Luminaries - From meltdowns and mayhem to calm and connection

Luminaries - From meltdowns and mayhem to calm and connection

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My name is Josef English. I'm the manager of the Early Start Discovery Space, and it's my absolute pleasure to welcome everyone here today. We've had many families visit us here at the University of Wollongong's Early Start Discovery Space, a children's museum, over the holiday period and we know that there's many mixed feelings from children and their adults about the return to school and the start of school in 2024. Our Luminaries series brings together some UOW researchers, industry experts, and thought leaders, for a one hour conversation every month.

And today, we will discover how some of the collaborations at the University of Wollongong are helping to tackle global challenges. To begin our session today, I would like to acknowledge country. We acknowledge that Country for Aboriginal peoples is an interconnected set of ancient and sophisticated relationships. The University of Wollongong spreads across many interrelated Aboriginal Countries that are bound by the sacred landscape, and an intimate relationship with that landscape since creation. From Sydney to the Southern Highlands, to the South Coast.

From fresh water to bitter water to salt. From City to Urban to Rural. The University of Wollongong Acknowledges the Custodianship of the Aboriginal peoples of this place and space that has kept alive the relationships between all living things.

The University Acknowledges the devastating impact of colonisation on our campuses' footprint and commit ourselves to truth-telling, healing and education. I also will take this opportunity to acknowledge the countries that you're on today, on this webinar or people who are watching online after we post this wonderful Luminaries today. And today, we aim to equip parents and carers with knowledge and techniques to help children have a smooth transition back to school. We have put together a panel of research leaders from Early Start in our Faculty of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities with an esteemed member of our alumni community, and I am really excited for the next 90 minutes particularly as a dad of two.

So it's my pleasure to welcome our panel today, Distinguished Professor Anthony Okely, an international leader in children's movement behaviours, who will share insights on maintaining a balance between physical activity, reducing sedentary behaviours and ensuring children get the sleep they need. Thanks for joining us Professor Tony. Professor Lisa Kervin, the co-leader of the National Educated Child Research Program, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child and Director of Early Start Research, who will discuss digital childhood strategies for quality screen use and some suggestions about how to guide children's screen time habits. UOW alumni Nicki Pittorino is a parenting expert and founder of Whole Picture Parenting.

Nicki will discuss practical solutions to help many parents manage meltdowns and challenging behaviour. Very excited for that. And Professor Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, the Director of our Early Years program at UOW with expertise in educational psychology, who will explore the psychology of learning and relationship building. So thank you all of you for your time. I'm very much looking forward to chatting. Today

when you're online, we do encourage our members of the audience to submit any questions you may have using the Q&A function. The team will be monitoring this throughout the session and we'll try to get to as many of those questions as possible after we hear from our panel members. So, Professor Anthony Okely, I might throw to you and your current area of research.

I know that, the importance of sleep for all of us is really important, particularly at this time as we transition back to school, but also physical activity. So, really interested to hear about your current research in this space of sleep and physical activity. Thanks very much Josef and thank you for the warm welcome. It's a pleasure to be here and to share some insights with you as you begin the transition back to school with your children. So, as you may be aware, in Australia we do have guidelines that govern these behaviours of physical activity, sleep and sedentary behaviour.

These were released in 2019. They sit on the Department of Health website and they take a 24 hour approach, so they recognise that these behaviours are interconnected and related to one another. So, for example, you can achieve benefits to your health by being physically active.

However, you can also undo some of those benefits if you don't get enough sleep because perhaps your child might have been staying up too late engaging with recreational screen time. So let's take sleep as the first example. Sleep, in my opinion, is the foundation for healthy movement behaviours. It's also the foundation for healthy development and also for being able to perform at your potential, particularly as you transition back to school.

So being able to concentrate well in class, being able to have good relationships with others, not being irritable, being able to perform at your best is largely dependent on a healthy night's sleep. And you can see here the recommendations, so for primary school age children it's between 9 to 11 hours per night. Now this is very important because we know that sleep is associated with many health benefits. And as you transition back now to school, make it your first priority to ensure that your child gets enough sleep.

What are some ways that you can do that? Having a consistent bed and wake time is perhaps the most important thing, with the emphasis on a consistent bedtime. So if you can get your child into bed early enough, you will largely ensure that they do get enough sleep. And I think that now as you transition back, particularly if your child's been staying up late, that setting a time somewhere around 8:00 or 9:00 pm to actually go into bed because it might take them some time to drift off to sleep, especially if they're not used to going to bed that early. And that's okay, because as they do drift off to sleep, if that occurs somewhere around 10:00 pm, then you will still ensure that they will get that minimum of nine hours hopefully by the time they wake up, but also expect that it may take a few days for this to occur. A couple of other things here, you probably want and have your child's last meal somewhere between 2 and 3 hours before they go to bed.

