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Mental health focus in early childhood education is now an indispensable component in today’s children’s well-being

A new textbook by OEL (Holdings) Limited (OEL), together with its subsidiary ESO Health Child Care Pte. Ltd. (ESO), has surpassed the traditional education model by prioritising social-emotional development to cultivate a child’s self-confidence and resilience, help them adapt to societal pressure, and enhance their intelligence, emotional and adversity quotients

“Efforts have to begin when a child is young, and one way is to develop social and emotional growth in toddlers for them to become confident and resilient individuals,” says CEO of OEL (Holdings) Limited, Ms Alice Zhao Xin. PHOTO: OEL (Holdings) Limited

Today’s early childhood education is facing unique challenges that are very different from the older generations, with excessive use of technology and social media, which can potentially aggravate anxiety and increase social pressure in a child from a young age. 

According to the Children’s Mental Health division under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States, 1 out of 6 children develop mental disorders in early childhood, affecting how they learn, behave or handle their emotions. Those without a diagnosis often receive medication treatment without accompanying psychosocial intervention.

So, what does it take to raise a resilient child? This question is especially relevant during the pandemic, which has caused much disruption and stress for many people, including children.

Psychologists, according to the American Physiological Association, define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors.

Being resilient has a lot to do with having good social-emotional skills such as self-awareness, social awareness, self-management, relationship management and responsible decision-making.

In addition, a person's Adversity Quotient (AQ) is especially important as the higher the person's AQ level, the more he is able to remain positive, accept challenges and find creative problem-solving skills in the face of adversity to be a highly capable, productive and creative individual.

With that said, OEL (Holdings) Limited recently published Social-emotional Development for Toddlers (Level 1), a new textbook targeting children from 18 months to three years old. It is the first in a series of four textbooks, with Level 4 suitable for children up to six years old.

The textbook aims to help children develop these skills, as well as enhance personal effectiveness, build positive relationships, adapt to societal challenges, in addition to strengthening their mental health and well-being, and avoiding unnecessary treatments via medication.

ESO believes that for children to shine daily, they need day-to-day support from parents, teachers and society.

Discovery Kidz Preschool, run by OEL, has received the book one month ago and begun social-emotional learning activities. PHOTO: OEL (Holdings) Limited

A holistic approach to social-emotional development 

As a subsidiary under OEL (Holdings) Limited, an investment company with childcare wellness as one of its leading core businesses, ESO is an advocate of holistic education and a firm believer that children should acquire social and emotional skills from an early age to lay a good foundation for lifelong mental wellness.

The reason for publishing the textbook stems from ESO’s belief in spreading awareness on the importance of social-emotional development, following recent reports on childhood mental disorders and violence globally. 

A global survey on Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results from PISA 2018 by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2018 indicated that globally, 23 per cent of children had experienced school bullying or child violence. In Singapore, the percentage is 26. 1 out of 16 Singaporeans also suffer from depression, as reported by HealthHub.

ESO believes it can play a key role to help children thrive in these stressful times. To achieve this, it needs to engage parents, teachers and the society at large to pay close attention to the social and emotional education of children. 

OEL’s chief executive officer Alice Zhao Xin adds, “We strongly believe that a child’s actions can be positively or negatively influenced, and childhood experiences can impact the individual’s future. This belief is supported by childhood psychologists and clinicians who have mentioned that the seeds for violence later in life may be shown in early childhood. 

“Hence, we think that efforts have to begin when a child is young, and one way is to develop social and emotional growth in toddlers in order for them to become confident and resilient individuals.”

The Social-emotional Development for Toddlers textbook, which is authored by Dr. Huang Qiang with the editorial committee of Chairman Prof. Liu Yunhua, member Miss Zhao and senior advisor Prof. Susanne Ayers Denham (Emeritus University Professor of Psychology at George Mason University), drew references from a research paper, Enhancing Emotional Vocabulary in Young Children by Dr. Gail E. Joseph, a professor in early learning at the University of Washington College of Education in the US. 

The content is also based on the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework from the US Department of Health and Human Services that advocates the skills, behaviours and knowledge children should develop for school and long-term success. 

Says Ms Zhao, “According to the research in the professional field of early childhood psychological education, this is the first textbook in the contemporary era to systematically apply Dr. Joseph’s research results to the practice of early childhood education.

“It also incorporates the two national-level children’s emotional development guidance frameworks and the research results of other talented early childhood education experts to meet the needs of children’s social and emotional education, and fill the gaps in the early childhood education resources.

“Parents play a big part in the social-emotional development of their children but many are unaware of what to do and where to find the resources needed to get started. They can now use this book at home to enhance what their child learns in preschool.”

In the long run, ESO hopes to prevent or reduce child violence incidents, increase social positive energy and have a more welcoming environment for people with mental illness, Ms Zhao adds.

Effective learning at home and schools

The Social-emotional Development for Toddlers (Level 1) textbook includes several recommendations. For starters, parents should try to commit 30 minutes a day over a regular five-day period to engage their child to recognise and perform 16 emotions in various scenarios stated in the textbook. This can be done through an activity chosen from five specific activities, such as painting a face with emotion and guessing emotions from “emotions cards”. 

It is recommended to let the child learn one emotional vocabulary word per week. The textbook comes with 16 cards, each focusing on one emotion.

After three weeks of learning, parents should test the child on recognising and performing the word on the cards on the fourth week. If the child is not successful, repeat the three-week regime.

Avoid rushing through the process as the key to successful learning is to be consistent. It is the norm for a toddler to take about a year to be able to recognise and perform the 16 emotions. 

There is also a tutorial on how a child can seek help from adults during times of distress, like when they are not able to get what they want. 

A lesson plan is included to guide parents on how to use the textbook, in addition to problem-oriented teaching in story-telling and role-play activities to encourage children to learn, remember and express emotions.

The textbook is recommended by various early childhood education experts and psychologists, namely Prof. Susanne A. Denham, Emeritus University Professor of Psychology from George Mason University and member of American Psychological Association, Dr. Lynn Wiener, Director of Yale New Haven Hospital Day Care Centers, Prof. Michael Chia from Nanyang Technological University, Dr. Smita Singh from James Cook University (Singapore), and Dr. Weipeng Yang from SR Nathan School of Human Development.

OEL and New-Haven Hospital Day Care Center (DCC) in the US have formed a partnership with a common goal of achieving their mission of high-quality care for young children. The textbook is currently used at Discovery Kidz Preschool (DKP), run by OEL, and DCC.

It is now available for sale at $38 to the public. Get five per cent off with the promo code SPH2021

Visit www.esoeducation.com to purchase a copy of Social-emotional Development for Toddlers. Call or WhatsApp (65) 8614 8081 (Nicholas) for more information.

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