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~~~~Friends For Life ~~~~
Prevention of Anxiety & Depression in Children.
(Before you start reading this review - I will warn you that it is a long review, my longest to date, but if you can take on board what is about you will see that this programme can also help adults that find coping with life stressful and sometimes so difficult that they can suffer with depression).
This Primary Education Programme is something new to our school and the area.
For the past 8 weeks I have been privileged to work with the school nurse and her team on a new initiation, from Australia, that helps prevent ‘Anxiety and Depression’ children. ‘What – Anxiety & Depression in children?’ I hear some of you ask. It’s true - recent studies have shown that in today’s fast moving more people, at a younger age, are showing signs of considerable psychological distress.
Compared to 20 years, children and young adults are more likely to develop a mental illness. Here are some other quite worrying statistics that lead to the development of the education programme I will be reviewing.
**** 20% of 12-16 yr olds suffer from a mental health problem. **** 1 in 10 adults has an anxiety disorder **** 1 in 5 children are at risk of severe anxiety **** 15% of adolescents frequently suffer from an anxiety disorder
~~~~ What does an anxiety disorder mean for the suffer? ~~~~
It means that the person doesn’t have the ability to handle a wide range of everyday activities such as; - interpersonal relationships, social competence, peer relationships and school adjustments (moving classes, new teachers, new pupils joining / leaving peer groups & general friendship problems that occur daily). There are many types of Anxiety Disorders ( AD) and all represent serious mental health problems for the sufferer and their family.
~~~~ The Major AD in children and what they mean ~~~~
Generalised Anxiety Disorder - excessive worry & fear about the future / past events. Common symptoms are headaches, stomach aches, vomiting & sleep disturbance.
Separation Anxiety Disorder – the fear of being separated from family and friends.
Phobia – a fear of specific object or situation.
Post – Traumatic Stress Disorder – a severe anxiety reaction or feeling following a traumatic event.
Social Phobia – the fear of being humiliated or embarrassed in front of others.
Obessive Compulsive Discorder – obsessive thoughts that dominate everyday life (constant hand – washing)
How many of us suffer from these? How do we as adults deal with stress?? Now ask yourself – could a young child deal with these the way we do? Do they have the friends equipped with the skills to listen and offer support & advice like we do?
Believe it or not many of the above disorders do exist within our primary classrooms. I have actually seen several of them and one (Seperation AD in a child as young as 7). With many of our children being ‘looked after’ or emigration children in our school’s today, there is a great need for educators to be aware of this problems, and more importantly be able to give the children strategies for
Pictures of Education (Primary)
Front cover of the workbook that each child had to support sessions
dealing with them.
~~~~ What happens if we leave this issue unaddressed? ~~~~
If a child is not given the strategies to deal with anxiety issues, anxiety will build up and develop over the years into chronic adult anxiety disorders and in severe cases clinical depression that leads to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Hence the reason I feel privileged to be a part of this programme that has just arrived in our area. By tackling these issues we are equipping ourselves with the resources to support children and their families to develop effective ways to deal with worry, stress and change.
~~~~ Background Information on the programme~~~~
‘Friends For Life’ is a refined and well developed programme that has come from years of research by top psychologists from the States and Australia. The current programme in place at the moment is the work of Dr Paula Barrett. Paula was born in Africa and moved to Portugal in her teens. She has spent the last 20 yrs in Australia where her involvement with the Pathways Health & research Centre lead to her developing this programme as well as similar ones for younger and much older age groups. This programme follows the Coping Koala incentive for junior children and the first few years of secondary.
~~~~How the programme is set up~~~~
There are 5 steps to setting up the delivery of this programme in schools, these are;-
1. The school selects the year group that they wish to target (my cohort is a Y4 group who was chosen due to the high numbers of SEN children with behavioural and emotions needs – 20% of my class) 2. Programme manuals for the class teacher are purchased. 3. The class teacher is then given training provided by the Griffith University. 4. Workbooks that accompany the programme are purchased. 5. An information evening is arranged for parents to encourage them to find out about the programme and support their child at home.
The sessions are then held over a 10 week period with each session lasting 1 hour per week. There are follow up activities that the children take home to complete over the week with their parents. I have however, set a 20 min session aside, at the end of the following day, for pupils who are unable to get the above support at home (due to circumstances beyond their control) to complete these tasks with a highly trained TA.
The workbook that each child has supports each session in a child friendly way through stories, activites and scenarios. The characters in the book are a mix of animals and children that the age group can relate to. The activities can lead to role play and open discussions that highlight feelings (both helpful & unhelpful) that they may encounter through their lives. The pupils are taught about these feelings and how to deal with them.
The emphasis is always on looking for the positive and good feelings rather than the negative first.
~~~~How the programme is delivered within the classroom~~~~
Session 1 – Introduction to the Group – this session looks at overview of ‘Feeling confident and Brave’. Its activities investigate questions we can use when meeting someone new, in order to make friends. It also encourages children to set their own ground rules for making the Friends Programme work successfully for them.