That's considered to be the best time period for that. Obviously not having any foods or drinks that contain caffeine, because that can interrupt sleep. And the routine that you set before they go to bed is also very important. We would recommend that

they don't engage with screens too close to bedtime. That there might be something relaxing that they can do, whether it be talking, whether it can be having a bath or shower, listening to some music, something there that will help them just relax and prepare them for bed. The bedroom itself needs to be free of screen based devices. It needs to be dark, it should be quiet it should be cool particularly in this weather here as well. And then there's some other things around in terms of then getting into that normal rhythm for your body by having exposure to some type of light, ideally sunlight, early in the morning, particularly as soon as they wake up. That again helps with resetting that body clock particularly if if they're coming from a holiday period where their sleep has been a little bit disrupted or a bit different to what it has been as they go back to school.

So thinking now to physical activity. So the guidelines here 60 minutes, an average of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Now this is 60 minutes of what we call moderate to vigorous, so equivalent to a brisk walk, something that will involve some huff and puff and some increase of their heart rate and breathing. And physical activity is associated with a range of health benefits, not just physically, but as you see here it's linked with better academic achievement, better social emotional health and better mental health in particular. It's very challenging now to do that because physical activity is slowly being engineered out of our day. And we're thinking here, particularly about this sort of discretionary or incidental activity and how you might be able to factor or integrate some of that back into your child's day. So I'm going to give you some

options here that you might like to consider. First of all, think about how your child travels to and from school. Is it possible that they could walk or cycle or scoot to school? If not, is it possible that you could park some distance away so that there might be some form of physical activity for part of that journey, if it's not possible to do it for the whole journey. Public transport is also

good because there is some physical activity that's involved there compared with riding in a car. And then after school, that's really the critical window. You've got this large period of time during daylight hours where your child has the option to be physically active. So think about what types of activities they might be able to do after school, and in particular, if they can spend time outdoors, then that's generally associated with more physical activity than if they spend time indoors. Other things that you can do together, whether it be go to a park, a playground, a swimming pool, a beach, something that you might be able to incorporate into their days, but particularly for that after school period, even if it's only for a proportion of it that involve spending time outside, is one way that you can incorporate physical activity play into their day that will hopefully help them towards achieving that recommendation.

And then finally recreational screen time, and you can see here the guidelines. And I want to focus particularly on the guidelines for children age 5 to 12 which is less than 2 hours per day. And this is the one that is perhaps most challenging for parents. We are talking here about recreational screen time. So it's not screen time that might be associated with educational activities, or with homework or with learning. And what you're trying to do here is to set some boundaries as a parent around this and trying where possible for this not to occur, particularly during that after school window.

So if there is going to be some time for them to have on their devices, then in addition to setting some boundaries, maybe setting that at a period of time late in the afternoon, but before you start that transition or that wind down for them to go to sleep, that's probably the best time. I would recommend keeping it away from them before school, because again, we want them to try and have some natural light from the sun or from other sources where possible in the morning. And there's probably other things that they need to do in preparation for school there. So setting boundaries and being consistent with those. Often you hear from children saying, why do I have to have boundaries, none of my friends do? And that's not true actually.

So don't be put off by the fact that you think you're the only parent that's doing it. Co-viewing with your child is also very important. So knowing what it is that they're consuming and thinking how you can have a dialogue with them about that. So you can open up opportunities to learn about how they're engaging with media. And you can see here that by limiting the amount of recreational sedentary screen time for your child, you're actually helping them in many areas of their development.

And you can see here that it will also help with ensuring that they get a good night's sleep, that they are well rested and that they have plenty of time also to be physically active. So I'll finish there and happy to take any further questions that you may have towards the end of the seminar. Thanks Joe. Thank you so much, Anthony, for sharing those really, really practical, I think, pieces of information that hopefully some of our listeners today can take away and, you know, think about and implement in their own lives. And you spoke about the importance of sleep, you spoke about the importance of, you know, consistent bedtimes, about finding ways to include movement, which I think is really, really practical ways we can do that. And of course, you know, ending around screen time and I guess that's a great segue to to talk to Professor Lisa Kerwin.

And, Lisa, I know that you in the Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child will have lots to say on this topic as well, leading from what Anthony's just spoken about. So Lisa, your thoughts. Thanks, Joe. It is a favourite topic of mine to talk about, so I'm super excited to have the opportunity to talk about screens. In 2020 we were successful with a bid here, for the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child.

So its home is at QUT in Queensland. And, we have a node here at UOW, the only New South Wales node. And the Centre is focused on understanding digital experiences as we focus on the healthy child, the educated child and the connected child. And so we have a team of more than 100 researchers across Australia and the world, and we work with a whole range of industry partners and government partners on interdisciplinary programs of research to help us understand digital childhoods. Because friends, digital childhoods are real. Almost all of

the aspects of our own lives are influenced by, and perhaps even reliant on, the digital environment. And every day children around the world learn, connect, play and express themselves online. The eSafety Commission tells us that 1 in 3 of the world's internet users are children, and the internet wasn't designed for children. So we actually have some things that we need to be really mindful of. Digital childhoods matter. So in 2021, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Children made explicit that children have rights to access digital technologies for leisure and play as well as education.

