The calendar is full of events throughout the year promoting, celebrating and remembering different occasions. Some are funny such as International Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day on 23rd fab (rush out now to stock up. If you don’t have a dog you’ll need one of those too). Others are painfully sad as we look to the past such as Remembrance Day and some are incredibly important for our futures.
For me, this week marks one such campaigns that should have everyone talking and yet seems to have been pretty quiet in the media which I feel is a real shame and gross oversight on the part of people who have the power to raise awareness.
5th – 11th February marks Children’s Mental Health week and this year the focus is on celebrating our children’s uniqueness and ‘being ourselves’. In a world where children as young as 8 or 9 have mobile phones with the internet and as such, access to so many social media platforms which then become an intrinsic barometer for their own self-worth, I feel this is incredibly important. The quirky things that make us who we are no longer seem valid in cyberworld where you are encouraged to conform to unrealistic standards of excellence unless you are able to utilise them and become some sort of vlogging internet sensation.
And the real world isn’t much kinder. Children as young as 6 are feeling the pressure of exams in school to determine how ‘good’ they are as learners which in turn often impacts their feelings and early experiences of success and self-worth. As children grow older there are issues with ‘fitting in vs standing out’ when it comes to looking a certain way or having a certain group of friends. In many ways, that’s always been the case but social media certainly isn’t helping with some children ‘bonding’ over snap chat or WhatsApp of an evening at the exclusion of those children who don’t have the technology and are out of the loop and others being bullied and intimidated online.
While there are efforts to tackle all of these issues I don’t believe they will ever disappear and so the question for us as parents is what can we do to ensure that we are raising self-confident and resilient children?
I have spoken before about how anxiety has affected my son Oliver and the lengths I have gone to in trying to help him. His anxiety didn’t start as a result of social media, more a product of life within a family dealing with disability but regardless of the source of the anxiety there are a few simple suggestions here that we can be doing at home to help our children navigate their way through a life which is increasingly becoming more complex and pressured.
Abigail – We use the ‘high and low’ game at tea time each evening. Each person has to go round the table and say the high point and the low point of their day. It encourages my daughter to let me know if any things been bothering her throughout the day that she might not have come to me and told me about otherwise. She’s never really been a big talker about her emotions but since we started the routine of doing this game she definitely talks about how she’s feeling in general a lot more than she used to x
Deb – We talk about :”what made you laugh today”, “what made you sad or unhappy today” and “did Mr Worry visit anyone today” at dinner every evening. If Mr Worry did visit, we talk about what he had to say and what we can do to make him disappear. Then every few weeks over Sunday dinner, we all have to say one nice thing about everyone around the table. This is a real challenge if they have just fell out that day but we have accepted “his farts are noisy but don’t smell too bad” as a compliment.
Louise – We use breathing techniques that she was taught at school to help her calm down ~ breathing in through the nose and then out through the mouth as if she were blowing out birthday candles. Also to lie on her back with her hands on her tummy and to focus on feeling then going up and down with each breath. We also talk openly about feeling worried and talk things through every evening before bed.
Emma – We talk about creating a ‘happy place’ with my 4 year old. We get him to shut his eyes, tell us what he can see, smell, hear and who is there with him. My sister in law is a child psychologist and it is something I learnt from her. It really helps him calm down, especially when he can’t get to sleep.
Kate wrote a great blog post about tips on helping children to deal with stress and anxiety which you can read on her website ‘living life our way’.
Being open and honest
Claire – In our house we talk openly about how we are feeling. We are aware of each other’s feelings and behaviours. If one of my sons has done something wrong or they’re feeling disappointed. We will talk it through. Talk about what went wrong or why they’re feeling disappointed, why it went wrong and what what we can do to put it right. Being a large family we all look out for each other and work as a team. My 7 year old was diagnosed with anxiety. I help him self regulate by controlling my emotions. Getting him to know and understand his triggers. Teaching him how to manage them. Also my children have a strong and trusting relationship where they are open enough to come and talk to myself of their dad, my husband.
