Guest Blog by Stephen Gardner from Emotion Switch

Emotion Switch is a preventative approach to mental health challenges that gifts children the tools and inner-resources to understand and self-regulate their emotions. Through their workshops and programs in schools they support children aged 7 – 16 to develop essential life skills and strategies TODAY – that will enhance their overall wellbeing, possibilities and opportunities FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE!

THE ‘WHY’ BEHIND THE YEAR 7 HAPPY TRANSITIONS WORKSHOPS…

Over the last 24 months we’ve been fortunate to work with over 1500 children, teenagers and young people in the Scarborough area. Sadly though, even prior to the pandemic we were witnessing a devastating rise in emotional wellbeing deficiencies such as low self-esteem, lack of motivation, stress, anxiety, outbursts of frustration/anger and even depression. With nine in ten children and young people consumed by extremely negative recurring thoughts about themselves – that are being reinforced by their environment. Along with an increase in feelings of fear and uncertainty caused by direct exposure to the news on platforms such as Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and traditional media.

Inevitably, this combined with the adversity and disruption over the last 18 months has generated a snowball effect which if left unaddressed may lead to a further decline in overall quality of life. Along with dramatically limiting their self-belief, aspirations, ability to achieve, attitude and academic performance.

During this time we noticed one year group to be struggling the most. This was Year 6 primary school pupils experiencing high levels of anxiety, uncertainty and fear in relation to their transition to ‘BIG’ School this September. For this reason, prior to the summer holidays we created the ‘Happy Transitions’ workshop for Year 6 Primary School pupils in Scarborough, Whitby, Filey and Bridlington.

Within hours of offering the workshop, we had over 400 children in 8 schools signed up. Unfortunately though, due to isolated Covid-19 outbreaks causing full classes/year groups to self isolate – many of the schools had to cancel at the last minute. Thankfully, we were still able to deliver the workshop to 125 pupils in 3 schools.

The workshops were a huge success as the children were able to overcome many of their concerns. And ‘flip their thoughts’ from worrying about bullying, being scared they won’t be able to make friends and nervous about new subjects – to feeling excited about new experiences, making new friends; as well as being taught our secret happiness habit ‘how to look for the gift in any new experience’.

However, as we only managed to reach 125 children, which is just a fraction of the 1,218 children who started their Year 7 journey in September locally, we committed to do whatever it takes to reach them at Secondary School.

THE JOURNEY SO FAR…

With the amazing support and funding from the North Yorkshire Coast Opportunity Area and local businesses Castle Employment Agency, GCHQ, Proudfoots and Unison – over 800 children have now experienced the workshop. Including every Year 7 pupil in Scarborough town Secondary Schools. As the challenges children were facing had changed slightly (as they had already begun settling into their new Secondary School environment) it was necessary to tweak the workshop to make it even more relatable for the Year 7’s.

THE WHAT, WHY and HOW behind the YEAR 7 HAPPY T Experience…

WHAT
: The main purpose of the 1 hour workshop is to support the children in gaining a different perspective on negative thoughts and feelings they have about themselves and also school. In turn, helping them to increase self-belief, confidence, focus and their willingness to engage/learn.

As the workshops are 90% engagement led (by the children), this group setting approach proved to be extremely successful as it created a natural, safe environment for the children to express how they were feeling. One of the most significant impacts of this has been they started to develop a greater degree of empathy and compassion towards themselves as well as towards others (i.e. friends, younger siblings, teachers and parents).

WHY
: Even for adults, any significant change in our circumstances and/or environment can generate feelings of uncertainty and thoughts that don’t serve us. Not only do these consume our focus, but over time can have dramatic effects on our emotional and physical health (as well as our work). In many cases these are simply caused by beliefs (stories) we have of how something might be – without ever actually questioning or having any evidence to suggest if they are really true (or NOT).

For example, whilst delivering the Year 6 Happy Transitions Workshop at Gladstone Road, a pupil said his biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be able to make new friends at Secondary School. His belief (story) was that he wasn’t good at making new friends. When we asked his current friends in the class to raise their hand – every pupil (all 52 of them) raised their hand. In that moment, he was able to question the story he’d been playing in his mind (over and over), and realise that perhaps he wasn’t too bad at making friends after all.

This is just one example, but in almost every instance – the same principle applies to all of us. Simply by helping children to raise awareness and question their beliefs (stories), can have a rapid and significant impact on their thoughts. And in turn, their long term wellbeing, their actions and their results.