So some key points that the UN have made include things like, children need to have meaningful access to digital technologies, that opportunities that are provided by the digital environment play an increasingly crucial role in children's development, and we've certainly seen that with children who have assistive technologies to help them navigate life. We need to be mindful that early childhood and adolescence are crucial times for neurological growth spurts. So I want to talk a little bit more about that in our conversation today. And parents, caregivers, educators and other adults in the lives of children, we have a really critical role and need to make sure that we have training and advice on the appropriate uses of digital devices.

Now, a question I get asked all the time is what training and advice is there? And parents desperately want to understand what they should and shouldn't be doing to support their children's use of an exposure to digital technologies. And as a parent myself, this is something that I navigate on a daily basis too. So how is it that we manage screens alongside the many other things that happen in the life of the child, while also recognising that the digital and their digital childhood is a right and we have a responsibility there as well.

And as we think about this time, you know, the start of school brings many challenges. So moving from the flexibility of holidays to the structure of the school week is significant. Our children spend so much time at school, we need to think about and make decisions about how to best manage the time around the school day. Following on from Tony's points around what happens before and after the school day is really important. So here at UOW, as I mentioned, we host a node for the Centre of Excellence and alongside Early Start's much loved Discovery Space, we have the children's Technology Play Space. So in this space, and doesn't UOW love these spaces, we run regular workshops for children and their adults to help them understand the digital technologies and explore possibilities for their own lives. And perhaps you've been

to some of our sessions. Look out for our Festival of Digital Play, which will be happening later in the year. There's many examples of guidelines around screen time in Australia and internationally.

From the Australian Government of Health to the American Academy of Pediatrics and its different name councils to the Canadian Society of Exercise Physiology. These are just examples amongst many of those who have produced guidelines for children and young people's use of digital technologies. And while I agree with the comments that Tony made, that the time is important and we need to think about the time that children spend with digital technologies in the scope of their whole day, I do wonder sometimes if we get caught up in too much in how much time children should be spending technology.

So I certainly don't want to argue that time doesn't matter, but I want to focus on time allocations for screen use alone and really think about how we can help families know how to navigate the complexity of what it means for a child to have a digital childhood and what matters, what happens in that time. So a universal time limit, in my opinion, is unlikely to be appropriate for all children in all contexts. What if I said not all screen use is bad? So if we focus on time, we need to also really think about the real discussions of quality within that time, the quality of the experience and what it might or may not offer.

So when we look deeper into the advice and look to our current research findings, we can move beyond the focus on time alone and really think about some useful considerations. And to explore these considerations further, I'm going to focus on four key questions and you can see those on your screen there. So the first question, what is it that children are doing with digital technologies? We need to know what it is that children are doing with digital technologies. It's not enough just to say it's less than two hours it must be okay. We really need to be aware of and carefully select programs with our children to view, apps that they play with, YouTube channels that they follow. The content children engage with really matters.

When we're comfortable with the content, we can then prioritise screen activities that are educational, active or social over those that are passive or unsocial. The impacts are great. We know that there's cognitive impacts with child directed experiences. We know there's impacts to executive functions when content is educational or noneducational.

We know there's impacts to behaviour when content is pro-social. Pro-social digital experiences can lead to improved ability to cooperate, share, maintain positive relationships outside the digital experience, sharing and empathy. Things that I'm sure we'd agree are really important in the lives of a child. So let's move to the second question, what are the opportunities to co experience digital technologies with our children? When we take the time to co-view digital content, so here I'm thinking about an adult or a sibling working alongside the child. We can discuss what's happening and we can talk about specific content with the child.

Through verbal communication, we know that we can help children maintain interest and attention, we can be responsive to what's happening, we can make connections beyond the digital to the real world, and we know how important work is for language development, particularly for our younger children. Co-playing with our children, taking a controller and having a go at that game, brings about some positive social development. We know the value of talking, playing, singing and reading together. So if we look for opportunities to do these things with digital technologies, then we're encouraging interaction. We don't want digital technologies to shut down conversations.

Given to, our children spend so much of their time at school, taking time to be with them and to be with what they enjoy doing, is really important. So I also think it's important to be clear about the context for and the purpose of screen use. Digital technologies can offer experiences otherwise not possible and we saw a lot of this during the Covid pandemic. So we can go on a virtual tour to a museum, we can connect with families through video conferencing, we can access experts when we need to. I, like Tony, really want to emphasise that there's a difference between recreational screen time to school screen time, and if you take nothing else from what I'm saying today, please leave teachers to decide what's appropriate for school and you be comfortable with what it is that you decide to do in your home. Which leads me to the third question to think about, what's happening to my child when I engage with digital technologies? As a parent, you are the expert on your child.

You know when their behaviour shifts and you know what excites them and what doesn't excite them. So when we're talking about the digital environment, we need to help children understand what's happening to them when they're using digital technologies. When we use digital technologies, we contribute to our digital footprint, whether we know it or not. So knowing what data is collected is important.

