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Coping skills a match with early education

Children should be taught coping skills in the same way they are taught to hold a pen or ride a bike, according to experts from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Janice Deans, director of the university’s Early Learning Centre, and Erica Frydenberg, an educational psychologist, have released a guide on teaching coping skills to young children. Developing Everyday Coping Skills in the Early Years covers 20 years of research and offers practical tips for parents and early childhood teachers.

Professor Frydenberg said it was increasingly important for children to be taught how to cope with everyday stresses such as saying goodbye to a parent, being in the dark or feeling left out of a group of friends.

“Learning coping skills at a young age means children can be equipped for optimal growth and development,” she said. Coping skills were increasingly important in western communities, where depression and other mental-health issues were evident in epidemic proportions, she said.

Frydenberg said children were spending longer than ever in organised care, so early childhood teachers had an important role to play in teaching coping skills.

“Those children that need additional social and emotional support demand a significant amount of teacher time,” she said. “Teachers need to be supported to provide for these children.”

Research had found that a substantial proportion of young children did not productively deal with separation anxiety, and teacher and peer issues.

“Developing a positive orientation, where the child is able to focus on coping rather than on distress, can help children develop skills they can take with them throughout their lives,” Frydenberg said.

Practical tips for children
* Ask children to draw a difficult situation, such as being left out of a group of friends, then discuss their feelings in groups.
* Ask children to interpret their feelings and ideas in dance by matching body movements to coping images. For example, a fear of the dark can be matched with shivering, shaking and quivering. Coping can be matched with skipping, swinging, sliding and leaping.

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