Category Archives: supporting parents

Thinking about mental health

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I have spent the last few weeks thinking a lot about mental health, mainly because my Mum is really struggling with her mental health at the moment but also the last two weeks I have spent a lot of time talking to staff and parents about anxious children. One of the reflections I have had is that when someone is suffering from mental health it impacts not just the person but many around them. One problem is this is such a difficult thing to talk about because we don’t want to make the person feel guilty. There is, of course, nothing for them to feel guilty about. However, poor mental health always affects more than just the sufferer. Talking about mental health is less of a taboo than it used to be, and that is a good thing, but I think talking about the impact on surrounding people is talked about less.

JK Rowling writes about the dementors in her Harry Potter series, she has talked about how the idea of dementors came about from her experience of depression. I think this is such a good description, depression and anxiety suck the life out of you, it sucks away the joy of life, which is exactly what the dementors do in her stories. The problem is this doesn’t only impact the person, it also impacts those around them. When a child is highly anxious in school, they will often show this through very challenging behaviour, leading to the staff feeling distressed and often de-skilled as they feel unable to help or support the child. When a parent has a child who has been excluded due to their challenging and often distressing behaviour, again the parents feel worried, anxious and don’t know where to turn for help and support.

There are no easy answers in all of this, but one small thing that is needed is for people around to notice, and offer support. This week my colleague Fred called me and popped in for a tea in the middle of our day between schools visits, he knew my Mum was ill and he wanted to check in that I was ok. This meant so much to me. This small act of kindness and noticing made a huge difference. I think sometimes we can feel de-skilled when we know depression and anxiety is affecting a family or a school. When I delver staff wellbeing training I regularly talk about the need to support our colleagues. If you know a teacher or teaching assistant in your school has had a tough day due to being hurt by a distressed child, check in with them, ask them if they are ok. If you know a friend is struggling with their anxious child and the child has been excluded for the day or refusing to go to school, check in with the parents, ask how they are.

The other question you can ask for those surrounding the person with mental health difficulties is what small thing can they do help themselves feel well. They need to be well themselves to be able to support the person who is mentally ill. Thinking about their own mental health is so important. I write a lot about how swimming helps me feel mentally and physically well. On Thursday this week, I knew I needed to swim outside, the weather was awful, but I knew outdoor swimming would help me. I swam in our local Lido, in the pouring rain and it was the best decision I had made all week. It felt wonderfully refreshing, it allowed me to let go of what is in my head, it was cool, but that was I needed, the rain was at times heavy but that just increased the mindfulness of the experience. I am looking forward to my next outdoor swim this week.

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Connecting

 

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This last week has been children’s mental health week, there have been many good postings and information about the importance of supporting children’s mental health, knowing the signs to look for etc. Within the nurture role, all of our work is about promoting, supporting and enhancing children’s mental health and wellbeing. We are now halfway through the academic year, I have been reviewing and thinking about the children, families, and staff I work with and reflecting on the distance we have traveled, thinking about what has worked and not worked. This last week I have been particularly thinking about connections, how as a nurture consultant I connect with those I work with and how important connections are to mental health.

Building trust and a connection with the children, staff, and families is vital for the nurture work. I have learned that the work is only able to develop when a connection and trust is made with everyone involved.. This takes time, I ask a lot of the staff I work with, I need them to trust that the work I am doing will make a difference, I need them to carry out my ideas and suggestions when I am not there, I need them to be open to trying something and it not always working straight away, I ask them to be open to having an ongoing dialogue about what we can all do differently. They need to feel that I have listened to them, that I see and hear how hard and frustrating their job can be. In my experience building a trusting connection with staff takes time, it can not be rushed. With some schools, it can take a few years before I feel I have really connected and built a strong trusting relationship with the staff.

My connection with the children needs to be around understanding them, seeing the world through their eyes, listening to them, knowing what brings them joy and what terrifies them. I think one of the essentials in supporting a child’s mental health is for them to have adults around them who they can trust, who help them to feel that they are loved and they belong and who are interested in them. If I have a child who loves dinosaurs or trains or ponies or whatever their interest,  then we will make sure those occur in our nurture play, my aim is for the children I work with to feel that they are safe with me, that I am delighted to see them and that I know them.

Some of our work is also with parents and carers, although we don’t spend a huge amount of our time with parents and carers, the times we do meet are crucial. So many parents and carers can feel worn down, fed up with professionals, mistrusting, anxious and worried. I think connecting with parents and carers can be the hardest part of the role, partly because I see them a lot less. I am aware that it is so easy as a professional to be seen as the expert, particularly to parents, and this can be really intimidating. I work really hard to be approachable and make it clear I don’t have all the answers. I try to be honest with the parents I work with, I will often tell them, if it is appropriate ,that I am a parent and I know how parenting is the hardest job. To connect with parents I need them to know I am not judging them and I need them to feel that they have been listened to and understood.