Knowing how to use privacy settings to share what you're comfortable with and what your child is comfortable with, is also really important. And as adults, we need to talk with that child, model and teach those critical digital skills. We want to help our children be competent screen users and in doing so, be productive citizens participating in a digital world. And if things go wrong and sometimes they do, the programming becomes controversial. Ads pop up, talk about it, talk about what's happening, and think about how you can turn that into a learning experience.

But in order for us to do that, we need to be digitally literate ourselves. So we need to know how to use technology, understand how technology can support children and recognise when things aren't going well, and don't be afraid to stop it. So my final question here is thinking about how digital technologies might be best managed in our home? And I want you to think about this for your child and for your family. So we need to consider how digital technologies are managed in our homes, what it is that we're comfortable with and what it is that we're not. For me and my family, we don't have TVs in children's bedrooms. Laptops and phones are charged in a central space from a negotiated time in the evening, never in bedrooms.

And we seek their permission before we share a photo of them. So please be aware of and use the safety controls on devices and be consistent with the rules and the boundaries that you set. So the limits and expectations on time spent, but also what it is that they're doing. If a YouTube channel is okay one day and then not the next, that's when things get confusing.

And as parents, I challenge you, and this is quite difficult and from my own experience a little confronting, review your own digital practices as well and think about when it is that you're on your devices, when you're not on your devices, how you're using them, what's happening around you during those times as well. And make sure as a family that we're planning time for alternate hobbies and outdoor activities. So we really need to make decisions for our children based on our knowledge of them, and reminding you that you are the experts on your children. In 2019, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health posed a whole series of questions to help us examine screen time. The questions focus on controls of screen time, sleep, and whether or not we snack when we're on our screens. But the question I like most is, does screen time interfere with what it is that your family wants to do? And for me, I think that's one of the most powerful questions.

Just to finish at the end of last year, the ARC Centre of Excellence launched a world first longitudinal study of children's engagement with digital technologies, and we're looking for 3000 families across Australia to participate in this 4 year study. So the QR code on your screen will take you to the survey and if you have a child aged between 6 months and 5 years, I encourage you to participate to help us really understand how we can further support children and their adults with digital childhoods. Thank you.

Thank you. Thank you so much, Lisa. It's wonderful to listen to you and your thoughts around digital technologies and, you know, I think that idea of meaningful access, the idea of children having a right to play and a right to digital play. And I guess the thing that I really picked up on is the quality and the quality of those interactions and experiences and co-viewing and being with your child in those play experiences. So thank you.

And I know, lots of what you shared is probably answered some of the things that are already appearing in our chat, and in our Q&A, which is wonderful. So thank you Lisa, and Nicki, I'm very excited to talk to you now as a parenting expert and as a parent myself, we know there's different challenges that come with being a parent. I'm sure this time there's lots of people online who are listening around this transition back to school, whatever that looks like. So I can't

wait to hear from you about behaviour. You're going to talk about behaviour and also diet and how that can impact children. Thank you, Joe. Yes so I will start with challenging behaviours and we tend to make a lot of negative judgements when it comes to challenging behaviours.

We talk about children acting up and trying to manipulate us and doing things to spite us, attention seeking, and the list just goes on. And parents are then wondering, you know, how can I stop this behaviour? And they tend to use rewards and punishments to get kids to comply. And that sounds something like if you do as I say, you can have an ice cream. Or if you don't stop this right now, you will not be allowed to play with the other kids.

Now, these kind of strategies create a lot of stress for the child as well as for the parent, and they're actually ineffective at creating meaningful behavioural change. So why don't these strategies work? They don't work because they don't address what behaviour actually is. And behaviour is a way of communicating. So if behaviour is a way of communicating, but we're trying to stop the behaviour, it's like we're trying to shoot the messenger.

So instead of asking how do we stop the behaviour, it's more useful to ask, how can I better understand this behaviour? And it's by understanding the behaviour and identifying the triggers that are causing the behaviour that we can create meaningful behavioural change. So how do we decode our children's behaviour? Decoding the behaviour is a bit like peeling back the layers of an onion, and the first layer that the behaviour is telling us about is the child's feelings. So when your child's having a meltdown, it's telling you that your child has become overwhelmed by their own emotions.

So if you've said no to the ice cream and your child's then and having a meltdown, it's not that the child's trying to get their way. It's that they felt so disappointed or so angry at not being able to get that ice cream, that they've actually lost control of being able to manage their feelings. So in order to resolve the meltdown, you want to start by calming those feelings down. You don't need to get into an argument about the ice cream and of course you can have an ice cream just before dinner. You know, because your child is not going to be able to respond in a reasonable way.

They're not going to be able to take on what you're saying because they're just too emotional at that point. So to calm your child, you can use these three steps. The first step is to calm yourself. And in the moment I think the best way to do that is to take that calming breath and to consider what the narrative is that you have going. Because if you're thinking that your child is trying to get their way and they're trying to manipulate you, those thoughts are very triggering right, they're very upsetting. But if you can remember in the moment, my child's meltdown is telling me that they're struggling with their feelings and I know how to help them calm down.

