An educational and developmental psychologist and her team based in Austinmer have launched a program for schools to help children address social and emotional challenges.
The Quirky Kid Clinic co-founder Dr Kimberly O’Brien said the program, Best of Friends (BoF), used fun activities, illustrated stories and craft to help children aged between five and 13 regulate and express emotions as well as how to socially connect with their peers.
“Having those social skills to greet others and make eye contact helps their self esteem and they feel like they fit in and they belong at school,” she said.
“We know kids who feel a sense of belonging do better academically, have higher self esteem and are a lot more engaged and motivated at school and in life.”
Dr O’Brien has been working in the field for 20 years locally and internationally and recently finished her PhD on primary to secondary school transition.
The BoF social emotional learning tool draws on decades of experience in the field and extensive research, and was 100 per cent developed in the Illawarra.
It has been running in a clinic setting for the past 16 years with huge success, so the program was been extended to give teachers the tools to deliver it in classrooms and in line with school curriculum.
Dr O’Brien said it’s difficult to teach social skills to children one-on-one because it involves a lot of theory and role playing, so group settings were more effective with positive engagement.
“You can’t change what your child feels. In fact, your child needs to feel safe expressing a full range of emotions. You can, however, help shape the behaviour that occurs as a result of those emotions,” states the Quirky Kid website.
Dr O’Brien said the success of the program so far was rewarding and exciting, with children having traveled from rural and remote communities in the past to attend BoF workshops.
“I’m just thrilled it’s available in schools now. More schools can be pro-social and help kids develop a sense of belonging in a positive playground,” she said.
So far St Catherine’s School in Sydney has opted in for the program, as well as non-government organisation in Bowral, another private agency in Albury and four more are under review.
The program was also shortlisted for the Educational Publishing Awards Australia 2015, receiving a special commendation.