Category Archives: Uncategorized

Finding calmness in this hectic time

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For schools in this area, this is the last week of term, this can be one of the most challenging weeks of the year, very excited children, very tired staff. Some schools and nurseries will be doing plays this week, many places will be having parties. In my experience, lots of children can find this last week really hard. The routine has changed, they are tired and excited, they can be stressed and anxious and sometimes excited  about plays and parties. This is a big range of strong feelings, and some children will find this hard to manage and some staff too.

In the role of nurture support workers our team does a lot of work with children and staff about using calming techniques, we all use mindfulness both for ourselves and with the children we support. During these last weeks, many of us have been making calming bottles with the children we support as a tool to help them during these challenging weeks, a guide on how to make these can be found on pinterest. Many of the children we work with can find change very overwhelming and there are so many changes at this time of year. Change in routine, wearing different clothes, changes to the environment, there can be different and loud music playing in the school/ nursery, lots more people coming in and out of the setting. For some children, this is overwhelming and can be frightening. It’s at these times when knowing and using calming techniques are so important. Some schools and nurseries use mindfulness daily with children, teaching children these skills as part of a daily routine is such a good way to embed this practice with children, giving them vital life skills to help them with regulation. But even settings which are not already using these strategies, it is not too late to try them. My suggestion over the next week is finding some time each day for a time of stillness and quiet, a time when you all can stop, be still, be aware of your breathing, this will help both the children and the staff.
A few ways to do this are:

Finger breathing – click this link for a tutorial

Starfish breathing- a youtube film for this

Bubble breathing- have a pot of bubbles each, dip the wand in the bubble mix, take a deep breath in and breathe out through the bubble wand and repeat a few times. Explain to the children that while doing this you are watching and noticing the bubbles.

With all of these, explain to the children that these are helping you all to stop, notice your breathing and find some calmness.

In January I am speaking about using mindfulness with young children on a free  pre school mindfulness summit clink this link and it will take it you to their website for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

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The story we create in our head

 

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I am someone who can catastrophize I learned this from my Mother, she has Bi-Polar and part of her illness is negative voices in her head of everything that will go wrong; unfortunately, they didn’t stay in her head and she would often speak them out. I know I can easily fall into this trap, thankfully I am now aware of it and mostly I can stop myself, but sometimes, particularly when I am tired, it catches me unawares. A practice of Mindfulness and self-compassion has helped to calm this but I need to continue practicing them. Brene Brown writes about the stories we create in our head, I think this is such a helpful phrase, she encourages us to stop and question what is the story that I am telling myself? is this real? do I know this to be fact? or am I just presuming the worst?

In the last few weeks in my work life, I have needed to stop myself and ask is the story I am creating and presuming about the nurture work/ training/ writing the real story or one that I am making up and presuming the worst. The one thing I have learned through the nurture work with four-year-olds is that stories can change, hope and change is always possible, we don’t always know what that will look like, but we can believe that things will change.

I try hard to create a curiosity about the stories I have in my head, why am I thinking that? do I know that is true? where is this coming from? from fear or fact? Thankfully I have an amazing husband who is great at spotting the negative stories and I have a fantastic supervisor who will listen and question the story and help me to see the story in my head is not always the real story.

Being inspired and having hope

 

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I work part-time as a nurture consultant and the rest of my working week I write books, articles and deliver training. The nurture role with four year olds informs the writing and the training, the research for the writing and training informs the nurture role, I see each part as being closely connected and each vital to one another. In this time of austerity, it can be hard to get training opportunities so when they come along I usually say Yes to most things and hope that it spreads out during the year. November has been unusual for me, I have been asked to speak at 8 different training events, across the country. On Saturday I was speaking at Calderdale early years emotional health and wellbeing symposium in Halifax.