That is so much more calming to your own nervous system, and it helps you to be able to empathise and connect with your child. The second step is to calm your child, and you do that with a soothing, loving tone of voice. Maybe with an arm around them if they're not too upset to receive your touch or maybe just with a calm and loving presence. And the third step is to validate the child's feelings and you do that by empathising and reflecting your understanding back to them. So depending on what you think you may be going on for your child, you could say something like, it looks like you might be feeling really disappointed about not getting that ice cream.

And by helping your child to identify their feelings and to be able to process their experience, that makes those feelings much less overwhelming. They lose their power by actually being given space. And feeling understood is calming to the nervous system and it's also the foundation of a positive parent child relationship. Now when your child is calm, then you can have a constructive conversation about the child's experience and your expectation, and you can collaborate with them to work out a better way of doing things next time so that the situation doesn't get so heated. And when children get used to not being blamed or criticised for their behaviour, and they can trust that you will help them to calm and that you will listen to their point of view, they will get so much better at calming down or even not getting so upset in the first place. And they will also get better at being able to express their feelings and thoughts, and to listen to another point of view.

So the first layer of that behavioural onion is about empathising with your child's feelings and helping them to calm down. The other layers of the onion are about finding the underlying issues which may be triggering the challenging behaviours. So, Tony has already spoken about sleep and exercise, and Lisa's spoken about limiting screen time or making screen time appropriate to what your child can cope with. And Cathrine will be talking about relationships, so I will talk about the role and the impact of nutrition on behaviour. So as your child starts their new year of school, it is important to remember that the brain is a really hungry organ.

It consumes the lion's share of the body's energy and nutrients. So we need to make sure that our children have all the nutritional building blocks they need to manage their feelings, to behave appropriately, and to be able to learn. So how do we do that? We want to give our children a diverse, whole foods diet. Thanks for that slide. So, what that means generally speaking, is that our children's diets should consist of lots of vegetables and some fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and animal products such as meat, small fish, eggs and dairy. And what we want to steer clear of is sugar and refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, white flour, white rice, and fast foods and processed foods.

So, when we give our kids sugars and simple carbohydrates, it causes their blood sugar level to spike and then drop. And when it drops, children actually run out of energy to manage their feelings, attention and behaviour. Now, both refined carbohydrates and processed foods are very low in nutrients and we sometimes underestimate how many different micronutrients children need and adults, both of us, we all need for their bodies and especially for their brains to function properly. So when children have low levels of certain nutrients that can present as irritability, emotional dysregulation, anxiety, low mood, and difficulties with learning and attention.

So we want to steer clear of giving children filler foods, foods that fill them up and give them some energy but little else. And on that note, I will also just briefly mention organic food because there is a twofold problem with the use of pesticides. The first problem is that pesticides are affecting us directly when eating conventionally grown produce. But the second problem is that the pesticides are killing the microbes in the soil and those microbes producing the nutrients that go into the food which is grown. And so really, any opportunity we have, we want to support organic and regenerative growers because they are working at restoring the damage that's been done to the soil or that is being done to the soil, so that we can grow nutritious food now and going forward into the future. So if you can find an organic co-op in your area, it's a great blessing because it makes buying organic really affordable.

And I know there are lots of, in Sydney, there are lots of new organic co-ops springing up everywhere, I hope in the Shire as well. If you are interested in setting up your own co-op please contact me, I have some really great friends who are doing amazing work in that area. Now, the other problem with fast foods and processed foods are that they contain, often contain additives and that includes natural and artificial colours, flavours, preservatives, synthetic antioxidants, and lots of other things that can impact our functioning.

Now, some of these additives have been shown to negatively affect children's learning and behaviour, and yet they are still allowed to be used. And the vast majority of additives have never even been tested, so we don't know what havoc they might be causing in our children's bodies and brains. Now, if you're thinking this is all too hard because my child is a fussy eater and they have a very limited diet, I encourage you to think of that as just another behaviour that is communicating something to you.

So what could that be? It's possible that if you implement some relational strategies, you can help to encourage your child to eat a more diverse diet. But there may also be other things that are, other underlying issues that are calling to you to be investigated and resolved. So low levels of certain nutrients can actually trigger picky eating. Other issues could be sensory preferences, food intolerances and imbalances in the gut microbiome.

So I think it's really important to work out what's going on and how can you broaden your picky child's diet so that they're getting all those nutritional building blocks? Thank you so much, Nicki. I particularly love the onion metaphor with behaviour and I can see towards the end of that, you know, your talk, you spoke about diet again and how that links back to behaviour. So I think, thank you for sharing that, that the goal is to better understand the function of the behaviour of our children, how diet can impact that as well, and also that really, really important part about validating the feelings of that child to co-support them through those, you know, challenging experiences that they're going through. So thank you Nicki for

sharing. Thank you. Cathrine, it's wonderful to have you here as well today and I know lots of things that Nicki's been saying, I'm sure you are picking up on because of your expertise in psychology of learning and relationships. So Cathrine, lovely to have you on and looking forward to what you can add to this wonderful conversation.

