Category Archives: mental health

The long term

In Bath, we are entering week 8 of this first term back. If I am honest I didn’t think we would get to this week, I genuinely thought the schools would have been locked down or there would have been a 2 week half term as a circuit breaker, I know I’m not the only person in education who was hoping for the 2 week half term!.

My role is in reception classes, and all the reception classes I am in feel pretty normal, and this is down to some very dedicated staff making it feel ok for children. I know senior leaders, teachers, and teaching assistants are working so hard to make this ok. The transition into school is always hard, and we are seeing children who are finding the transition trickier after having 6 months at home. But at this point in the school year, I am not so worried by the children, but I am concerned about how much the staff are carrying and how tired many of them are.

As an outside person going into schools, I can see the job in a school is harder. There is more planning, more cleaning, lots of logistical thinking around keeping the children in their bubbles, barely any time to take a lunch break as the staff are often monitoring the lunchtime for their class, virtual school meeting’s, virtual parents evening alongside the hope that they and the children in their class won’t get Covid. This is a lot of additional thinking and worry.

If I am honest I am quite concerned about term 2, the term which is always nuts!, planning for Christmas often starts straight into the new term. To survive the term 2 education staff need to be well organised. Alongside the additional things they try to fit in with all the teaching they need to do and targets they need to reach; they also have the children’s rising excitement and for others the distress because it is all changing and they don’t like change. This alongside minimal lunch breaks, extra cleaning, extra planning re Covid, trying to keep everyone safe, that is a huge burden.

What is the answer? I don’t have one, but I do know that anyone who is living with or is friends with a teacher or teaching assistant, be kind to them this half term, be extra kind. They may need lots of rest and relaxation, but I know many will be using the half term to prepare for term 2, but they also need a break from work and schools and thinking and planning.

Hope for the new term

With the start of the new term, I am feeling fizzy inside!, it’s not a dread, thankfully I love my job, however, it’s the fizz of expectation with the slight nervousness and unknown of what lies ahead. I am aware that over the last week this feeling has been growing. I usually experience this a little on the return to school. But this year it is a stronger feeling than normal, as we are not in normal times. I haven’t met the new children I will support, I am not totally sure what the new school set up’s will be like, and I am slightly anxious about how children who have been out of a setting for 6 months will feel about starting school.

I am hugely aware that I feel unsure, and this includes slight nagging doubts and questions about will I remember what to do, what happens if a child becomes dis-regulated on my first day in a school, will I remember how to respond. The logical part of my brain kicks in and tells myself this is my work world, I know how to respond, as my 21 yr old daughter this morning reminded me I will automatically say ‘ Wow I can see you are so cross and angry, your face is red and I can see you want to hit, but we don’t hit people’ and then apparently I will play with mud or playdough! ( according to her this sums up my job well!). And I expect she is right.

But if I am feeling fizzy and slightly nervous, then I am pretty certain teachers, headteachers, parents, nursery workers, children and young people across the country are also feeling that slight anxiety, worry, fizziness. We are in different times, this is not just a normal new return, which can be hard for many in ordinary times. This is different, as well as the usual concerns there are of course many anxieties around COVID, safety, and protection, for some they have been away from school or nursery for 6 months, that all complicates our feelings and anxieties.

Knowing that I am feeling like this, I am trying to pay attention to my breathing, spend more time outside noticing and enjoying nature, barefoot walking, and wild swimming, all ways to be extra nurturing to myself.

My hope for the new term is that wellbeing will be high on the agenda, that headteachers and managers will be supporting their own wellbeing and from there they are then able to support their staff wellbeing who are then able to support the children’s wellbeing. Wellbeing needs to underpin this return, it can’t be an add on, it needs to be an embedded approach. But also parents and partners of staff who work in education need to focus on their loved ones’ wellbeing in these next days and weeks. Provide food, hugs (where allowed), chocolate!, a listening ear. This needs to be a joint effort, a joint support package.

Focus on children’s wellbeing

The last two weeks I have had the joy of working on a playscheme, the team I worked with included artists, sports coaches, forest school leader, playworkers, and nurture workers. We represented 6 organisations and we worked with 2 bubbles of children, with 42 children altogether, from 28 families and 9 schools, funded by St Johns foundation. The children were aged 4-11. Our ethos was based on high-quality early years practice, following children’s interests underpinned by a nurture approach. The whole play scheme was delivered outside on a school site, in their forest school area.

Before it began I was slightly nervous about how it would be, sometimes playschemes can be manic, especially if there is a team of adults who think the way forward to is to hype children. This play scheme was intentionally well planned with calm adults and a nurturing basis. The team leader and I have a long background in the early years and we wanted a playscheme that would nurture children and offer them open-ended opportunities in the way many early years settings offer. The aim was also to offer sports, art, play in an outdoor provision to support the children’s mental health and wellbeing. We knew that this could work across the ages of 4-11 and it did.