It always feels a huge privilege to be invited to speak at an event or lead a training day, I am so aware that peoples time is precious and money is tight, yesterday this felt particularly so, the conference was on a Saturday, 175 people attended, all giving up their weekend to be at this event. Everyone attending the event works in early years, they were all participating, on their day off to listen to ideas and suggestions around how we can all make a difference in children’s lives. I was one of the keynote speakers along with three other speakers Cath Hunter, Dr. Sam Wass, and Debbie Garvey and three practitioners sharing their excellent practice and learning from their child care setting. Attending training on a Saturday can be a challenge both as a speaker and an attendee, it’s the end of the week, often people are tired and worn out, they don’t necessarily have the concentration to listen to a day worth of speakers no matter how inspiring they are!. However that wasn’t my experience on Saturday, there was such a buzz in the room, a real enthusiasm from the attendees. We know that currently, it is hard to work in early years in the UK, services are being cut, a shocking number of children and families are living in poverty and struggling with life causing distress and stress in their lives. Staff and managers feel under increasing pressure with endless changes, budget cuts etc. This all has a massive impact on our work and could lead people to feel disempowered and lethargic, however, this was not my experience yesterday. During the conference I was really impressed at the vision and hope behind Calderdale early years team who instigated a project focusing on raising children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I was impressed at how their enthusiasm and passion has encouraged and motivated so many early years staff in the area. This felt visionary, this felt hopeful, in a time when it is easy to be cynical and feel hopeless, this team is showing a different way. I felt one of the messages being repeated through the day was in believing that we can make a difference.

My section in the conference was to finish the day by talking about staff wellbeing and the need to look after ourselves. My finishing encouragement was for people to go away and do something that weekend that made them happy. To follow my own advise I spent the Sunday at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with my husband. A day spent outside in beautiful surroundings and enjoying art, for me this is wonderful. There was a sculpture by Jaume Plensa called Wilsis, this piece ( photo above) is a portrait of a young woman’s head, it was seven meters high. The artist describes his aim to transform something ordinary into extraordinary. He describes how he believes that all people have the potential to be remarkable, regardless of background and status. I loved this idea and felt it resonated with the conference the day before, offering hope and believe that we can all do something remarkable when we work with young children and we can help them to become remarkable people.

The labels we use

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Over this last week, I have had the chance to stop and rest. At the beginning of the week I had a strong urge to find some wildness, I felt that I needed to physically let go of what was in my head and what I was carrying in my body. I wanted to stand on a cliffside with the wind blowing around, to feel a sense of letting go and breathing deeply. I was able to go to Zennor in Cornwall for two days and walk to Zennor point, on the cliff top, with the wind whipping around me, there was silence, and awesome beauty. Standing on the cliff I felt I was able to let go and breathe deeply. There is something about this process that helps me to begin to rethink and begin to question. I was aware that I had labelled last term as being hellish.  Having time to stop and let go enabled me to question if this was really true, if it was the whole picture. One of the questions I have had is around the labels I use for children, situations and myself and how easy it can be for those to shadow my view.

I like to think I enter into work with a new child with an open mind, we are given information about the family and the child, I meet and observe new children and use those observations to inform my thoughts and plans. However, I am aware that it can be easy to allow the views of previous settings and parents to shadow my view. It can be so easy to see a situation within a deficit model, to label and fear the worst for a situation and allow that to impact my expectations and views. I have noticed this term that I was beginning to carry the views of a deficit model around in my head, viewing and labeling situations in a negative way, rather than seeing the positives or being open-hearted and minded about a situation.

I have a few children I am working with this term who will be making significant changes and transitions during the coming term. One role I have is to send information on that will support new practitioners/ carers working with the child. I have recently been writing this for one child. Looking back I realised that at the start of September I had low expectations, I anticipated the term to be hugely challenging with this one child and setting, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, I have seen progress made by the child, I have watched the child’s ability to engage with joy and an unexpected tenderness. I have also been moved by the commitment and openness from the setting, and the dedication to make this term the best they can for the child. It has been wonderful to see and reflect on. It’s unusual for me to reflect on a child and the progress made this early on in the year, as we don’t usually write a mid-year report until December. However, writing and reflecting now has helped me to see how the expectations I initially had were totally wrong. It also helped me to see where something went really well, this exercise has encouraged me to go back over all the other children and list the positives, the things that have gone well, the moments that were good from the last term. This has been a good exercise to do, to help me re-label the last term and see it through different lenses.

Talking about mental illness with children

 

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Although mental health is high on the agenda, with many people including celebrities talking about their mental illness and an increasing awareness of mental illness in teens; I think as a society it can still be hard to talk to children about mental illness. I think there is still a worry that if we use the words depression and mental illness, that children will not understand or become fearful. Even with all the discussion and acknowledgment about mental illness, with new celebrities and sports stars coming out each day talking about their struggles, I still think there is a stigma. Sadly I think there is still pain and shame felt amongst families when they talk about the mental illness in their family. A friend of mine Will Taylor is an excellent child counselor, he has recently written about his own struggle with depression and how some people have told him they wouldn’t want to go a counselor who has had depression. To me, this suggests that some people still view mental illness as something that is shameful.