We all need to feel that we have been heard and listened to by someone, I believe this is such a fundamental part of helping our mental health.

 

I have written two books looking at children’s and staff mental health and wellbeing they are published with Jessica Kingsley Publishers and are also available on Amazon

 

Support in parenting teenagers

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Most of my work life has been with early years children, when I had my own children I was terrified at the idea of them becoming teenagers, I felt that all I heard was how awful teenage years were, so many people told me that our girls would be demanding, challenging and horrible. Our daughters are now 19 and 21, they have both left home, they are successfully adulting! and one is planning a wedding in 18 months time, we all survived and not only survived but had some wonderful moments along the way. I realise now people rarely seem to talk about the wonderful times of parenting teenagers. Thankfully when our girls were pre-teens and teenagers I worked in a team with colleagues who were fantastic at working with young people. I learned through their work and conversations that teens are not to be feared! and parenting does not always have to be a battle. I sometimes did pieces of work alongside colleagues with teenagers and saw that so many of the skills and tools that work with early years also work with teens, you just adapt them. This was so helpful for me to see.
I am not an expert on parenting teenagers or working with teenagers, we were so incredibly blessed that our girls found great friends and were not very challenging. However, I learned from my colleagues that in the teen years you need to be present, you need to listen, you need to be there, not just physically but importantly with your attention. This is the same with young children of course, but I think with teens this even more important.

I am a huge fan of turning to books for advise, ideas. There were a few I looked at when my girls were in the teenage years, but not that many that I found helpful. In the last few years, I discovered the book Brainstorm: the power and purpose of the teenage brain by Dan Siegel. I often recommend this book, and this week I have found myself recommending it several times to different friends and staff in schools who have teenage children. This is the book I wish I had read when my eldest was 11. This is the book I think every parent who has an 11 year transitioning to senior school should be given!. This book gives insight into how the teenage brain is working, the massive changes they are going through ( no it’s not all about hormones, it is about the changes in the brain). This book helps you understand what is happening, to be compassionate about these changes and helps you to reflect on your parenting style and how you can support them. But most of all this book is positive about teenagers.

I think we need to hear more stories about when it goes well with teenagers, we need to hear more about the joys of parenting a young person, of watching them develop and grow into independence and becoming an adult. Yes there are also some sad and hard stories and I am not denying the hard feelings with these, but there are also some good stories. Looking back I wish I heard more of people telling me that teenage years were not to be feared, I wish I heard more of parents telling me what a delight their teenage children were and I wish I heard more of the joy that teenagers can bring.

Navigating through change

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Some people thrive on change, they become bored quickly and need variety, I have lots of variety in my work, which I love, but I am not massively keen on change! and I quite like a structure to work within. I usually start my school year with a list of children and schools to support, I know pretty much what the year ahead will look like. A key element of this is that I know how to support children and staff through the changes ahead. I have learned through the nurture work how vital it is support change, the children we work with find change challenging, but also some of the parents can find change really challenging and overwhelming as well. So far this school year very little has gone to plan and so far there have been far more changes than normal and more than I would like!.

I have been reflecting these last two weeks about how we support parents through change. We all know that some parents find the move to nursery or school a huge challenge, their baby is getting older, they need to trust other adults to take care of their precious one, and that is not always easy. Often schools and nursery will set up meetings before the start of the new year, in our role we meet with parents and explain what we do and listen to their stories about their child. These are important, but sometimes there are parents who need something extra, if I am honest I am not quite sure what that extra looks like, it’s a question I am asking myself this week. I wonder whether sometimes we forget how big a change this is for parents, and if they experience change as frightening, the transition of their child to school or nursery can be extremely frightening.

Over the last week I have been experiencing transition and change within my family as my youngest has moved to university. She had a gap year, so all year we have talked, prepared, thought about the changes this will bring. However it is still hard, so much has changed, it’s the little things you can’t quite prepare for. I watched Bakeoff with her each week, she would bake in the day, we would eat it while watching the program. It sounds so minor, but watching Bakeoff this week without her was horrible!. I have found myself returning to Kristin Neff words about self-compassion a lot this week, often saying to myself it’s ok to be sad, but it will be ok.

I wonder if we need to learn to use emotion language more with parents, in my role we use it all the time with the children. Maybe we need to acknowledge more with parents that they may be feeling overwhelmed at this change in their lives, that it’s ok to find this hard, that it’s ok to be worried and a bit scared. I know that Penn Green do some fantastic support work with parents through transitions.  Dr. Terri Rose in her book Emotional readiness has some excellent examples of supporting parents and children through change. It’s something I am going to thinking about more over the next few weeks in relation to my role.