Promoting emotional health, well-being, and resilience in primary schools

A new report from the Public Policy Institute for Wales synthesises research and policy evaluations related to school-based strategies to promote emotional health, well-being, and resilience among primary school students aged 4 to 11 years.

The report argues that school-based work in this area can be very effective, and school systems need to be strongly connected with each other in order to translate the research evidence into sustained impact. While work on emotional health and well-being is relevant to all students, some children are likely to have additional needs. These children often come from high-risk groups that can be identified, for example, those who have socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report’s overarching recommendation is to develop a carefully planned and well-supported approach to social and emotional learning (SEL) that is integrated with core pedagogical principles and situated within a connected school. It also calls for an independent evaluation of a Welsh initiative on SEL that is designed to support emotional health, well-being, and resilience. Importantly, the focus should not be on developing an entirely new SEL curriculum or new teaching resources, since many evidence-based programs with high-quality resources already exist. Rather, the emphasis should be on identifying specific strategies for integrating SEL work, engaging families, and broader schools systems and core pedagogical principles.

Source: Promoting Emotional Health, Well-being and Resilience in Primary Schools (2016), Public Policy Institute for Wales.

Mental wellness in early childhood

Child Trends has released a new research brief on mental wellness in early childhood. Using research from various sources such as university publications, journal articles, and government websites, they identify five “things to know” to help parents and caregivers lay a solid foundation for healthy childhood development.

  1. Infants experience and perceive a range of emotions. Caregivers may underestimate the degree to which infants’ social-emotional development is affected by early experiences. Although infants as young as six months can “begin to sense and be affected by their parents’ moods,” fewer than 35% of caregivers believe that infants are capable of experiencing emotions in this way.
  2.  Early positive interactions promote emotional wellness throughout the lifespan. Interactions between caregivers and infants are critically important, as “neural connections are formed through the interaction of genes and a baby’s environment and experiences,” especially through communication with caregivers.
  3. Having appropriate expectations of young children’s development is important. Emotional development is a critical component of brain development that is not always emphasised as much as cognitive, physical, or verbal development. Each person’s development is unique, but caregivers should understand general social-emotional milestones – such as copying caregivers’ actions – in order to keep expectations appropriate and monitor potential red flags.
  4.  Parents and caregivers should be mindful of their own emotional well-being, seeking support if they need it. Caregivers who effectively treat their mental illness may lower the effects of the illness on their children.
  5. Young children are resilient and, if properly supported, can overcome potentially traumatic events. Young children may be able to overcome the effects of adverse events through consistent, predictable, supportive interactions.
 
Source: Five Things to Know about Mental Wellness in Early Childhood (2015), Child Trends.

Unearned cash provides more than a financial boost

A new working paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research examines the effect of changes in unearned household income on children’s personality traits and mental health, and concludes that increases in unearned money have a significant positive effect on children’s social and emotional well-being.

The authors used data from The Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth (GSMS), a longitudinal survey of 1,420 North Carolina children who were aged 9, 11, and 13 at the start of the study. Children and parents were interviewed separately each year until the child was 16. The young people were then also interviewed at 19 and 21. The GSMS was specifically created to assess mental health and well-being in children.

The initial survey contained 1,070 non-Indian children, and 350 American Indian children from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who were over sampled. The survey began in 1993, and after the fourth year, a casino opened on the Eastern Cherokee reservation. The casino is owned by the Eastern Cherokee tribal government, and a portion of the profits (approximately $4,000 per year) is distributed twice a year to all adult tribal members.

The authors found large beneficial effects of improved household finances on children’s emotional and behavioural health and positive personality trait development, especially for children who were lagging behind their peers in these measures before the intervention.

They suggest this could be due to improved parental outlook, mental health, and happiness, and note that parental relationships with children and with their spouses/partners also improved. They also found that households that received the casino payments were more likely to move to slightly better areas (in terms of median household income), and suggest that at least some of the improvement in the child behavioural and personality traits could be explained by better community amenities in higher income areas.

Source: How Does Household Income Affect Child Personality Traits and Behaviors? (2015), NBER.

Teenage onset obesity linked to school dropout

A new article in the Journal of School Health has shown that becoming obese during early adolescence increases the risk of school dropout.