I firmly believe we need to talk to children from a young age about mental illness, we need to use the correct language and help them to understand what is happening, by doing this we break down the stigma. Obviously, we need to do this in an age appropriate way, in a way which helps the child to not be scared but to give them enough information to help them to understand what is going on. A common held misbelieve is that children will not notice, they will not be aware when a parent or loved one becomes depressed. However, we know that children pick up on the smallest of changes, they know when something is different. I grew up with a mum who has Bi-polar, I was a child in the 70’s when depression was never spoken about. I have memories of being 5 and recognising the warning signs that she was becoming ill, they were small, but I noticed. She would give us extra money to buy sweets, she would start baking lots, this was always the begining of a manic episode. These sound like tiny changes but I noticed. My Dad talked about my mum being ill, but it wasn’t until I was 14 in a school assembly that Mind was leading, and I heard the term mental illness and realised that was what my Mum had. Until then I had presumed she had cancer and that she would die. If we do not use the correct words with children, if we do not explain what is happening, then children will fill in the missing gaps, and often get it wrong. Our role as adults is to help children to understand that depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia etc are all mental illness, they are not something to be afraid of, or to be ashamed of, we can talk about it.

I do appreciate that it can be really hard to find the words to help a child understand, for me that is where books and films can be so helpful. I have written two books and an animation for children of different ages to help them understand Bi-polar. But there are a growing number of good resources about depression. Below I have listed and linked some of the ones I really like. On Wednesday this week, it is mental health day, there will be lots of discussions all week about mental illness, and that is great, but I would like to encourage people to talk to children as well.

 

Mummy’s Got Bippolar– Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

Can I tell you about Bipolar Disorder– Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

Mummys’ Got Bipolar animation

Can I tell you about anxiety- Lucy Willets and Polly Waite

Why are you so sad: A child’s book about parental depression– Beth Andrews

I had a black dog – Matthew Johnstone

Pretend Friends: A story about schizophrenia and other illnesses can cause hallucinations- Alice Hoyle

The wise mouse- Virgina Ironside

The illustrated Mum- Jaqueline Wilson

 

 

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.

Making plans for your wellbeing

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At the start of last week, I spent a team day with my team. We did an exercise thinking about how we wanted to develop this year, how we wanted the team to develop and what we were going to do this year for our wellbeing. I spend lots of time thinking about wellbeing, it’s an essential part of my job, it’s what I write about!. But I really appreciated the act of taking time to stop, think and commit to paper and publicly say to my team, this is how I want to support my wellbeing. By sharing this with the team I felt that we were making ourselves accountable to one another. I love that I work for a manager who prioritises this at the start of the year, that as a team we were saying to one another this is important, as individuals we need to take care of ourselves but also as a team, we need to look out for one another.

My plan for the year to support my wellbeing is to find opportunities to swim outdoors. I have spent the summer engaging in lots of outdoor swimming and I have written about this on numerous occasions, but during this summer I realised just how important outdoor swimming is for me, I feel calmer, I feel alive and I often feel such joy. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about cold water swimming helping with mental health and depression, I don’t suffer from depression, although anxiety is something I often have lurking in my head and chest. I have certainly found the outdoor swimming has become a very mindful practice and one which stills my mind and helps my anxiety.

As we enter a new work year ( school year in my case) I think it is really helpful to set out, write down our intentions for how we will support our wellbeing throughout the year. I know there will be times in the coming months when I will feel very stressed, and to have thought ahead about what will help is a good exercise. I am not sure yet how much outdoor swimming I will manage throughout the winter!, I have a colleague who swims weekly in a local river, throughout the year, I am planning on swimming with her sometimes, hoping that I can cope with the cold. But realistically I realise I may not manage it in December – February! and that’s’ ok, this is not an exercise about setting goals and then feeling guilty if I can’t achieve them, this is an exercise about thinking, recognising what helps in those times I feel very stressed. This weekend I started as I hope to continue, I swam in a beuatiful spot near to us, in a local river. It was cold, but I felt so wonderfully alive and joyful during and after the swim.

For more thoughts and ideas on supporting your wellbeing, I have a book called Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff.