There have been several research studies that show that stroking a pet helps increase our happy hormones. This has to be a good thing – especially in these extraordinary times!
In one of the schools that I have been working with, the staff had noticed that Year Two were getting a little bit tetchy and generally unhappy … things were bubbling. They asked if I could help support by finding out what was going on and suggesting some strategies to restore calm so that effective learning could take place. The staff described the children as ‘full’. They were having to cope with so many Covid related changes to school and family life. When I spoke to the children, they found it difficult to put into words their feelings. It was tricky pinpointing exactly what was going on but they agreed that things ‘weren’t quite right’ at the minute.
Following further consultation with the staff, we decided that we needed:
- A vehicle to help the children recognise and share how they were feeling.
- A way to help them self-regulate their emotions so that they didn’t bubble over.
- A common vocabulary and way to support each other.
With this in mind, we decided on using ‘The Calming Cat’. It gave us a flexible and practical approach that could help with the happy hormones.
This is how we tailor made our approach …
Introducing Calming Cat
Firstly, we did a big reveal introducing the cat to the children as a new and very special class pet that was going to help them. One of the boys in the class called out: ‘He looks nice Miss, he looks like a Trevor.’ At this point, our cat took on an identity – Trevor the class cat was born! We showed the children how Trevor’s collar can reflect mood. As a class, they voted as to whether the tag needed to show the cloud or the sunshine and we talked about why. This opened up hugely valuable dialogue. Individual children in the class were given homemade sunshine and cloud cat collar tags to have on their desks so that they could show us how they were feeling and if they needed a personal chat with an adult.
Introducing the Coaching Cards
Step two was to start to introduce the cards. We began with a daily knowledge card (green) shared from Trevor’s side openings. The children really looked forward to seeing what he had for them to think and talk about. Lots of fun was had rehearsing breathing techniques, with Trevor offering supportive meows to the children who tried really hard! We felt that perfecting our breathing meant that we had a firm foundation to build on.
We then worked on introducing activities from the other cards to the whole class. We picked out what we felt was needed in response to what the children were showing us. For example, on a day where the children had lots of pent up energy and frustration levels were high, we all enjoyed Trevor teaching us to do a Lion’s Roar – a prefect release. The beauty of the card system and flexible approach is that you don’t have to follow a set order. This made Trevor truly responsive to the children’s needs. Trevor could suggest a card as and when required as well as in more focussed whole class sessions. It allowed us to sometimes focus on a particular calming skill and strategy for a few days to really embed it or just enjoy having fun with the purple cards to bring us together.
How have we used Trevor and what have we noticed?
The Calming Cat is ideal for targeted work with individuals and small groups. Due to Covid restrictions, we have needed to limit some interventions so we have used him with the whole class. This has however worked really well. We built in options for children to become cat buddies and remind each other of the strategies Trevor has been teaching us. We often use the following questions to help them reflect and embed their newly found calming skills effectively:
- What might Trevor tell us to do?
- What strategy would Trevor suggest to help?
- Can you model a strategy for a friend to copy?
- Who have you seen from our class using a strategy?
- How did that help?
So what have we noticed? Trevor has given us a focus and a non-threatening way to help children to self-monitor and regulate. They are becoming more able to recognise when ‘I’m not feeling quite like me’ and to independently try to do something positive and constructive to help themselves. We witnessed a definite increase in happy hormones on a daily basis!
And here is Calming Cat making a new friend …
For more information about the Calming Cat and Coaching cards, please click here.
Calming Cat and the Coaching Cards were developed by Paula Williams, an Educational Psychologist, to help children and young people learn about their body’s reaction to feelings and how to manage them.
Why not also read our ‘How to manage anxiety and worries’ blog with helpful downloads, written by Paula Williams herself.
A huge thank you to Beccie Hawes for writing this blog for us.
About Beccie Hawes
Beccie has worked in all aspects of Special Educational Needs including mainstream, additionally resourced provision and specialist settings. She has extensive experience as a SENCo, Inclusion Manager, Lead Local Authority SEND Advisory Teacher and has set up and led an inclusion advisory service.
Beccie is currently proud to be the Head of Service with Cadmus Inclusive, part of Cadmus Services, which is based in Walsall. This service has a national reach and actively supports schools with all aspects of providing a high quality education for vulnerable learners. Beccie is the author of ‘The Complete Dyslexia Toolkit’ and co-author of ‘Getting it Right for SEND’ and ‘How to Create the Perfect Partnership with Parents’. Beccie also writes the national Ebriefing: SEND Bitesize. She has developed a number of educational resources to support learners which schools across the UK have purchased and use. Beccie remains very ‘hands on’ in the classroom and is passionate about being at the chalk face to support teachers and children to think differently for a brighter tomorrow. She is also the mum to four boys and a dog.