Getting the best start in life

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Australian programme Bounce Back can help schools build children's resilience and combat over-protective parenting, say experts. Now it's being rolled out by a Scottish council

Over the coming years, teachers will have to try to undo some aspects of over-protective parenting by discussing resilience with pupils, say experts at the Centre for Confidence and Well-Being in Glasgow. An Australian programme, called Bounce Back, could help them do just that.

"The authors are aware of the dangers of deliberate, artificial attempts to build young people's self-esteem," they say, "and Bounce Back doesn't include the `all about me' type of activities which can encourage too much self-focus."

Educational psychologists at Perth and Kinross Council have the same positive impression. They introduced Bounce Back into Dunkeld Primary in 2007. After a successful trial, 17 primaries signed up and in summer 2008 they embarked on a two-year study.

Already, the psychologists are convinced of the programme's value and by February 2010, they intend to have 60 per cent of the authority's primaries trained in its delivery. They are also keen to introduce it into the early years of secondary.

"Whatever we do in school, if we are not teaching children how to cope in life, then we are not actually helping them," says educational psychologist Rita Schepens.

Bounce Back fits well with the Scottish Government's aim of giving children the best start in life, the Perth and Kinross psychologists argue, and it chimes with Curriculum for Excellence.

In a recent report on the scheme, they write: "The experiences and outcomes for health and well-being specifically mention resilience as a quality that pupils' learning environments are expected to help develop, as well as emphasising the importance of a range of personal coping skills in fostering mental and emotional well being."

Bounce Back was designed by two teachers-turned-psychologists, Helen McGrath and Toni Noble. The key concepts are contained in the programme's acronym:

- Bad times don't last

- Other people can help

- Unhelpful makes you feel more upset

- Nobody is perfect

- Concentrate on the positives

- Everybody feels sad and worried sometimes

- Blame fairly

- Accept what you can't change, but change what you can

- Catastrophising exaggerates worries, don't believe the worst

- Keep things in perspective

The whole-school programme, which can be used in primary and early secondary, is not fixed or scripted but designed to fit in with whatever is already happening within a school or classroom.

"It can be taught during an English lesson or even included in science or maths," comments Ms Schepens.

Fossoway Primary in Drum, near Kinross, is one school involved in the study. Head Sam Nicholson says: "Because teachers are making cross- curricular plans anyway, it's easy to dip into Bounce Back and work out what would fit. One teacher was doing a project on equality, which brought in different cultures and some RME, but she also introduced some of its materials."

Bounce Back has changed pupils' behaviour for the better, says Ms Nicholson, giving them the ability to talk about their emotions and feelings, teaching them that everyone has bad days and it is possible to change. "The school was already going down a more restorative route, but what a programme like this does is, it helps you to maintain that focus and to be consistent, which is what children need," she explains.

It has even helped staff cope with the challenges they face, she adds. In an evaluation carried out at Dunkeld Primary, one teacher admitted: "I have taken the acronym card home and put it on my fridge."

During the evaluation, educational psychologists asked pupils which strategies they had used and how they were applying them in everyday life. They said:

- "Blame fairly - I would normally go in the huff. Now I think about it and do I really need to."

- "I go from mum's house to dad's house and found that annoying, looking on the bright side at least I get to see my dad and talk to him."

- "I was bottling stuff up. I used the `O' - other people can help - and they did help."

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