poppy O’Neill
Author of Be Brave: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Shyness

If you’re concerned about your child’s shyness, you’re not alone. The pandemic has profoundly altered our social lives and how we interact with each other, and children are no different.

We use the word ‘shy’ to describe many behaviours – being an introvert, social anxiety, speaking softly – so it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with those labelled ‘shy’. Enjoying time alone and choosing when to use your voice can be really positive traits. However, shyness can also indicate anxiety around social situations, trying new things and being your authentic self.

Perhaps your child is struggling to make friends, or seems to fade into the background when around others. Maybe they’ve been stung by bullying or teasing in the past, or they avoid taking risks because the idea of speaking up or failing is too frightening for them. The thing about bravery is, it’s not about being fearless – it’s about feeling uncomfortable emotions and persevering anyway.

With your support and patience, it’s possible to build bravery and self-assurance so your child can face challenges, be themselves and grow into a confident, happy and well-balanced young person.

The best thing you can do for your child is to accept them as they are and be patient with them. It might feel tempting to dismiss feelings of shyness or anxiety and encourage your child to go ‘in at the deep end’ but the sad truth is, while this may change their behaviour in the short term, it doesn’t get to the root of what’s going on emotionally for them. If your child is shy, it’s already difficult for them, and extra pressure makes it doubly so.

Comparing your child to others is another big no-no. It can be tempting to point out how confident their friends seem, but this can backfire, causing your child to feel bad about themselves and even more shy. Instead celebrate differences and point out the things that make others unique, as well as what you admire about your child. Acknowledge how important small achievements can be, and how everyone struggles with different things. Your love and acceptance will help them view their own shyness in a new light – allowing them to break free of the ways in which shyness holds them back.

Let your child know that you are on their team and it’s OK to struggle with shyness. Listen to them without judgement and together you can work out what parts of life they need a bit of extra support with. Take your cues from your child: what helps is very personal and varies from child to child. It might help to role-play social situations together, do a ‘dry run’ of a daunting upcoming event or practice your big, most confident voices together. Talking through your child’s biggest challenges and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks can be a really useful exercise – you could draw a comic strip, make a star chart or plan out steps towards progress over the course of a month.

Real bravery is different to how it looks in books and movies. In real life, being brave can mean saying “no” to something you feel obliged to do but really don’t want to – or saying “yes” to something that might inconvenience others. It can mean speaking up in a work meeting or saying “sorry” when you mess up. The same goes for children: the bravest child in the class is often the one who comes last in a race or the one whose voice shakes when they speak.

When children feel understood by the adults around them, they feel more able to strike out on their own, use their voice and be brave. Let your child know that they can take their time and that you are there for them for as long as they need you to be. When a child hears this, it helps them relax, take the pressure off themselves and push themselves in ways that feel comfortable, because they know that you will be kind and understanding, even if things don’t go according to plan or they’re not ready.

Being a kind, empathetic listening ear will help your child grow emotionally strong and resilient. As your child grows, they will be secure in the knowledge that you are on their team and there for them no matter what.

It’s so hard to see your child missing out or shrinking themselves out of shyness, but there’s a lot you can do to support them when you acknowledge their feelings and guide them towards ways to build up their bravery and self-assurance.

Poppy O’Neill has written several books on mental wellbeing for children and adults, including Amazon bestsellers Don’t Worry, Be Happy, You’re a Star and Be Brave: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Shyness
Find her online at www.poppyoneill.wordpress.com

autistic support

How to support autistic children through the uncertainty of restrictions easing

By children's health, Education, family, Health, play, Relationships

Whilst restrictions ease, lots of us are feeling a little overwhelmed, living in anticipation of what’s to come. After all, if the past year has taught us anything it’s that we can never predict what lies around the corner. Although, for children with special needs, including autistic children, this can be particularly stressful; the difficulties they face amid such uncertainty often cause more extreme levels of anxiety and therefore require specific, informed consideration.

This is supported by recent research which suggests that some autistic children have experienced ‘worsening in behavioural, social and developmental domains’ during lockdown, with this ‘success or failure’ often being ‘directly related to how their parents coped’ and how they ‘accommodate to the child’s needs’ (Latzer, Letiner, & Karnieli-Miller, 2021). Seemingly, we must understand how autistic children are struggling and proactively support them, embracing any and all professional advice along the way.

