Project helps Norfolk school children explore their feelings

Primary school children across Norfolk are to get lessons on how to deal with and develop their emotions following the success of a successful pilot scheme.

Norfolk County Council has set aside �170,000 of its Early Intervention Grant to support targeted mental health work in schools and is using PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) to help support young children's emotional development, communication and understanding.

Based on a idea first tried out in America and later used in Northern Ireland, the project has already been piloted with 1,400 children in eight primary schools in the west of the county.

Teachers using the programme have assessed pupils before and after adopting the scheme and have seen measured improvements. These include reductions in the numbers getting angry, being disliked by classmates and losing their temper.

Staff have been impressed with the results, which include improved concentration and social skills, and understanding and a reduction in conflict and disruptive behaviour.

All pupils, and even staff, are encouraged to adopt the approach, with special lessons to encourage children to openly talk about their feelings. Children in reception and key stage one use stories about a turtle who is easily frustrated and struggles to communicate to learn how to control their behaviour by going into their shells, taking a deep breath and giving themselves space to think of new ways of managing the feelings and emotions associated with their behaviour.

John Ward, head teacher of Ten Mile Bank Community Primary School, near Downham Market, said the scheme had proved so successful that parents had noticed using the methods they had learned at home.

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'If they feel themselves getting angry, they learn to stop and take a deep breath, calm down, and tell somebody what the problem is,' Mr Ward said. 'They are a lot more aware of themselves as individuals and their feelings. There's lots in it about turntaking and making friends.'

The programme provides children aged between five and 11 with problem solving techniques to help manage their reactions. It encourages them to talk about their feelings, compliment one another, share and understand how their actions impact on others. By developing the language they have to describe their feelings and giving them new ways to express frustration and anger, it can prevent problems from escalating and teach children who are experiencing difficulty how to manage their behaviour.

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services at Norfolk County Council, said: 'It may seem like a very simple concept but there are children, who for very many reasons, have not developed the language they need to express their feelings and this can cause them to lash out or become disengaged.

'The pilot has shown that this project is hugely successful in supporting children's emotional well-being and making schools a more harmonious place for both teaching and learning. We want to support schools to help children recognise their feelings and emotions.

The programme was piloted as part of Norfolk's Targeted Mental Health in Schools (TaMHS) Pathfinder, a joint project between Norfolk County Council and NHS Norfolk which ran between 2008 and 2011.

The schools involved in the pilot were: Eastgate Primary School; St. Michael's CE VC Primary School; Fairstead Community Primary & Nursery School; Highgate Infant School; South Wootton First School; Ten Mile Bank Community Primary School and Beaupre Primary School, based in Upwell.

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