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The Development of Coping Skills in the Early Years

In EYFS, pupils are expected to gain skills like having a ‘can do’ attitude, keeping on trying & choosing ways to do things. They are also expected to consider theirs’ & others’ points of views as well as adapting to a range of situations. Jayne Carter discusses how important this is.

‘Getting ready to deal with life’s adventures….’
Highlighted in the EYFS you will find recommendations about supporting children’s readiness for life.

For example; in the characteristics of effective teaching & learning there are references to showing a ‘can do’ attitude, keeping on trying & choosing ways to do things. Within the PSED section there are also points which encourage children to consider theirs’ & others’ points of views as well as adapting to a range of situations.

These skills, sometimes referred to as ‘soft skills’, I would argue, are the fundamentals of a child’s character & uniqueness. Being able to recognize & deal with whatever adventures life presents is surely a key skill to be able to flourish & navigate choices or decisions as well as embedding a strong sense of personal identity…the essence of what makes you…you.

The World Health Organization offers this definition which incorporates the role of coping skills in the development of a secure emotional well-being.

“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Consider what we as adults do when faced with a challenging situation…..

If this is a situation which is potentially worrying or could cause an element of anxiety, we are able to implement the toolkit of strategies we have been able to build up & test & apply in order to tackle & face this new situation. We have built up over time & experience a set of tools based on previous implementation which we have had the opportunity to refine, adapt or modify.

We can implement such decisions as….when this happened before I did this and it made me feel better/solved a difficult situation/improved the experience.

It is like building up an internal memory bank of ‘things to do when’ which can be organized in the mind ready to be called upon should they be needed.

As adults we have developed the necessary skills to be able to make a judgement to the most appropriate strategy to use & make some kind of conclusion about how this strategy will affect us; mentally, socially, physically etc.

Our youngest children, in a world where they are exploring & coming to terms about their own little world, need to be able to navigate the potential of ‘what if’ in order to build up their own personalized story of ‘things to do when’ strategies.

To be able to do this they need a supportive & nurturing play partner to guide, direct & model what these experiences could look like & suggest different ways of dealing with them. It is important to highlight here that an essential part of this nurturing is to help children to develop a personalized set of strategies which they feel work for them & help them to cope. To be able to do this they need a variety of strategies & suggestions to be able to decide on the strategies which are important for them. An approach which suggests, guides & explores as a community, I believe, is far more personal and authentic then an approach which simply supplies the way to deal with a situation.

For example; most children want to have friends. They want to enjoy that feeling of taking part in social experiences such as building an amazing space station which will catapult you into a world of imagination or having a chat during snack time. Like with most friendships these have an ebb & flow & there may be times when friends fall out. If you are 4 and exploring the world around you, it may be difficult to acknowledge that someone (especially your best friend) doesn’t want to make a space station with you or that they don’t think the same as you.. How might this situation play out? What may happen?

Physically the child may feel funny…tummies may have a bubbly feeling in them, there may be a feeling like a ball of fizziness spinning inside. Outwardly the child may react impulsively using their body or words which may result in adult support being needed to intervene & manage this situation.

Discussing several ways to deal with this (rather than …..share it’s a nice thing to do) supports the child in building up their own toolkit of strategies  & helps them to develop an appreciation of the concept of ‘friends’ and all the various elements included in this.

These strategies could include modelling different ways to express feelings; for example, using  words to articulate feelings as well as sharing situations where strategies could be role played, tested & explored collaboratively.

Partnership for Children offer a framework for practitioners and children to use to help further embed this understanding. Through their programmes, which are dedicated to developing children’s emotional & social skills, top tips include:
Using a framework like this could support children in self assessing strategies they have chosen & start to evaluate the impact of them in terms of their own wellbeing. ‘If I do this how will I feel, how will my friend feel?’ The consistent repetition of using a framework can provide children with a gauge to explore, choose, evaluate & implement.
Reflect on where you support children’s coping skills already in the experiences you offer them. Perhaps these skills are already integral in your ethos & opportunities are maximized to ensure that all children know what coping means & the ways that they can tackle situations? A focus on these ‘soft skills’ may be the way in for many children to feel happier, engaged & ready to embark on their next adventure.

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The author

Jayne is a committed shoe lover and School Effectiveness Advisor for Lincoln Anglican Academy Trust. She loves discussing all things Early Years with anyone who will give her the opportunity and prides herself in looking after the adults in the hope that they can also look after the children. Achieve your potential! Winner of ‘Literacy / Numeracy Blog of the Year’ at the 2019 Nexus Education Awards.

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