Thanks, Joe. I think we've gleaned from our discussion thus far that there are many factors that impact children's transition to school, and I've personally tread this path three times with my own three children. And it's a process that takes significant emotional investment from children and their adults.

So I want to round up our discussion by inviting you to think about the school transition process through a learning and well-being lens. Now, when we're talking about transition, we're really essentially talking about change. So as children move into the school context, they need to make sense of a lot of differences, they need to navigate discontinuities, they have to familiarise themselves with new routines and procedures, as well as demands that is place on them in terms of their behaviour and learning.

Now, when we're thinking about not just the transition, but adjustment to school, this really requires children to meet the social and cultural standards of personal independence, which is so different from what happens in those early educational contexts. They need to demonstrate social responsibility, they need to be able to forge new connections and also to build new relationships. So because of all these changes that occur, transitions are really a risky point in education. And we know that a poor transition can not only impact children's well-being and their self-confidence, but it can disrupt the continuity of a child's learning. So as they move from the pre-school into the school setting. Now we know that children are particularly vulnerable during this period, especially if they experience difficulty making sense of their new environment, or they don't develop a sense of connection or a sense of belonging to their school and a class group.

Now, while the focus of school transition is often on the child, we know children don't adapt to these changes in isolation and all learning occurs within the context of relationships. So, as educators and parents and researchers, we know the ability to form and to maintain trusting relationships is critical to our well-being, and it's particularly critical to children's well-being. They not only benefit in terms of their social and emotional adjustment, but they also gain academically when they're able to create responsive and trusting relationships.

And that's not just in the educational context, that's also in other contexts in which children operate. So the transition to school process occurs over time and it involves multiple players. So we have the child, we have the child's adults, we have their friends, we have teachers and we have community networks.

And the research tells us that the child's ability to transition successfully, really depends on the child's own personal characteristics. So their cultural background, what their temperaments like, their own developmental capacities, how do they cope with stress, how do they respond to change? But we also need to look at our own characteristics as adults. So what is our historical relationship with education? How is our own well-being? What is our employment status like?, which can also impact on children's transition process. And of course we also know that effective transition hinges on community resources. So I'm saying some people in the chatter from local hippy programs, so playgroups, community parks, common spaces.

So the quality of those local services also can impact on children's transition. And of course what happens within the educational context matters as well. And that includes where children have come from, so their long day care service or their pre-school service, but also what are the characteristics of the educational setting in which they're moving into it? So another way of bringing evidence to our understanding of what impacts that effective transition for children is looking at what science says about children's brain development and how they learn.

So this means understanding, not only what works for improving children's adjustment prior to, during, and after transition, but it's also about understanding what works in terms of the cognitive and relational processes that enable learning. Now, we often talk about transition as a point of time, and school transitions typically capture the few months leading up to and the few months following that first day of school, the first weeks of school. But the reality is, and particularly if we examine this process through a brain science lens, then we see that young children and families have actually been preparing for this moment since birth. Now we know that the first five years of a child's life represents the most rapid period of brain development, and it's more rapid than any other point in our developmental span.

And so what we find, particularly in those first three years but the first five years, more than 1 million neural connections form every second. So by the time our children start school, close to 90% of their brain structure has already formed. Now, if we think about these formative years, young children develop brain architecture that's going to support them to be able to interact with others, to form friendships and to learn. And while our genes lay a blueprint for children's brain development, so they kind of dictate how we meant to turn it out, it's actually our everyday experiences in our environments and even more than that, it's the quality of the relationships within those environments that literally sculpt children's brains.

So if during these sensitive and I like to think of them as brain building years, if our children grow up in safe and secure and rich and responsive contexts, so they're surrounded by trusted and supported adults, they're read to, they played with, they're engaged in rich conversations, then that child is set up for a lifetime of learning. They have a brain that is ready to learn, they have a brain that's ready to navigate the complexities of transition and a brain that's ready to respond to change. Now, as the brain develops and those rich neural pathways are formed through those repeated experiences, children are acquiring and strengthening the cognitive and emotional abilities that they're going to need in order to support their school transition. And they're also developing the skills that we talk about in terms of school readiness, so what they're going to need in order to succeed in their educational journey. But even more than that, we've laid the foundations for success in life.

So it's during those first five years that children learn how to observe others, how to read emotions, how to listen to instructions, to communicate. Like Nicki talked about, you know, what are my wants and what are my needs? They can use their memory, they learn how to plan ahead, how to cope with disappointment when they don't get the ice cream, how to adapt to changes in their environment, and importantly how to solve problems. But of course, skills beget skills.

So a child who's able, like Nicki talked about, is able to self-regulate and control big emotions when they're faced with challenge or disappointment, that's the same child who experiences greater success forming friendships at school. So it's what we do as adults within the context of our relationships with young children that really set children up on that trajectory of learning success. So every day, whether you're an educator, whether you're a parent or a grandparent or a special friend, you are part of that architectural team which is building children's brains. And of course, children aren't passively moulded by us, they have agency and choice, and that enables them to shape and influence their own development as well. So absolutely, our brains are certainly genetically designed to learn, but the flip side to this is if children don't get to grow up in these wonderful environments, and if they grow up in less optimal context, so they might be exposed to violence or neglect or stressors like acute or chronic stresses, then their brains develop in a way that makes learning of new information much harder to achieve. Now stress is a normal part of children's environments and transition to school is one of those stresses that all children do encounter.

