A leading charity in the North East has launched a unique phone application to help parents better understand their children’s emotions and needs.
The app is a simple, visual method aimed at giving a child the happy experiences it needs for brain development in the first three years of life.
Consultant clinical psychologist Brenda McLackland, who specialises in the relationships between parents and children, was commissioned by Barnardo’s in Northumberland to come up with the educational tool.
Parents are encouraged to use the app to complement a parenting course Barnardo’s has developed called Comfort Zone.
Ms McLackland said: “Everyone knows how important it is to bond with your child and how important the first three years of a child’s life are, but not many people know exactly why that is and just how crucial happy emotions are to a baby’s brain development in its early weeks, months and years.
“If a child does not have good and happy experiences in its early life, it has no connections to these emotions and this can lead to problems and serious consequences in later life for that child.
“Consequences like behavioural problems, problems developing relationships, anxiety and even depression can all come from poor bonding and emotional attachment between parents and children.
“Emotional development is as important as physical development and it is time to put it on the map.
“Comfort Zone helps parents to understand how vital their role is in their child’s present and future emotional health and development.”
Over time, as parents record their feelings by using the app, they will be able to see if patterns develop at certain times of the day or week when they need to focus, or work on their child’s moods. It is a way of supplementing the training they have done and putting what they have learned into practice during the training programme, a guide to help them with day-to-day life and keeping both themselves and their children in the ‘comfort zone’.
Tony Holland, 40, has young son Jack, with his partner Helen, 44. The couple are not part of the Comfort Zone training programme.
Business owner Tony, of Cramlington, Northumberland, said: “The app may be a comfort for parents in the respect that it’s something they can call on to get advice and it may help to make it a little easier to get in tune with a young child’s mood.
“There are perhaps too many phone applications.
“However, anything which is designed, managed and developed in the North East has to be a positive for the region.”
The Comfort Zone training programme takes one day to learn for practitioners and is usually delivered to parents in four to six weeks, during two-hour sessions.
Assistant director for Barnardo’s East Julie McVeigh, who is based in Northumberland, said: “The app is a useful tool to support the training we do with parents. It is a way of monitoring their progress and can be used as a record of their feelings – a mood diary.
“The app has a prompt to tell parents to ‘warm up’ towards their children or to ‘cool down’ if they are becoming too stressed and angry.”
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Worry over children making friends
Almost a third of parents in the North East worry that their children won’t make friends when they start school.
A poll by Action for Children found that a high number of mothers and fathers in the region are concerned about how their child will fit in at school.
Carol Iddon, director of children’s services at Action for Children, which runs four children’s centres in Newcastle, said: “The first day at school is an anxious time, sometimes more so for parents.
“Our centres in Newcastle help them to prepare youngsters for their first year at school by giving them a place to play with other children, to learn to make friends and to develop their language skills.”
Debra Hill, 37, from Blakelaw, Newcastle, attends Action for Children’s centre with her son Joseph, six, and daughter Marcia, four.
She said: “Attending the children’s centre gave Joseph and Marcia a head start at school.
“There were lots of groups and activities that helped prepare them for being in a classroom, teaching them to sit quietly and listen, share toys, and interact with other children.
“There are also groups for parents; I really appreciated learning how children are taught about reading and numbers.
“It’s completely different from when I was at school! Understanding about the curriculum means that I can help Joseph and Marcia when they need it.”
Action for Children also polled its own centre managers to find out what changes in the needs of children and families they were seeing – 41% said that compared to the year before children need more help to reach basic milestones, like being toilet trained or following simple instructions.