Category Archives: Nurturing

What helps your mental health and wellbeing?

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On Tuesday this week, it is world mental health day. We know that there is rising level of stress and anxiety in adults ( as well as children). In 2015 there were two survey’s with teachers and early years staff, they found that 79% of teachers were considering leaving the job due to stress (Espionza 2015) and 59% of early years staff were also considering leaving the job due to stress (Crown 2015). As a nurture consultant, I work in primary schools, I work with teachers and TA’s, and I have noticed a higher number of staff who are becoming more stressed and feel unsupported, and feel the pressure is growing too much. This concerns me; we know that if our wellbeing is in a poor place then we are unable to support and increase the wellbeing of the children we support. There is growing recognition within the education system about the importance of helping children’s wellbeing, but I believe there is still a lot of growth to be made in supporting staff wellbeing.

Earlier this year I was asked by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write a follow-on to my book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing , they wanted a book focusing on staff wellbeing. During the time of writing this book I was aware how there are many aspects of job stress and anxiety which are out of our control to change. However being aware of what helps our wellbeing is a good step towards taking back some control, putting this into our daily or weekly routine can help us to take some steps towards improving our wellbeing.

I have learnt over the years that an important way to help my wellbeing is through having regular times of silence and stillness, I manage this in different ways, through swimming each week day morning, through spending time outside and practicing mindfulness. The best for me is swimming outside in the sea, but I don’t get to do that as often as I like from living in Bath!.

I think there is a real strength in thinking about what helps our wellbeing. It will be different for everyone, I am a morning person, I thrive on early mornings, so the early morning swim works perfectly for me, but for many, this would be deeply painful!. Although many things need changing in our education system, there is without a doubt far too much pressure being placed on teachers and early years staff, and this can leave us feeling very disempowered. However, if we can work out what helps our wellbeing and put some of that into practice, we can begin to move forward, and we can start taking steps towards improving our wellbeing and mental health.

 

 

 

 

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Taking the time to stop and listen to children

 

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The children I work with have now been in school for four weeks, I have spent the time watching, observing, listening and getting to know them and then assessing them using the Thrive assessment. From this week we start the intervention work, the Ta’s and I start working together with the child to build up their sense of feeling safe, feeling they are special and meeting their needs.

During the observation period, it is so important to see the world through the child’s eyes; we often focus on what overwhelms the child, what they find hard but I also love to discover what it is that excites them, that they are fascinated by. Once we glimpse this, we can then incorporate this into the nurture work and sensory work we will be doing. We know that children respond well when they are doing activities that link to their interests. I am always encouraging early years practitioners to follow children’s interest, and I believe we need to do this also in the nurture role.

This year some of the interests are Thomas the tank engine, owls, and dinosaurs. One little boy told me this week, with such passion and depth of feeling how he “adores owls” as he told me about his love of owls he put his hand on his heart and said “ I love owls so much’. Until this conversation I wasn’t sure what made him happy, this one conversion brought him alive, his eyes were sparkling, he was animated and enthusiastic, this was the first time I had seen this response. Another child loves Thomas the tank engine, the one way to engage him is to talk about Thomas and the characters.

This week I will be hiding Thomas and his fellow engines in lavender sensory rice, I will be hiding dinosaurs in crazy soap, and I will be playing with owls, fabric and boxes. I know from experience that keying into the child’s interests and incorporating this into the nurture activities will engage them, it will help them to feel they have been noticed and valued and help them to feel special. It’s amazing how much emotion language you can use with Thomas the tank engine or a dinosaur!.

Start of a new academic year

 

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The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

Nurturing your soul

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This last weekend I have been taking time to stop and reflect, I attended a retreat led by Ian and Gail Adams, the retreat was very spacious with lots of opportunity for stillness practice. Some of my favourite times were sat in silence with my feet in a pool and also swimming, silently, with others. Attending a retreat, at this time of the year gives me the space to think about the year ahead ( I still think in school years as that is now the bulk of my work). It is also a valuable time to nurture my soul, to be fed and nourished. I noticed this year that many of the people attending were therapists or worked in a caring role. I think all of us in this position knew that we need to have time to be nurtured ourselves if we are to go on and give out to others.

One of my thoughts from this weekend has been around self-love.

In my nurture role, the underpinning principle that I encourage the Ta’s and teachers to understand is that the children we work with need to feel that they are loved, they are special and they are safe. We all know that to be loved is a fundamental need that everyone has. Until the children know this, they are not in a position to develop and thrive.

Supporting children who are scared and overwhelmed can be challenging. It is so important that the adults are in a good place themselves, that the adults have a good wellbeing. I believe an essential part of having a good wellbeing is by loving ourselves. This can happen in many different ways, through taking time to do something we enjoy, resting, eating well, exercising but also we need to think about how we nurture and love our soul, our spiritual wellbeing.

In my book on adult wellbeing I have a chapter on spiritual wellbeing, this is something which is often overlooked when we think about our wellbeing. An element of spiritual wellbeing is about feeling connected, feeling part of something bigger than ourselves. For some spiritual wellbeing is about engaging in religious practices, for others it is about contemplative practice outside of religious practice. There is growing evidence that spiritual practices are linked with an increase in better health and wellbeing.

