For what we’re about to receive: using gratitude to boost wellbeing in schools – Lea Waters

Associate Professor Lea Waters
Associate Professor Lea Waters

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy” – Albert Clarke

What is gratitude? How do we define gratitude? How has gratitude changed over time for us as individuals?

We all most likely began our life seeing gratitude as manners. As the “pleases” and “thank you’s” in life, as what our parents told us was right. Turns out, this is possibly the simplest meaning of gratitude we could have.

Opening our eyes to the power of gratitude, Associate Professor Lea Waters began by asking us to tell her what gratitude feels like. Having closed our eyes and brainstorming to find a moment when we felt gratitude or have received gratitude in our own lives, Lea then helped define this feeling of gratitude as:

“A worldview moving towards noticing and appreciating the positives in life” or

“An acknowledgement that we have received something of value from others”.

Gratitude is not just a feeling, but a reaction from a complex cognitive process. Lea explained that there is actually multiple factors that are taken into play right before we begin to feel gratitude for something, a whole judgement process considering factors such as:

  • Is this gift something of value?
  • Was it through kindness or altruism?
  • What is the cost of this action?
  • How is this impacting the person who’s giving?

Associate Professor Lea Waters

However, gratitude is more than a feeling and it is more than a cognitive process. Gratitude can improve your health on all different levels. The physical findings from studying the impact of gratitude on the body has come to show that:

Gratitude can:

  • Help us sleep better,
  • Support our immune system,
  • Help us cope with pain,
  • Reduce somatic symptoms.

So remember, “If we don’t show gratitude, it’s like receiving a present and not opening it”.

Why not try the exercise yourself, close your eyes and think of something you have to be grateful for, or a time you felt grateful; then share it with us!

Post written by a youth blogger from SYN Media.

Homelessness- ‘Through the eyes of a Child’

Michelle Clayton
Michelle Clayton, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Southern Region

Presenters Michelle Clayton and Susie Richards, both Children’s Resource Program Coordinators, from the Southern and Eastern Regions respectively looked at issues of homelessness and family violence through the eyes of the children involved.

The key is that, children’s experiences of homelessness are very different to those of adults.

The important moments in this journey might be leaving a pet behind or losing a teddy bear, these are things that need to be understood by the social workers who take on these cases.

But the question is do you have the resources to make a space nurturing for a child and to make your service suitable for a child?

There are plenty of barriers in working with children facing homelessness:

Susie Richards
Susie Richards, Children’s Resource program coordinator, Eastern Region
  • Who is the client? Is it the child, his/her family or parents?,
  • Children aren’t often funded as clients,
  • Children can be somewhat invisible to the worker (as they’re often as school and cannot often be accessed on week days),
  • There is a belief that children are resilient,
  • There is also a belief that fixing the homelessness problem will fix the child (even though the trauma of such an event will impact onto the child’s life for a long period),
  • Parents are protective of children and generally have reasonable parenting abilities,
  • Children’s issues not addressed because of the hierarchy of needs within the family.

The role of the Statewide Children’s Resource Program is to try and overcome these barriers through training, much of which is offered free to agencies, and resource distribution to aid workers who are trying to engage with children facing homelessness.

The program aims to raise awareness among workers about the impacts on health, mental health, education and emotional stability that homelessness can have on a child and some of the simple things that can be done to aid kids through this time, such as having toys for kids to play with in the office.

Toys for children to play with

Workers in this area need to assess their current ideas of children’s rights and their usual methods of dealing with family homelessness.

The Statewide Children’s Resource Program seeks to inspire this assessment and teach workers to improve their practice and support children who face homelessness.

For more information on the type of resources developed visit http://www.homelesskidscount.org/

Post written by youth bloggers from SYN Media.

Outdoor adventure experiences for vulnerable adolescents: what are the benefits?

Helen SkouterisIf we keep having this top down effect where ‘mum says’, ‘school says’ and ‘society says’, we’re not really making our young people active agents of change.

On an annual basis, thousands of adolescents participate in outdoor adventure programs that usually aim to connect these young people with their peers and nature.

When Associate Professor of Psychology Helen Skouteris started her research into these programs she found that it crossed over different areas of study such as socio-emotional development, cognitive development and obesity and weight gain. She also found that the benefits of participating in outdoor adventure programs are not limited to vulnerable adolescents.

Benefits of participation in outdoor activity programs include gaining a sense of belonging and growing an understanding the social environment. We can see how these would be hugely beneficial to vulnerable adolescents who are also enabled, through these programs, to achieve social goals, build trusting and meaningful relationships, meet more people and learn to control anger.

Hiking on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Young people on the Gippsland Wilderness Program are encouraged to challenge their boundaries.