For many of these children lockdown has been a tricky experience, quite a few of the children had not been socialising with people outside their family, some of the children lived in flats with a limited outdoor provision, for many of the children lockdown had been a stressful experience and has negatively impacted their social, emotional and mental health. The children were identified and nominated by their schools. My role was to support the emotional wellbeing of the staff and children, we intentionally had a high ratio of adult to child, enabling us to offer the safety and emotional regulation that the children needed.

Part of the reason the playscheme worked so well, better than any of us imagined or hoped for, was the multidisciplinary team. Children were able to choose the things they wanted to do and the staff was able to facilitate and support this, one little boy discovered he is really good at hockey, he told us he hates sports but he tried hockey and loved it, another child discovered she loves making things with clay, other children experienced a campfire for the first time, the children together with the play workers made a wooden treehouse and took pride in what they had made. One boy on the last day wanted to chop down a tree, this was made possible with the support of staff, as there was a tree on the site that needed removing. Throughout the playscheme the children found space to be with others, to chat about how they were feeling, to express themselves through art and sport and play.

For years I have been been a huge advocate of following children’s interests and enabling children to discover new things and opportunities by offering open-ended provocations. This play scheme reminded me again of how powerful it can be when children have adults around them who can follow the child’s interests, who can come alongside them with interest and curiosity and co adventure with them. We hoped at the beginning that the playscheme would offer respite to the children from the ongoing challenges of COVID, we hoped that it would give them the freedom to play and socialise. It certainly did this, but for many of the children, it also gave them new opportunities, helped them to see themselves in new ways and discover new things about what they can do and enjoy. As we all reflected at the end, this playscheme also hugely benefitted the staff, there was a lot of laughter and delight at being with the children, it gave us a renewed sense of purpose and reconnected us to work we all love and are passionate about.

My final reflection on the time was how crucial these 2 weeks were for the children’s wellbeing, on the return to school my concern is that many schools will go back to how it was before lockdown. During lockdown many children have not had the chance to be with friends, socialise, play, be active and be creative. This needs to be addressed, I would love to see every school putting on a playscheme for all their children on the return, how radical and positive that would be. I know I am dreaming big here, and I know many will tell me it is out of the question. But, there does need to be an emphasis on children’s wellbeing when they return, and using the arts, play, sport and emotional support is an excellent way to assist that.

The organisations involved were:

Brighter Futures

Bath area ply project

Forest of imagination

Twerton infant school

Get sported

St Johns foundation

Wellbeing ideas for children on the return to school/ nursery

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Early years staff and reception teachers have been working extremely hard over the last few weeks preparing settings ready for children to return in June. I know for many this has been a hugely stressful experience, re thinking the spaces and resources children are able to access.  When children return we know their experiences will be massively varied, when they return we are all going to need to pay even more attention to their emotional and mental wellbeing. During this last week the team I work with have been pulling together wellbeing ideas for reception class staff to be able to use in the classroom, some simple ideas which can support children’s wellbeing, that can be done individually or with a socially distanced group and ideas where the resources won’t cause cross contamination. I hope these ideas might be helpful to others.

 

Bubble breathing – Give each child their own small pot of bubbles, tell the child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calm. Get the child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away their worries and fears. You can buy a pot of 24 mini party bubbles from amazon for around £5.

Bee breathing Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Barefoot walking Do this activity all together go outside on a grassy area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Get everyone to take shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel. Bare-foot walking is a slow and mindful activity.

Senses exercise You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Calming bottle – Get each child to fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get the child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book-Get each child to draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Playdough give each child their own pot of play dough to play, squeeze, explore, make a face.

Feather breathing – give each child their own feather, encourage them to take a mindful moment with the feather, notice its colour, texture, how it feels against the skin. Then ask children to take a breathe in and breathe out blowing onto the feather. Do this 3 or 4 times. You can then ask the children to let go of the feather on the out breathe and see if they can keep it in the air with their breathe.

Finger breathing Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

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Make a worry doll ( see bellow) and read the book Silly Billy by Anthony Browne, Worry dolls taken from Alistair Bryce -Clegg website

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Movement breaks

 

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Sunrise

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, the overall theme is kindness. As people who know me will be aware mental health is an area I spend a lot of time in, I work with 4 yr olds who have social, emotional, and mental health difficulties and my Mum has Bipolar. This lockdown period has been a huge challenge for so many children, young people, and adults who have mental health difficulties. It’s also been a huge challenge for people who don’t usually have mental health difficulties.