However, understanding exactly how we, as parents and/or caregivers, can best support autistic children during an unprecedented and turbulent period isn’t easy. Trevor Elliott MBE is the Managing Director of Kennedy Elliott, an organisation which provides care and accommodation for children and young people aged between 11-25 who have experienced extreme disadvantages. Trevor is a foster parent himself, as he has been for the past five years, and cares for several young people – including a young person with autism.

Trevor understands the difficulties autistic children face and here highlights his tips and insights that’ll help you support your autistic child over the next few months and beyond.

1. Maintain a consistent routine.
It’s widely acknowledged that children with autism cope best when their daily routines are kept consistent, unchanged and uninterrupted. Routines are a source of comfort for those with autism, whilst many experts believe that this helps them to express their feelings. Of course, the pandemic, and subsequent easing of restrictions, has changed everyone’s routine and continues to do so; there’s nothing that could have been done, or can be done, to maintain our pre-pandemic routine in its entirety. This is incredibly stressful for children with autism, not only are their routines now very different, we continue to be surrounded by uncertainty as restrictions are incrementally lifted and, ultimately, we await a very different world post-pandemic.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take as a caregiver to maintain some consistency. For example, I would recommend following their usual sleep/wake routine, encourage them to complete regular chores and work with them to create a visual schedule that they feel comfortable with.

2. Understand what they love and promote this hobby.
Children with autism often struggle to express themselves, which can lead to frustration and distress – something which is often presented in the form of tantrums or complete withdrawal. Therefore, when an autistic child finds an activity that they enjoy and feel comfortable doing, they’ll latch onto it. During a period of uncertainty, like we’re currently experiencing, make sure you know what your child loves; discuss this with them and look to see what activities/interests really allow them to thrive and flourish. If you’re able to feed their passion(s) amid current restrictions, do so. For example, if your child loves trains, encourage them to play with a train set for a period each day.

If they enjoy dance or art, make sure this is a part of their weekly schedule (which you work with them to create). This will encourage expressive communication which is vital if they’re feeling stressed, whilst generally helping any autistic child to feel more positive and in control.

3. Be patient.
The most important thing you can do to support an autistic child whilst restrictions ease and beyond also happen to be the simplest; be patient. Autistic children struggle to communicate and often aren’t able to articulate their feelings so it’s important that you’re empathetic and understanding. Similarly, autistic children will have varied levels of understanding about the pandemic and what it means for restrictions to be ‘lifting’; they might worry that the disease is rifer than it perhaps is, or simply can’t envisage what their lives will look like in six months’ time. In any instance, describe the current situation to them without any abstract phrasing, be honest, use clear language and take your time.

When communicating with autistic children it can be useful to use visual supports and a social narrative to convey complex information. When discussing the realities of restrictions easing and what this will mean for them in the long-term, towards the latter end of this year and beyond, bear this in mind.

4. Learn what environments work best for them.
To help your autistic child thrive when they’re struggling you must first identify what environments work best for them. For example, they might feel more at ease in small groups inside, or perhaps they benefit from being outside in less formal settings. Whatever the case, do what works for your child (rules permitting) and make sure they understand that their preferred environments will always be accessible to them in one form or another.

5. Explore coping and calming skills.
It’s incredibly important that every autistic child develops coping and self-management skills. Explore different techniques with your child to find out what works for them; for example, listening to music on headphones might work wonders, whilst they might enjoy exercise and feel that this lessens their stress levels. There are also lots of great apps out there – be sure to explore those too.

6.Maintain social contact where possible.
Covid-19 has of course limited social interactions and it’s likely they’ll continue to be limited, to some degree, for a while. However, it’s vital that we maintain autistic children’s social connections wherever possible. Use tools like FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with loved ones, explore virtual play groups and/or encourage them to virtually volunteer; there are lots of options and every autistic child needs to be aware that support is within easy reach.

Caring for any child isn’t always easy, particularly during a period of uncertainty. However, the challenges ensued by the pandemic will unfortunately affect our lives, to various degrees, long into the future; it’s therefore important that we equip autistic children with the skills necessary to cope with these difficulties. This needn’t be too difficult; the key is to listen, understand and trust that you know what’s best for your child’s unique needs.

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