My class were particularly good at this as they are always encouraged to set their own SC (success criteria) for achieving learning intentions.
We also looked closely at ‘People are Different’ and explored a poem about how 2 friends enjoy very different things but really get on well.
Session 2 – Introduction to feelings – The session covered how pupils can learn to understand other people’s feelings better.
This began with looking at ‘what feelings do people have’ and lead onto ‘why showing these feelings is so important’.
By distinguishing the unhelpful / unhappy thoughts and feelings and what gives us these, the children are encouraged to turn these into helpful / happy thoughts. Thus reinforcing that we need to look for the positive first.
Session 3 – Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 1 & 2)– This session shows a child the benefits of being confident and brave. We then looked at steps to be able to achieve this attribute. The first step being about Feelings (F) the first letter of the programme’s title. The second step (R) is about remembering – Remember to relax, have quiet time when feelings run into unhelpful tendencies.
Session 4 - Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 3A) The letter I for ‘I can do it! I can try my best – is the main focus for this session. The children learn how looking for the ‘helpful thought’ when facing a new challenge and using the prompt I can… will promote confidence within themselves.
Again this was something that really benefitted my class and reflected the ethos of our class and school. The children related the activities well to situations they had come across.
Session 5 - Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 3B & 4A) This session starts with a re-cap of our letters & their related sessions so far. Our 4th letter E invites the children to ‘Explore Solutions and Coping Step Plans’. In a nut shell, we explored a plan to take action for coping with our worries. The step plan is set out similar to a flow chart with thought bubbles attached to each step for children to record their ‘happy/ helpful’ thoughts.
Session 6 - Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 4B)
After a review of F.R.I.E. – children are encouraged to think about role models and brave people they know. They are then asked to think about what those people have coped with and how they did it. All pupils are then asked to build up a ‘support team’ of people they know that can help them with certain problems or worries. These ideas are recorded in Team t-shirts which the boys in particular loved. The session finishes with the children creating their own ‘Coping Step Plan’ and adding people from their support team to the steps.
This session really encouraged the children to relate different worries to a family member or friend who can help and support them in those situations.
They are then introduced to the ‘6-Block Problem-solving Plan, which involves finding solutions to problems instead of letting them get to us.
The plan follows this pattern;
1. what is the problem? 2. what could I do? 3. list what might happen. 4. pick the best solution. 5. do it! 6. did it work?
The above steps are investigated and learning supported by activities in the workbook.
Session 7 - Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 5)
The letter N is now added to our letters and stands for ‘Now reward yourself! You’ve done your best!’
We returned to our Coping Step Plan and decided on what reward we could give ourselves for achieving that particular step of our worry. Children are taught to be proud of small achievements and think like winners. How often do we as adults not congratulate ourselves on small, every-day achievements we accomplish?!
Session 8 - Learning to feel confident and brave (steps 6 & 7)
This 6th step begins with the letter ( YES – you guessed it) D. D = Don’t forget to practise – Don’t forget to practise THE FRIENDS PLAN.
The 7th and last step S – stands for SMILE ! STAY CALM FOR LIFE !
Each step is reviewed and children encouraged to engage in open discussions about what they have experienced.
Session 9 – Using the FRIENDS Plan: Helping Ourselves and Others
This session is basically a review of all the sessions - what we have learnt and how we can use Friends to help ourselves and others.
I was really impressed with the ideas and thoughts the children offered in group and whole class discussions.
Session 10 – Review and Party
The activity in this session was titled ‘Preparing For Future Challenges’. We thought about some things coming up in our lives that we were worried about and used our newly taught strategies to put a plan together.
I was particularly interested to see some of the thoughts the children were talking about. Some of which I hadn’t thought about myself as they were termly activities that the whole school took part in. Some children were even thinking further ahead to the end of the academic year when they would be going into Y5. The plans we put together to support them were well thought out and I know will really benefit them in the future.
The programme concludes with the children rewarding themselves with a party to celebrate how hard they have worked and what they have achieved.
During the course of this programme I have watched my class investigate ideas and feelings, create action plans and put in place strategies to support them with everyday anxieties and stresses. This class in particular are benefiting from the sessions due to their difficult home situations and past experiences that have been very difficult. I can see a new confidence in the way they face situations. We have always had a ‘ I CAN… I WILL TRY…’ motto and this has really supported that idea.
The whole experience has been brilliant for myself and my children as learners. I would recommend anyone – not just those in education – to look at the benefits of this programme.
Friends – UK and Ireland Distributors Interactive Connections 5 Foxhall Close Norwell Newark Notts - NG NG23 6GZ Tele: 01636 636060 www.interactive-connections.co.uk
The above website has some detailed information about the programme and research that supports its rationale. It also gives information on a programme geared towards younger children and other incentives based around this rationale . Thanks for reading this rather long review and I hope you have found it interesting and even better helpful.