HOW: After now working with close to 2000 children and adults over the last 5 years, we’ve identified one of the most powerful influencers of our attitude, behaviour and self-belief – is the ‘IDENTITY’ we give ourselves. In essence, the ‘WORDS’ we use to describe who we are.

At the start of the workshops, on average nine in ten children could not think of one positive word to say about themselves. With many of them feeling ashamed or believing that it was wrong to think positively of themselves (as they associated it with being ‘too confident’ or ‘bragging’). We’ve seen first hand working with adults over 5 years how damaging this is and can limit every area of our life if not addressed at a young age.

I AM THICK, STUPID, UGLY, A GEEK and A FREAK….

During the Happy T Workshop’s the children hear a story about a young girl in Year 3 (aged 7) that took part in the Emotion Switch Bite Size Challenge earlier this year. One of the exercises during the challenge is called ‘MY WORDS ARE MY WORLD’, where they’re asked to write down 5 words they use to describe themselves.

The exercise only takes a couple of minutes and after they’ve finished we ask if anyone would like to share their words. One little girl raised her hand and said ‘the words I use to describe myself are that I AM THICK, STUIPID, UGLY, A GEEK and A FREAK’. When asked if these were really her words, she said ‘no this is what my family calls me’.

One Year 7 pupil who heard the story said ‘no one likes bullies, but we actually bully ourselves in our minds more than anyone else’.

A powerful and true statement from someone so young.

As you can imagine, when the Year 7’s hear this story, they are absolutely shocked and saddened that someone so young would say this about themselves, until they have to do the same exercise for themself. This is why within the first 10 minutes of the workshop, with the help of their friends (and a little help from us), they’re able to change this and leave with a new ‘POSITIVE IDENTITY’ that they can focus on and overtime start to embrace.

And don’t worry, with regards the story of the little girl in Year 3, with the help of her class friends she was able to instantly question her old identity and take on a new one. Her friends could not wait to shout out and tell her they thought she was ‘funny, kind, caring, beautiful, clever, happy… and so many more’.

SCHOOL IS ACTUALLY QUITE FUN…

Again, just like us adults – we’ll often categorise our whole week, month, even the full year as GOOD or BAD. Or say ‘I can’t stand work’. When in reality, this is rarely the case as it’s often just one or two aspects (or negative events) we’re focusing on so intensely, that then makes us feel like it’s so much worse than it really is.

This is the same for children who say they don’t really like school. This is why during the workshop, we ask them to share what they ‘don’t like’, followed by ‘WHAT THEY LOVE ABOUT SCHOOL’. In every instance the POSITIVES always far outweigh the NEGATIVES. Simply by getting the children to question their beliefs (stories), they’re able to change their focus and instantly change the meaning they give to school.

THE EMOTION FORMULA… IT’S AS EASY AS 2+2 = 4

One of the most important parts of the workshop is to help children understand exactly how their emotions are generated. The reason being is that their level of awareness surrounding emotions has significantly increased in recent years. However, awareness alone doesn’t help and we’re seeing how this is actually leading to additional confusion, distress and overwhelm – that can so easily be prevented.

During the workshop, the children discover exactly how their emotions are generated with a simple formula that really is as easy to remember as 2+2=4. Through this process and learning an extremely simple habit ‘FLIP THE THOUGHT’ – they naturally come to their own realisation by shifting their focus. As well as changing the meanings they give to challenging experiences (at school or home), they feel empowered with the tools and inner-resources to rapidly transform how they feel – helping them to be happier and healthier… FOR LIFE!

The Happy T Workshops were very positive and engaging sessions which have promoted conversations about emotional wellbeing. Well matched to our RSHE curriculum at a crucial transition.
Head Of Life
Scalby School

The workshops were powerful and really supported our students to explore their emotions and help understand how they were feeling. Thank you for delivering such valuable sessions!
Assistant Vice Principal
George Pindar School

NEXT STEPS…

We truly believe that children are literally the future of our tomorrow and deserve everything they need to succeed in every area of their lives. Which is why we believe in ‘PREVENTION’ not ‘INTERVENTION;

We’re so pleased at how well the Happy Transitions workshops have been received by the schools, teachers and most importantly – the children.

However, it has also highlighted just how important it is to provide them with basic habits that have the power to rapidly transform the way they think and feel. As well as developing essential life skills and strategies TODAY – that will enhance their overall wellbeing, possibilities and opportunities… FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE!

If you would like to learn more about ‘WHAT THE CHILDREN THOUGHT’ of the Year 7 Happy Transitions Workshops and how they’ve already been using the tools to help their friends – please visit our website www.emotionswitch.org to see their video testimonials.

Thank you for reading.

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