The retreat this weekend was excellent to help me refocus on my spiritual wellbeing, it reminded me of some important practices and taught me new ones. With all of these things, we need to keep practising, keep engaging, noticing our wellbeing and how we are feeling. When we can see that something is out of line, we need to address that. I know, to be able to work at my best in September with my nurture children I need to spend time caring for myself and allowing myself to be nurtured by others, and Ian and Gail did this very well.

Slowing down

 

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One joy of working term time with children is that I get to live at a different pace during the summer holidays. I can slow down, it is a time to have the space to think creatively; a time to reflect, enjoy the space and to start thinking ahead.

Most of my year has involved supporting children in their wellbeing or writing about adults wellbeing, During this year I have continued to work on learning how I can live out wellbeing not just write and talk about it. I firmly believe an important aspect of wellbeing is learning how to live with stillness; also how to integrate into our lives time to slow down, notice and appreciate, to find a balance in our lives. It is so hard to notice and appreciate the people and places around us when our heads are full, and we are rushing.

So much emphasis on our society is to be busy, measuring our success by how busy we are, as if saying consistently ‘I am so busy’ makes us feel more valued. Since becoming self-employed, I have tried hard to step away from that mindset. Even writing that feels slightly absurd as a real fear of being self-employed is not having enough work, however, as we all know being frantically busy does not equal working well and it often does not help us to have a good well-being.

I started the summer holidays with a break to Mull, where slowness was almost forced on us by the single track roads, and wide open spaces called out to be looked at, noticed and enjoyed. It was my husbands birthday while we were away and our daughters bought him a new filter coffee jug. A family joke is that he is growing into a hipster and this was to add to his hipster lifestyle. The joy of this coffee filter is that not only does it make beautiful coffee it does it slowly. To make a coffee now takes longer, we grind the beans and then have to wait while the filter slowly brews and drips the coffee through the filter. It is worth the wait as the coffee tastes so good. Morning coffee is an essential part of my routine! But to now have this slow brewing coffee has forced me to start each morning on a slower note. I have noticed that while I am waiting for the coffee I am increasingly aware of the smell and the anticipation of the taste of the coffee ahead, this coffee filter has helped me to be more mindful first thing.

We are half way through the school holidays, my next few weeks I will start thinking about the new children I am to work with, begin to make new resources and continue to read more to increase my understanding. But I will also be enjoying the slower pace and the opportunity to think creatively.

Embracing stillness and slowness

 

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So much of the nurture role I do is helping children and the staff who support them to find a place of calmness and safety. There are many tools my colleagues, and I use to do this, it’s not rocket science! But it does need practitioners who can be calm and secure themselves. When you have a child who is throwing, kicking, biting, running, etc. because they are scared and frightened and have overwhelming feelings, they desperately need an adult who is solid and calm to help them feel safe and to come to a place of calmness.

Over the last three years of doing this work, I have realised increasingly how important it is for me to have space and encounter stillness outside of work. I firmly believe it is from a place of stillness and silence that I can become nourished to do my role. Daily swimming and gardening are important aspects for me in nourishing this. In the last six months, I have been writing a book about adults wellbeing, an important section in this book is about being comfortable with silence and stillness and be able to slow down.

This week we are away on the Isle of Mull, it’s not a very large Island, but many of the roads are narrow with passing points. If you are driving around the island this forces slow driving, also the scenery is so stunning, so you end up stopping regularly to watch an Eagle, look for Otters, or stop for the many Highland Cows and Sheep that are on the road. Although Mull has many visitors, it is easy to be in the hills or a beach and encounter nobody. What I have loved about this week away is embracing the stillness, at home I regularly walk around the community meadow at the back of our house and I love the stillness this brings, but here on Mull, it is another level of stillness and slowness and silence. To be able to spot Otters or watch for the Sea Eagles or Golden Eagles you have to sit and be still and watch, I have learnt how wildlife watching is such a mindful exercise.

The summer break from the nurture work is a time for me to take stock, reflect, have space to think about my writing and training, to be creative and plan. It is also a time to read, to nourish myself, to feed my soul. I feel this week of slowness, of big open spaces, of stillness and silence is a good starting point.

Recognising the change and celebrating every success

 

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Over the last week, I have been writing end of year reports for the nurture children I support. This is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the development in the children we work with. Each September I am never really sure what progress we will make, there are so many possibilities that can affect the child and the work. Each year my hope is that the new little person I am starting work with will reach a place where they feel secure, safe and wanted. Our work is not about achieving academic targets, but it is about the child feeling that they are safe, that they can express themselves in positive and safe ways and for them to know they are wanted and loved.

The joy of writing end of year reports is that we start by remembering how the child was at the beginning of the year, in many ways this can be quite an emotional time, looking back and remembering how hard it was for the child and their staff. By this time of year, you can so easily forget and take for granted the progress made. I have children now who can sit for 10 minutes and join in, children who can tell their staff how they feel, children who now have friends and invite other children to play with them, children who when a stranger walks into the classroom no longer stand out as the child with big issues.

These children will not necessarily reach their early learning goals; they will all still need support and help in year 1. But these children have all grown and developed and flourished, and that is wonderful and worth celebrating.

My role at the end of the year with the staff is to remind them of the amazing work that they have done with the children. To remind them to celebrate the steps that have been made.

At the end of May, I planted a sunflower seed for each of the children I was working with. This week they have started to flower, a beautiful reminder of the joy and wonder and celebration of the children I work with.