During this lockdown, I have found myself being asked to write more articles, deliver more training, do more short video links around mental health and wellbeing alongside virtually supporting schools, families, and staff I work with. I found myself regularly questioning what on earth do I know about how to stay mentally well in these times. I am also trying to write a new book on how we support children with social-emotional and mental health difficulties. Lockdown seemed the ideal time to write a book, but actually, that isn’t my experience!.

In my writing and training, I talk about the importance of a routine for children and adults to support wellbeing. My usual routine before the lockdown was to do an early morning swim each Monday-Friday, I have been doing this for around 8 years. In lockdown I decided to replace my swim with a sunrise walk, at the start of lockdown this was around the time I would normally leave the house, 6.05 and it felt good to continue my normal routine. Then the clocks changed changing the time to 6.50 this still felt good. If I am honest I didn’t think that lockdown would last that long, I could cope with the idea of 4 maybe 5 weeks, I couldn’t cope with thinking of it longer than that. So I decided I would keep going with my sunrise walk. I knew the routine was important, I knew being outside was good for my wellbeing, but it’s become more than that. Now 9 weeks on the time of sun rising is getting earlier, tomorrow it will be 5.14 in our area, by the end of May it will be 4.59. I have been asking myself how long will I keep going, it doesn’t look like pools are about to reopen, so do I keep going, or do I stop? The problem is in my thinking about stopping, I have realised how much I cherish seeing the sunrise. It gives me hope for each day, it’s become a spiritual act, a time where I am reminded that all is not lost, there is still hope with a new day. More than ever this lockdown has shown me I need routine. Also, when all around me feels heavy and frightening, I need to see some beauty and something positive. Starting the day in this way feels like a gentle nurturing act of kindness to myself. I was talking it through with my husband this morning, I am thinking I might just keep going. The solstice is 21st June, sunrise here will be 4.52, that doesn’t sound too bad.

I have written a few books around mental health, see links below

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing- a practical guide for professionals and parents

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff – a practical guide for looking after yourself and your colleagues

Mummy’s Got Bipolar. 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- 

There is also a free animation of Mummy’s Got Bipolar on Youtube 

 

 

Gardening as a radical act

 

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This weekend I have mostly been gardening, I know I am very fortunate to have a garden and I have felt so grateful for this all weekend. My garden is long, quite wild, my gardening style is to put things in and see what happens, it’s haphazard and some things do amazingly well ( too well sometimes!) and other things do less well.

Since the lockdown, I have been growing lots of seeds in my greenhouse, mostly vegetables, but also flower seeds. I always grow from seed, but this year I have become very busy in the greenhouse with an increasing range of seeds being grown. I am trying new varieties of Tomato, and cucumber, lots of new flowers and I am also growing loofah plants. I realise the time in my garden and greenhouse feels gentle and slow, it feels calming and safe. I have always known that I find gardening to be a nurturing act, but at this time, it has felt life-saving.

I have been thinking about how gardening and growing plants feel like a radical act of hope in this time of COVID 19. While our normal lives have stopped, while there is worry and fear and grief and despair around us, I am aware that my act of growing is a rebellion to all of those things. I can’t pretend COVID 19 isn’t happening, but I can look forward to changes, new growth, new life. I am looking forward to sharing in the months ahead, with family and friends the fruit and vegetables of my garden. I am looking forward to giving gifts of homegrown Loofahs at Christmas, from my greenhouse. I am enjoying being able to share surplus seedlings and plants with friends who live nearby, leaving them on doorsteps when I am on my weekly shopping trip or daily walk, waving at friends through the window. This reminds me that there are still acts of hope there is still a way to connect with others.

In my last week before I became a homeworker, I planted seeds with the nurture children I work with, they decorated a small ceramic pot and we planted flower seeds for them to take home. At the time I was aware this may be my last session with them for months, I love growing things with children and it’s an activity I often do, but I hadn’t realised at that time the significance of this act. The children took home their pots and were encouraged to nurture these seeds. I now hope in growing these seeds they will be reminded of our work and our nurture times together. I have heard one of my boys has been excitedly telling his teacher each week in a telephone call how the seeds are growing, I am going to be speaking to him tomorrow, I am looking forward to hearing his delight in the small act of hope.

Goodbye to January

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This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.

This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!

These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.

To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.

Awe and wonder around us

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This weekend my husband and I went to watch the wonder of Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels, we live quite near the area and it’s something we have started to do each year over the last few years. It’s an amazing spectacle to watch, so awe-inspiring, the movement and fluidity of the birds, in synchronisation with one another is incredible. It is a natural wonder.