There are so many skills to be gained from this type of participation, including cognitive (e.g. problem solving), emotional (e.g. forming relationships) and physical (e.g. canoeing or hiking).

The outdoor environment pushes young people out of their comfort zones and allows them to take on responsibility and become an active agent of change for their own wellbeing and that is hugely beneficial to all adolescents!

Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness ProgramCanoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program
Canoeing on the Gippsland Wilderness Program

Post written by youth blogger from SYN Media.

What’s a Dog Got To Do with Education? Presented by Bern Nicholls, PhD.

Dr Bern NichollsIn meditation you focus on your breathing to anchor yourself, [the students] focussed on Gus [the dog] to anchor themselves, to be calm in the classroom.

Many of the keynote speakers spoke about the benefits of forging strong relationships for children but there are other relationships that can enrich a child’s environment and childhood – like the one you have with your pets!

Bern Nicholls, PhD, presented her Masters research findings on the effect of Gus the dog’s presence in the secondary school classroom environment. As a high school teacher for many years, Bern took her Masters research as an opportunity to introduce Gus to her class and to study how Gus affected the classroom environment.

In the classroom, Gus would sit under tables, put his head on students’ shoes, sit next to particular students and, for the most part of the day, sleep. His presence was definitely felt, with students reporting that they felt:

  • More relaxed,
  • More trusting of the classroom environment,
  • A stronger connection to the class and other students,
  • More understanding and empathetic of other students,
  • It was easier to concentrate in class, and
  • Safer in the classroom.

Most noticeably, Gus gave students more confidence to speak up in class. Many students who were often shy or afraid would speak more freely if Gus was sitting at their feet.

So, what’s the explanation?

Koda Kayaking
One of the instructors in our Gippsland Wilderness Program is studying Animal Assisted Therapy, you can see his dog Koda loves the kayaking!

There’s a connection to the evolutionary history of people and dogs: they evolved with us, became our protectors and then a part of our families. Gus became this sort of canary in the classroom, wherein he had a calming effect on all the kids, and with a calmer mind, there’s more room for learning.

Bern’s research can be used to think about how teachers work with and form relationships with their students.

Bern highlighted three areas in her research where teachers could change their practice to form stronger relationships and improve their students’ learning environment:

Trust and care: acknowledging the courage it takes to teach and then acknowledging that students want teachers to care about them to build relationships with them, just as Gus did,

Relationships: understanding that children want meaningful and respectful teaching and, in turn, working to build this relationship, and

Educating with the brain in mind: remembering that stressed brains don’t learn and trying to create a relaxed environment in the classroom.

Whats a dog got to do with education

For more information on Bern’s work, see her company Learning Labyrinth.

Post by bloggers from SYN Media.

The rhythm of life, relationships and individuality

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop“The most powerful thing for me is that the repetitive nature of drumming provided a regulating experience”

Simon Faulkner developed Drumbeat based on his experience in addictions counselling. After travelling across North America researching rhythm-based therapies and working with Native Americans and African Americans, the impact of drumming as an analogy to relationships, community and expressing yourself became the basis for the music therapy.

For Drumbeat, the emphasis is taken away from musical ability. Upon determining that the group at the Conference was largely musically inexperienced, Simon began to lead the circle into drumming exercises that would be undertaken in the workshops with younger members.

Simon Faulker presenting Drumbeat workshop

Despite the lack of actual drums due to a mix up, the group managed to generate enough noise to fill the room. The exercise kicked off with a core beat, what Faulkner described as a “mongrel beat”, mimicking the simple heartbeat. Once everyone was comfortable with slapping their knees, Simon threw in a hand clap and before long, the sound of foot stamps, hand rubbing and voices dominated the ground floor of the venue.

Simon concluded the workshop with the analogy of rhythms within life. Everybody has various rhythms, whether it be at school or in the home, but a person’s own individual rhythm can fit within a community’s.

If you make a mistake and miss a beat, the community is still there to support and help you get back into your rhythm.

During the lunch break, just before Simon’s workshop, students from Corpus Christi Primary in Melbourne had demonstrated Drumbeat to anyone interested; see the video below:

If you’re interested in music therapy, read further information about Drumbeat here.

Blog post by: SYN Media bloggers

Importance of relationships for the developing child – Dr Bruce Perry

Bruce Perry Keynote Day 1” I think its always important to be reminded of how important it is to create safe, developmental experiences for children,” Dr Perry.

Dr Bruce Perry was referring to the Good Childhood Conference, reiterating how essential it is for society to understand that at every point in time, we are in “the process of inventing the future”.

The presentation, recorded in his Chicago hotel room, resonated with the themes of the conference, focusing on brain development at an early age and building healthy communities.