Lynn – We teach our boys about the highs and lows of life and to be prepared with a plan b if things don’t go to plan. Our eldest plays for a football academy team. We encourage and support with all our heart but we also talk about it ending and him being released. We want him to prepare for every eventuality.
Jade – I let my children see me when I cry or when I’m upset. I help them understand that it’s OK to be sad and it’s OK to cry; it doesn’t matter how old you are, sometimes you just feel upset.
Using props to help discussion
Miriam -A game I play with my daughter now and again is to take family and friends photos and stick post it notes on them with thoughts about that person like they have lovely hair, they are funny etc and we always end with my daughter’s own photograph with words she can come up with that she thinks of herself. The rule is it must always be positive. I even use the class photo from school and pick ‘random’ kids (never really random as I listen out for names she may have spoken about negatively and use those) to help her see that everyone has positive in them and so does she.
Kate – We use a ‘worry bag’. At the end of the day we write down any worries and put them in the worry bag, which gets put away until the next night. Then once or twice a week we open up the worry bag and go through each worry and how to work through it. It really helps my daughter to stop holding all these worries in her head knowing that they’ve been written and stored away until we deal with them, and knowing we have designated times to sit down and talk it all through. It has really helped her anxiety.
Jemma – The last thing I ask my daughter before she goes to sleep is “tell me three things that have made you happy or grateful today” gets her to concentrate on the positive and gratitude before drifting off
We have outside play daily and hike regularly which I believe has huge mental health benefits
Jeannette Singing with my daughter, usually instantly lifts her mood and drawing too, we use these as almost social stories at times
Laura – My daughter (9) can be anxious at times and has a tendency to be hard on herself. I’m trying to help her think more positively by encouraging her to keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day she writes down one thing that happened that made her feel happy, no matter how big or small. It could be something she has achieved herself or something that someone else has done. She also likes to express herself by writing stories, something her 6 year old brother has started to do too. Other than that I try to have 1:1 time with each of my children so that they both feel valued and special.
Becky – I encourage my daughter to write a diary so she does not keep her feelings all bottled up inside. I also encourage her to express gratitude in her diary to help her focus on the positives too
Building self esteem
Alice – Our son has severe learning disabilities and autism. He also suffers from anxiety, mostly around leaving the house. We always make sure he knows he is loved and accepted whatever he wants to do and with whatever he can cope with. It’s hard to explain to him but we try to relay that everyone has limitations and strengths and we embrace his as much as anyone else’s. When he has a melt down then I always sit with him saying that “it’s ok” until he calms and then when it’s over I ask if he feels better. We’ve gone through tough times but I think we have reached a point in time where he knows he is loved and therefore isn’t afraid of expressing himself however he sees fit.
Carol – It’s simple really… we talk to our 8 yo in an empowering way. By that I mean that we’ve always praised her for the smallest thing right from when she was a baby (building a tower, painting, writing her name, reading well etc). Even the smallest praise over the smallest thing builds a child’s confidence and self-esteem. It’s all too easy to strip it away and it gets easier to do this as they get more impressionable and mix with older children at school. Praise and encouragement is vital for their mental health.
Tapping into their interests
Reneé – Baking! Nothing makes Polly happier! We are super healthy though – our gluten free, refined sugar free sponge cake is delicious. Check out the recipe here!
Emma-Louise – My eldest son finds it very hard to express his emotions. He struggles with anxiety and I have been trying to tackle both of these by encouraging him to take photos, which he loves doing and has a real talent for. When he is behind the camera, he comes out of himself, and he can express himself this way as well. It’s working really well, and he loves being able to do something on his own with me as well, being the eldest of 3 he can feel very left out sometimes as the younger two need me that little bit more.
Huge thanks to the parents who shared the things they do in trying to support and foster positive mental health in their children. I hope you found them interesting at worst and choose some to try with your own children at best. After all, as ***** says, its easier to build strong children than it is to mend a broken man (and woman I must add!)