And now, when a stressful event or experience is buffeted by those wonderful, stable and supportive relationships, it can actually help children to develop really positive and adaptive coping skills, which are needed in order for them to be able to cope with change and to build resilience. However, if stress is excessive or it's long lasting and this is often referred to as toxic stress, this can actually have a negative impact on children's brain development. And what this does to young children, is it sensitises them to even the perception of stress. So rather than being able to focus their energy on learning, the brain instead focuses on keeping them safe or protecting them from risk. And these are the children we need to provide additional support to at times of transition.

And these are the children who may view or experience transition to school is a highly stressful or unsettling event. So if we contextualise all of this within a school transition lens, then what we know is a child's ability to navigate the transition to school not only hinges on the quality of their external environments. So thinking about technology, thinking about sleep, physical activity, thinking about their nutrition, all of that influences them, but they're also influenced from their internal environment. So we've got the school, we've got the home, we've got supportive relationships as well as what is happening in that child's brain.

And that brain upon starting school really is very much a road map of experiences and expectations, and it's a road map that tells that child how to interact and that has not been forming a week or so before they start school that's been forming since they've been born. Thank you so much, Cathrine. That's a wonderful way to wrap up a culmination of discussion today. And I think you hit the nail on the head when you said relationships. And I think that's key to this conversation. There's a lot of relationships between diet, exercise, food, the brain and the brain development and the impact it has on transition, and that it's not just that moment in time, but that children are leading up to that, and families as well for a long period of time.

So thank you for sharing that and I've taken my own notes around how I can support my children, when they're going through this transition. So thank you, panel for your expertise. And we do have some time now which is wonderful to go through some of the questions that have popped up in the Q&A. So please bear with me while I look at that and try to get some themes and throw to some of you to answer. So, I know that sleep has come up a few times, so Anthony I might direct to you on this one.

So you talked about the importance of sleep and we're hearing that the start of school can be a time when children find it harder to settle at night and to go to sleep when they should. So do you have any strategies to help children get the sleep they need? Oh, just your Mike. Sorry.

Look, I would just focus on those things that I highlighted again in my talk. So ensuring that there is a wind down period, having dinner, you know, probably somewhere, you know, between 5:30 pm and 7:00 pm type of thing, which might seem really early now, particularly while we're in daylight saving. But you know, and then doing that as a family and then sort of winding down before you go to bed. So the children aren't

going to bed in a fairly, hyperactive state, but that they do feel relaxed, they do feel like they've had some time to be able to wind down is really important. Setting that bedtime as early as possible and as I said before, we're trying to aim for somewhere here depending on their age so that they get between 9 and 11 hours sleep. So somewhere in that window there that you can work with.

So depending on what time you're wanting them to wake up in the morning, to be able to be ready to go to school, work backwards from that. And then those other things about keeping screens out of the bedroom, about not engaging with screen devices before you go to bed, I think those things would be important and give yourself a few weeks to be able to transition back into that after the holiday period. Thank you so much for answering that one, Anthony. I guess leading on from that one, one that's come out as kind of a trend in our Q&A is around children wanting to connect online.

And I think Lisa, this might be something for you and other panellists, of course jump in if you want to add, but Lisa, when is this okay? And what should parents be doing, I guess as a parent what should you do when your child wants to connect in an online space? This is a great question, Joe, and something that's happening in my home too, I think all of my children are wanting to connect with people through games and video calls and so on. I guess I'm not really clear around what the sort of connection is. So I'll talk about video calls and I'll also talk about games.

So in terms of video calls, you know, I think that that's a really positive opportunity for connection, particularly with family members. So, you know, in my talk, I talked a lot about the quality of the experience being perhaps even more important than the amount of time taken for the experience. So I think that opportunity for connection is really rich. So I'd be encouraging, I'd be encouraging children to make connections, particularly with known family members, through video conferencing. I think that's great. You know, the ability to take the iPad out into the garden and show grandma some of the gardening that happened on the weekend, or to kick the soccer ball and show a cousin that you can finally do the rainbow flick, you know, I think that that's a really exciting thing to do. In terms of games,

I think, you know, online connection is really powerful and it's really powerful for social reasons and it can be positive. I would always caution though to be aware that it can become negative too. So I think for the first thing I'd be asking, what is it that they want to connect over? So what's the game? What's the platform? And do my homework on the recommendations of that. And, you know, I think I'm probably the meanest parent in the whole world. My children tell me that everyone else has got things and are allowed to do things that they're not allowed to do. But, you know, I do follow the recommendations and as my eldest has become old enough for Instagram, one of our family rules is that he has to have all these aunties on there as followers too, because if I miss something, I guarantee one of them will pick something up.

