Category Archives: parenting

The importance of talking about mental illness.

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We know that for years mental illness has been a taboo subject, this is beginning to change and shift, but it can still be an area we find it hard to talk to children and young people about, particularly young children. I grew up with a mum with Bipolar, I knew she was ill, both Mum and Dad spoke about her illness, but no one ever named it. As I got older I heard about cancer and so presumed my mum had cancer and that she was going to die, I filled in the gaps, I made up my own story to explain what was happening. That is what children do. I found out what my Mum’s illness was when I was 14 in a school assembly which the charity Mind was taking, they described manic depression ( as it was called then) and I had a light bulb moment, I suddenly realised that is my Mum.

I firmly believe we need to help children to understand about mental illness, we need to give them the words to explain the illness, and we need to help them feel safe and know they can ask questions. If we don’t talk about it, this is suggesting it is shameful, if we don’t acknowledge our feelings around it, this is unhealthy for everyone. Bipolar and mental illness is still a taboo subject with some of my extended maternal family, they still feel embarrassed and awkward. This is so sad and can leave a legacy of hurt and confusion.

Sometimes it can be hard to find the right words to explain a mental illness to children and young people, and we can be worried about using the wrong words. I want to reassure people it is better to be open and honest, it is better to discuss and explain rather than keeping quiet. Many excellent websites can help you to find the right words. Ones I would recommend in the UK are Mind and Mentalhealth.

Books and films are also an excellent resource to explain to children. I wrote a book last year called Mummy’s Got Bipolar this has just been turned into an animation which is a free resource on youtube, over the summer I also wrote a book for JKP called Can I tell you about Bipolar, this will be available in February 2018.

 

Image by Jon Birch in the book and animation

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How do we help children have a good wellbeing?

 

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Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off on a great start in life. To help children have a good wellbeing we need to be intentional about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved, they are loved for the unique and precious individual that they are. Parents and Grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that Key workers, Ta’s, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use, the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day, I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together.

If you work with children, think about how you welcome them each day. By showing warmth in your smile and your words, through noticing how they look; maybe they have a spiderman hat on or a new hair band in their hair. Through seeing things that are important to the children and telling them how delighted you are to see them, this helps a child to arrive feeling wanted and loved.

In my new book Promoting Young Children’s emotional wellbeing, I explore a few essential ways we can further help to embed this. Below are a few examples:
Playing outside– there is so much research showing the need for children to spend quality time being outside. Giving children opportunities to explore, discover, climb, run. As parents we can do this by taking walks each day, going to the park, going to a field. Playing bubbles outside is a joyful and cheap activity to do with children outside.

Sensory play– giving children the chance to explore with all their senses, children learn through exploring and using all their senses. A very simple example of sensory play is play dough; you can buy this very cheaply or make your own ( there are many recipes on Pinterest)

Using emotional language– We need to help children understand their feelings and emotions, by using emotion language and giving them an emotional vocabulary we are enabling them to understand their feelings and also other peoples. From babies we can start to talk about their feelings e.g when a baby is crying to be fed we can respond with gently saying ‘ it’s ok I know you are feeling hungry, I am going to feed you now’. With a toddler who is crying because their parent has left them at nursery we can say ‘ I can see you are really sad that Mummy has gone, she will be back later I am here for you now” .
Un-rushing & stillness– Our lives are often very busy, and our children’s lives are often busy too. We need to help children to find times to rest, to experience moments of stillness. Are there spaces in your setting or your home where your child can lay back and relax or daydream?. You can also use Yoga and Mindfulness with young children both of these practices help children to find stillness. CBeebies have a children’s program called Waybuloo which teaches different yoga poses.

Being creative– creativity is an essential part of wellbeing.We need to give children the space to be creative and to be creative with them. Find times to sing and dance with your children, dancing and singing together with your toddler can be a joyful experience. Giving children the opportunity to experiment with paint, chalks, making things with cardboard boxes, these will all help your child’s wellbeing.

Be co-explorers – Children have a passion for learning and discovering, they need adults around them who want to learn and explore with them. I believe one of our roles as adults is to be a co-explorer and adventure with our children. Children are great at becoming fascinated in something, this might be the snail and sticks on the road as you are walking to the shops, or it may be a fascination with dinosaurs. As adults, we can show interest and delight with children and learn alongside them.

Our wellbeing -And finally, if we are going to help children to have a good wellbeing we need to pay attention to our wellbeing. We need to take care of ourselves; we need to ensure we are eating well, exercising, having rest and doing things which make us happy.
I explore all these themes more fully in my book, this is available from Tuesday 21st March, it can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

I am also discussing these in a workshop in Bath at Castle Farm Cafe on Thursday 6th April at 7pm,  book tickets on their website.

The nurturing role of Dad’s

 

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Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about the role of Dad’s. Our daughters are 17 and 19, even before I was pregnant with our first baby we had conversations about our thoughts on the role of being a parent and the importance of both parents being nurturing,caring and engaged as parents. From my own experience, my Dad did a lot of the nurturing, caring, personal care when I was young, as my Mum was very ill for large amounts of my childhood. Also, I had been influenced and inspired by the way friends of ours, Jonny and Jenny Baker parented their boys, they shared a job between them and shared the childcare equally between them. From these experiences I knew that Dad’s have an important role to play in nurturing, caring, actively parenting their children.
When our own children arrived we decided to share the childcare between us, our girls had each of us caring for them 2.5 days a week. Nineteen years ago this was still fairly uncommon, sometimes people would question me if I trusted Iain to look after the girls, this always really annoyed me. In my parent’s generation nurturing parenting was often seen as a female role, the male role in parenting was often seen as either discipline or boisterous playing. I wanted my children to see that a Dad can be loving, caring, gentle, in touch with feelings and emotions as well as fun, playful with clear boundaries.

We both feel the decision we made to actively share the parenting role from the beginning and to intentionally both be nurturing, was the best decision we made for our family. I love seeing the relationship our girls have with their Dad, it is beautiful, rich and very loving. We are now in a new stage where our eldest daughter is about to leave home for university, often you hear of Mothers talking about their feeling of loss when children leave home, this is often attributed to them being the main carer or the main nurturer. We have recently realised you don’t hear Dad’s talking about their sense of loss, you rarely hear Dad’s express their sadness. I have had many intentional conversations with male friends recently, to hear their experiences and feelings around their children growing up. It is no surprise to hear men tell me how they felt deeply sad, anxious, worried, when their child started school, moved to secondary school or left home. When we are parenting in a nurturing, emotional way we will be effected with strong feelings when our children grow and develop, we will at times have moments of feeling a sense of loss and sadness. Of course, this is not unique to Mums, but to Dad’s as well and this is OK, we need to recognise it and acknowledge our feelings.