This term I am delivering lots of staff wellbeing training, over the coming months I will be delivering this 8 times. In many ways, it’s no surprise that January and February are the months that schools and nurseries are wanting support in this area. For some people January and February can be quite bleak and tough, the lack of sunshine and often endless rain in the UK doesn’t help that. Each time I deliver wellbeing training I talk about being outside, I encourage the participants to get out, to spend time in nature, enjoy the outdoors, to engage with the awe and wonder that surrounds us. This can feel hard to do in the winter months, but it’s worth making the effort. There is growing evidenceshowing how engaging with nature boosts our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Watching the murmuration yesterday evening we were alongside many other people, of all ages, but particularly families with young and older children. It was a joy to share this delightful moment alongside strangers. You would often hear gasps of wonder from across the ages at the sight they were watching, there was something magical that we were all sharing. A reminder of how precious our earth is, how wonderful nature is. I did not doubt that our hour spent out in the dusk, watching birds was a huge boost for everyone’s wellbeing.

Swimming to deal with stress

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Life can be stressful, but sometimes when we work with vulnerable people we take on their stress. An important question to ask is whether the stress you’re feeling is your own or someones else stress. I first heard this idea from Louise Bomber in her book Inside I’m hurting, an excellent book about working with children with attachment difficulties, she talks about how easy it is for staff to take on the stress and trauma of the child they are working with and encourages us to ask the question is this my stress or someone else’s.

Over the last few days, I have been feeling increasingly agitated, at first, I thought it was down to the persistent rain and the grey sky, but over the weekend I have realised it’s the stress and worry I have taken on from a school and 2 children. It’s not my stress, but it feels like mine, it has been impacting my sleep, leaving my jaw feeling tight and causing me to feel doubt about what I am doing. This morning I realised this isn’t my stress, these are not my feelings, I have taken these on from somewhere else. Having that moment of realisation was really helpful but I also knew I needed to act on it.

We all have different strategies to deal with the impact of stress on our body, but I know for me the main way is to swim and if possible outside in cold water. Over the last 6 months, I have been cold water swimming regularly and it has helped me feel so good. Particularly as the water gets cooler, the shock to skin, the way it makes your heart race, cold water swimming forces you to be in the moment, to be mindful, to forget what is on your mind, to forget any tightness in your body, and once you have started swimming and began to adjust to the cold you feel so alive and so happy ( that’s my experience). This afternoon I went to a new spot to swim, Clevedon marine lake ( a tidal pool) It was a fantastic swim, it was cold, but not too cold yet ( around 13 degrees), it was seawater, which I love, but in a tidal pool, I really enjoyed the feeling of being in the safety of a pool but in seawater. The endorphins kicked in and I felt fantastic when I got out, eating whiskey cake and a warm drink afterward also really added to the after experience!. I now feel ready to go into the new week, I feel calmer, happier, more relaxed and prepared for the new week.

Recognising feelings and emotions

 

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This week it is world mental health day on Thursday 10th October, a day when many organisations, nurseries, and schools will be focusing on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Raising awareness is so important, however, one day a year or one wellbeing week a year in a nursery or school is not enough to embed practice. One area that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how we enable children to have a wide emotional vocabulary and understanding. If we can help children from a young age to understand the feelings they have, to be able to interpret what is going on in their bodies, then we are setting them for a good foundation of emotional wellbeing.  

Along with this is helping children to understand we all have a wide range of emotions and that is ok, we don’t have to be happy all the time. Over the last few years I have worked with a few children who have a fixed smile on their face, at first it is easy to think they are happy, but once you spend time with them, you realise it is a smile that comes out of a place of feeling uneasy, unsure, a bit scared, and they don’t know how to express these feelings. We need to help children to understand it is ok that they are not happy all the time, they can be sad or angry or jealous or scared, these feelings are normal. The problem is when we think happiness is a state we should aim to be in all the time, this can set us up to feel like a failure. As adults we need to model and show children that we all have wide range of feelings and emotions and to be able to name them, part of this is by regular acknowledging how we feel and noticing how the children are feeling- ‘ Lily I can see you are feeling tired and a bit sad today, that’s ok, would it help to spend some time sitting quietly together and looking at a book?’ or children I am feeling a bit worried this morning, I have lost my keys, I keep looking for them, do you think you could help me find them. A rich emotional vocabulary needs to be what we constantly hear in our early year’s settings.

If we can help children to have an emotional understanding and vocabulary from a young age, we are equipping them with a tool for life. I often come across adults who have a really limited emotional vocabulary, they find it so hard to express appropriately how they feel, or they feel guilty about not always feeling happy with their life. This is an unnecessary burden to carry through life, as early years workers we can help to change this. 

I am being interviewed about emotional literacies by Kathy Brodie on her Early Years summit if you want to hear this and many fantastic interviews a link is here

There is a growing range of resources we can use to help children understand feelings and emotions and to support mental wellbeing. A few books I have written are:

Mummy’s Got Bipolar 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- ( for children aged 7 plus)

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Practical Guide for Professionals and Parents