So think about the safety things that we can put in the background there as well. Thinking about what sort of information they share about themselves too is important. So if it's a video hook-up, what can they see their name? Can they say things about their home? What's captured in the video shot? Think about bringing in some avatars or something to help protect the identity a bit. Think about who they connecting with, do they know that person? Be clear about expectations, how long can they have? And then I think for me as a parent, one of the things that I'm really mindful of is that I'm around on present. So I listen, I watch, I walk in and out, I say hi to whoever they connecting with.

Just so that there's a sense that they're not there on their own. And I think, you know, I guess if it's going well and it's a really positive experience, then that's great. But I would always, suggest to parents that if you feel it's inappropriate or you feel it's had enough, don't be afraid to stop it. Thank you Lisa. I think that again picks up on that theme throughout this conversation today about, you know, relationships and adults and children together, having experiences in these spaces. I guess I'm trying to look at some of these Q&As, the questions that are coming through and another one in a, in a different kind of way around connections.

A question has come through, how can I help my child make connections between what's happened at home and at pre-school to what they experience when they maybe start school? So I think, Cathrine, that might be a question that you could answer. Thanks, Joe. I've worked a lot with preschools and long day-care around establishing continuities. And if we see transition as being about change, and we know points of change represent times of increased vulnerability and developmental risk, then we need to be thinking about how to best implement approaches and building supports that actively minimise the number of changes children need to navigate. So this means we need to help identify commonalities for children or shared experiences or shared expectations. So for example, schools have rules that children need to follow.

So we might have discussions around what are our rules at home, what were the rules at pre-school, as some of these are similar to the things that you have to do at home. And I guess from a learning or a developmental perspective, we know the more connections we can make between the different contexts in which young children operate, the better the learning and well-being outcomes are for children. So as they're significant adults, we need to consider what information we need to share. And we also need to ensure connections.

So things that I've done with services and families are things like we can empower children by actually encouraging them to ask questions or voice concerns. I think it's really, at this time, it's important to give children a sense of control and a sense of agency, and children are best able to develop a positive attitude and make those connections when they have opportunities to talk about it. So, and giving them really realistic information.

I know Lisa has talked about play before and opportunities for pretend play is really important vehicle for children to work through these understandings and concerns. I've worked with services where we've created like a floor book, an all about school floor book where children and families can make contributions and they can ask questions, they can share expectations and knowledge about school. And I've also worked with services that have invited children from the previously year who have gone to school to come back and talk to the pre-school children and identify familiar songs or books or games that children can connect with and make sense of those connections. And of course, swinging back to what Lisa's been talking about, we can create appropriate digital mediums that can be used to share information with parents. They're really looking for those touch points that strengthen connections between the home and school.

And of course information sharing should be bidirectional. So when my children started school, we sent them with photo books from home. So where the teachers could actually learn about what their interests were, what their likes and dislikes and fears and family.

So really it's about finding touchpoints and supporting as many continuities and commonalities and connections for children as possible. Thank you so much Cathrine, a fantastic answer. The age old questions come up I think about questioning what's in the lunch box. Nicki, I think this might be one for you. So the question, how do I respond to my child when they're questioning their lunch box and then comparing that to what other children have and what they want, and what they have in their lunch box? This is a tricky one and it comes up for everyone.

I would say maybe this sort of, I think we sort of have these different roles as parents. So I would say the first role in that situation is the decision maker as to what goes into the lunchbox. And I think the decision needs to be based on what nutrients your child needs. So they need a healthy, diverse, whole foods diet. And with a little bit of flexibility around what the child likes.

So I think that's, you know, there's no packing a lunch box just to please your child's friends. You know, you really, you want to please your child's doctor when you when you pack their lunchbox. So that's that. The lunchbox is healthy, it maybe has some nice things that your child enjoys. And you send them to school, and invariably when you send them to school, they will open their lunchbox.

And some kids that are sitting around them will go, ew, they used to say yuck. But now they say ew. And when that happens, it's a terrible experience for the child is really hurtful because the other kids are expressing disgust at them, which is a really painful experience for them. So where do we go from there? When your child comes home and they tells you about this experience, you want to emphasise, you know, it's really not nice and it's a really difficult situation for the child to be, you know, they're sort of being pulled into a hopefully healthy direction from the family, and maybe then they're getting these other influences at school and they're sort of the piggy in the middle. So again, as I was saying with the meltdown meltdowns, you are their emotional support network and you're there to empathise and you validate their feelings, you say, oh that must have been very, you know, that must have been very painful, you know, how was that for you? How did that feel? And what did you do, you know, and then you can so give, you know, you want to create this space for the child to express their experience.

And then you can start to collaborate with the child to say, you know, how could you respond? What could you do? But I think, you know, I think there's something to be said for having a conversation with the teacher or with the school. And sometimes schools will bring in external providers, or they will talk to the children about making healthy food choices. And they will also talk about respecting each other's choices. And I think this is the other conversation, you know, my husband is of Italian descent, he used to go to school and he would open his lunchbox and there'd be salami and olives and the kids would go yuck, you know, that smells.

So this is not a new phenomenon

2024-02-17 14:49

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