Creating a child centred environment
Sometimes, a child needs to be taught skills to help her manage areas of difficulty. Take for example, a child who is struggling to make and keep friends. Through skills coaching and practise she can learn to make two-way conversation, ask others questions, and resolve conflicts.
When the environment must change, not the child
Other times, it is not the child but the environment that needs to change. Say for example, a child is having meltdowns because she has difficulties with her learning. She is struggling to follow instructions and keep up in class. Teaching the child some calming-down strategies is not going to solve the underlying problem.
One of a psychologist’s key jobs is to work out what needs to change: skill up the child, change the environment to support the child, or both?
Teachers face many competing demands and needs from the students. It is very difficult for them to create an environment that suits all children. A teaching strategy that suits one child because it is structured and slow paced, might be boring for another child. Small changes can make a significant difference to an individual child and may be manageable for the teacher. For example, if a child is struggling to process instructions, moving the child to the front and ensuring regular eye contact can make a word of difference. Perhaps, providing an adult-led activity during lunch time will help a child to feel less lost and anxious, and supporting her to make friends.
Other times however, we need to acknowledge a wider issue. Our school system in the UK is struggling to meet the needs of some students. There are not enough units within mainstream schools that can be hubs of expertise, for children with additional needs (emotional, behavioural or academic). There is not enough funding to create tailored environments for those who struggle in a large classroom environment with independent learning. Some children are having to deal with unnecessarily high levels of stress every day of their lives because the school system cannot adapt to their needs, despite teachers’ best efforts.
At home, making small changes to the environment can have an immense impact on a child’s psychological wellbeing. For example, developing a regular night-time routine can create a sense of security and safety, for children of all ages. Many families are understandably a little chaotic. Perhaps Ellie’s story gets forgotten one night, and Jack’s bath goes by the wayside. But these are so important for children. Not only does routine help calm a child’s body (because it knows what to expect next) and prepare her to settle own for the night, but these routines also represent something else. The bedtime story symbolises that Ellie is special and deserves your time. It symbolises that you will always be there, consistently, to give her what she needs. Of course, we are all human and it’s important to aim for “good enough”, not perfect.
When a child is not thriving
This section will contain information about changes to children’s environment which can enhance their psychological wellbeing. If a child is not thriving, it is always important to consider whether it is the environment which needs to change, rather than the child.