Data on 5,066 children was obtained from the 1979 National Longitudinal Study of Youth, a longitudinal project that follows a sample of people in the US born between 1957 and 1964. Each wave of assessment included participants’ obesity status (BMI) and school enrollment status.

The study identified four trajectories of obesity from ages 6 to 18: (1) A non-obese group, (2) a chronically obese group with individuals who were obese in both childhood and adolescence, (3) decreasing trajectory (childhood-only obesity), and (4) increasing trajectory (adolescent-onset obesity). Adolescents belonging to the increasing trajectory group (adolescent-onset obesity) had a higher likelihood of dropping out of high school compared with those belonging to the other three groups.

The authors conclude that adolescent-onset obesity is a unique contributor to school failure. Although the reasons for this are unknown, they suggest that the high significance placed on social status during early adolescence combined with significant physiological changes as a result of puberty may have an especially adverse impact on those becoming obese during this transitional period. They also suggest that becoming obese during adolescence (as opposed to childhood) may be a disadvantage due to having less time to develop adaptive coping strategies.

The study also showed ethnicity playing a significant role, with white teenagers who become obese during adolescence particularly vulnerable to school dropout. The report suggests this may be explained by greater social stigma being placed on white versus African-American or Latino adolescents becoming obese.

Source: Is Obesity Associated With School Dropout? Key Developmental and Ethnic Differences (2015), Journal of School Health, 85(10).

A little help from your friends

A new article in the British Journal of Psychology describes research into whether, and how, a single close supportive friendship may improve psychological resilience in socio-economically vulnerable young people. The authors conclude that such friendships facilitate resilience, and that at least one close friendship helps adolescents’ strength and resilience against substantial adversity.

409 participants aged between 11 and 19 years were recruited through three comprehensive secondary schools and two colleges in Yorkshire with deprived catchment areas (n=394), and through an online mailing list for peer supporters (n=15). They completed self-report measures of close friendship quality, psychological resilience, social support, and other resources.

Findings revealed a significant positive association between perceived friendship quality and resilience. This was facilitated through inter-related mechanisms of developing a constructive coping style (comprised of support-seeking and active coping), effort, a supportive friendship network, and reduced disengaged and externalising coping. There were gender differences. Perceived friendship quality facilitated effort and friendship network support more strongly for boys than girls, and in contrast it promoted constructive coping more strongly for girls. Boys were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of disengaged and externalising coping than girls.

The authors suggest a number of implications for practice, including:

  • Practitioners might prioritise existing and emerging supportive adolescent friendships within resilience interventions;
  • Interventions might promote peer-based coping skills and self-efficacy; and
  • Supportive peer friendships might be regularly included within assessments of psychosocial resources by clinicians and educators.

Source: Best Friends and Better Coping: Facilitating Psychological Resilience Through Boys’ and Girls’ Closest Friendships (2015), British Journal of Psychology.

Philosophy for Children

A new report, published by the Education Endowment Foundation, has shown that children taking part in a trial of Philosophy for Children (P4C) made approximately two additional months’ progress in reading and maths.

The authors, from Durham University, conducted an evaluation of the programme from January to December 2013 in 48 English schools. A total of 3,159 pupils in Years 4 and 5 took part in the trial, of which 1,550 were in a treatment group and 1,609 in a control group. Teachers were trained in P4C and pupils received, on average, one period of P4C per week.

P4C is centred on nurturing philosophical enquiry. The aim is to help children to become more willing and able to question, reason, construct arguments, and collaborate with others. It is intended to lead to improved self-confidence, as well as cognitive improvement and academic attainment. Pupils participate in group dialogues focused on philosophical issues. These are prompted by a stimulus (eg, a story or video) and are based around a concept such as ‘truth’, ‘fairness’, or ‘bullying’.

The evaluation found evidence that P4C had a positive impact on pupils’ Key Stage 2 (KS2) progress in reading and maths. Gains in KS2 were greater in all subjects for pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM). However, results on the Cognitive Abilities Test (a different outcome measure not explicitly focused on attainment) showed mixed results. Pupils who started the programme in Year 5 showed a positive impact, but those who started in Year 4 showed no evidence of benefit.

This was one of eight new reports released by the EEF in July.

Source: Philosophy for Children: Evaluation Report and Executive Summary (2015), Education Endowment Foundation.