Sociocultural evolution has, over time, lead to the changes in the way we construct our society: our language, religions, childrearing, family structures, art, science and technology.

Dr Bruce Perry

The focus of Dr. Perry‘s presentation lay with the relationships and interactions children are offered at a young age and the profound influence intimate moments such as talking, touching and holding eye contact can have.

Human beings have also absorbed thousands of learnings from previous generations. But this is not always a good thing.

“In the process of inventing the future, we have invented some things that are really wonderful…and we have invented some practices that actually are quite disrespectful of some of our genetic gifts,” Dr Perry said.

Our greatest biological gifts are the power of relationships and the brain’s malleability.

Dr Perry referred to the case where a young girl was, essentially, raised by a pack of dogs and, with no human interaction in the early stages of her life, she essentially acted like a dog. Dr Perry co-authored a book on another similar case, emphasising the malleability of human brains to learn from and adapt to their surroundings.

He then went on to explain how relationships in modern society have taken a turn for the worse because we are now based within huge networks of people unlike the small clans of hunter-and-gatherer times. Children are no longer raised surrounded by extended family and small tribes of people but spend countless hours surrounded by other humans who they don’t know and don’t interact with. Furthermore, technology is a distraction and is reducing the amount of intimate interactions children share with others.

“You might have 100 friends on Facebook but you might not have one single person to have dinner with,” he said.

In what he termed “modern tribalism”, Dr Perry said the ways in which society compartmentalises itself has resulted in material wealth yet “poverty of social relationships”.

“A healthy human being is a related human being.”

Humans are wired to feel stressed and threatened by other humans. After all, we are our own main predator. This stress can be managed throughout life if productive interactions and and healthy relationships are forged during childhood.

But, according to Dr Perry, the way our culture is currently organised induces a state of social and cultural neglect in our children.

Any programs that decrease physical, social and emotional isolation will be effective in making a difference. Currently, the percentage of children in “high-risk” categories is growing and the apparent “poverty of relationships” is a leading reason.

CEO Sandie de Wolf at The Good Childhood Conference

Dr Perry said programs and initiatives such as the Good Childhood Conference are important in encouraging investment into children and developmentally-appropriate ways to raise children.

Berry St CEO, Sandie de Wolf AM, agreed saying: “Relationships are at the core of everything we do”.

Youth Report – The Good Childhood Conference (Part One)

 

Youth facilitators at Conference
CREATE Youth facilitators at Conference

In a series of blog posts we will be reflecting on our new understandings of youth participation after The Good Childhood Conference, as well as some of the feedback we received from conference delegates. We will also report back on practical elements of our youth participation strategy.

Below are some of our initial reflections on the experience, specifically the usefulness of the youth consultations and social media in preparation for the conference.

In regards to youth participation at the conference, we aimed to actively include young people in the conversation about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not experienced a good childhood. (For more information on our approach, check out our Principles of Youth Participation on the Berry Street Childhood Institute website).

As you may remember, three youth consultants worked with us to engage in a broader consultation with young people about what would create a conference that was engaging and attractive to young people.

Over a two month period the youth consultants met with approximately 80 young people and gathered considerable feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like.

Outcomes of the Youth Consultations:

  • Received feedback about what young people would or wouldn’t like at a conference,
  • Promoted the event in face-to-face sessions with young people,
  • Provided three youth consultants with workplace training,
  • Collected data to drive our youth-friendly activities,
  • Provided motivation for the youth consultants to volunteer at the conference, displaying increased leadership qualities – they also brought their friends,
  • Developed/improved relationships with community groups, schools, youth groups and clients of Berry Street,
  • Provided a barometer of youth interest in the conference.

“The youth consultation process has been a positive but challenging experience for me. It put me out of my comfort zone and has helped me improve on my networking and organisation skills.” Laura, Youth Consultant

Promoting Youth Participation
During the youth consultations young people told us that they like to communicate via social media. In the lead up to the conference an 8 week social media strategy was planned in order to promote numerous speaker profiles, interesting topics and reminders about the conference on Twitter and Facebook. Information about youth scholarships offered was posted regularly.

To provide some idea, detailed below are the most popular (shared and/or ‘Liked’) Facebook posts on the Berry Street Childhood Institute page in the lead up to the conference:
789 – Muriel Bamblett August 2013
452 – Youth scholarships announced September 2013
419 – Conference post after day one October 2013
165 – Launch of the conference program August 2013
158 – Kaff-iene the street artist August 2013

Youth participation was also publicised on the conference website, here on the conference blog and in the program. Positive feedback was received about the information available.

Stay tuned for more reflections on youth participation in the coming weeks…