Category Archives: well-being

Being outside is good for our wellbeing

 

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Yesterday I spent most of the day outside gardening, under the blue sky, enjoying the early spring sun. I felt the happiest, most relaxed and the most awake and alert that I had felt all week. I know that being outside is good for my well-being, I can feel the difference it has on me. My 17 yr old daughter also spent some time outside taking a break from her A level work; she was sawing branches off a tree that needed cutting back, again she was the most happiest and calm that she had been all week. We could both see and feel the difference spending time outside was having on our wellbeing.

We know there is lots of research on the need for children to spend more time outside, I wrote a chapter on this in my book Promoting Young Children’s emotional health and wellbeing.  There is now growing research to show how being outside can have enormous benefits for adults wellbeing as well as children. The UK mental health charity Mind has information about Ecotherapy; this is about experiencing nature, being outside, working outside e,g gardening, they suggest this therapy can be used to help with mental health problems. I have been reading a new book this week called The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, in her first chapter she talks about a growing interest in Japan called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ in English this means Forest therapy; this is about people spending time in forests, it is viewed in Japan as a preventive therapy. The effects of being in forests have been measured with hundreds of individuals by Chiba University researchers. Their research showed that a casual walk in a forest had a 12.7% decrease in the participant’s cortisol levels ( stress levels) and a 103 % increase in the parasympathetic nervous activity ( Relax state). ( Miyazaki 2012). Japan have realised that the stress levels of many people living there are very high, partly due to long hours that they work. They have now set up forest trails in many forests across Japan to encourage people to get out into nature and alleviate some of the stress they have been encountering in their busy work lives.

I think the challenge can be finding the time and opportunity to be outside; it might be worth considering for this next week can you find some time to be outside? This could be taking a coffee break outside, going for a walk on a lunch break, finding some woods to walk in today. If you work with children how are you going to incorporate outdoor play and outdoor learning into your week? This will be hugely beneficial to you and the children.

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.

How do we relax ?

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This week has been half term, and I have been thinking about how we relax and find space, this has been the area I have been writing about in the new book I am writing for Jessica Kingsley Publishers on promoting wellbeing for adults who work wth children.

During the week I have been having conversations with friends about how they relax, about finding space and we have been thinking about what this means and how we do it. One friend recognised that her work life is so full on at the moment that when she gets home, she eats and then sleeps, the idea of finding space and relaxing is a challenge.

In my recent book-Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing one of my chapters is titled un-rushing and stillness, in this chapter I explore how we need to help children to find time to stop, relax, be still and I offer ideas on how this possible. However, if we are going to help children and young people to do this, we need to be able to find time and space to relax ourselves, I really believe this is essential.

I asked 25 people how they relax; answers were varied from reading, cleaning the house, wallpapering, going for a walk alone, listening to music or podcast, knitting, and cooking. For people who have very manual jobs the answers were often linked to activities which were not physical, for people who use their minds a lot, the answers seem to be activities which helped them to mentally switch off, for people who worked in caring professions the answers were often activities which gave them solitude. The conclusion I have come to is that it doesn’t matter how you relax but the importance is recognising the need to relax and to be intentional about taking time, finding space to spend some time relaxing.

During this week I drove to Dorset to visit a friend in the hospital, I decided to spend some time by the sea before my visit. I knew I wanted some space just to be. I had an hour at Lulworth Cove, this time was wonderful, giving me the opportunity to relax, to find some peace and enjoy the beauty around me.

How swimming and reading have helped my wellbeing this week

 

 

poolThis week the primary focus of my work has been on helping the staff I work with to feel listened to and to be supported to take care of themselves. This week has mainly consisted of challenging meetings, very stressed staff, upset parents, concerned senior leaders. 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). In many ways this week was a timely reminder about why I have been commissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write my next book “Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff: A Practical Guide for Looking after Yourself and Your Colleagues’.

Working with children can be a very rewarding job, but it can also be incredibly challenging, stressful and exhausting. As educators, we are in a position to make a profound difference in a child’s life, and that is amazing. However, as adults, we need to be in a good emotional and physical space to be able to do that. We need to find ways to look after ourselves; we need to put in place strategies that support us.

This week I was interviewed by Kathy Brodie for her early year’s summit – a web summit for early years practitioners which will be available at the end of March, I am one of her speakers on the subject of Adult wellbeing. I did this interview 30 minutes after coming out of a very stressful child protection meeting. At the forefront of my mind were the pressure and stress that staff I work with can encounter on a daily basis. The question turning in my head was I wondered what they were doing at the end of that day to take care of themselves, to be kind to themselves.

I think the phrase ‘what are you doing to be kind to yourself?’ can leave people feeling awkward. People who work in the caring / educating profession are expected to give out; for our emphasis to be on how we are kind and compassionate to others. Being kind and compassionate to others is important, but I also know that we need to be kind to ourselves first until we are kind to ourselves and meet our needs, we can not fully nurture others.

With all this in the front of my thoughts, I have been mindful of being kind to myself. Being kind to myself always involves swimming, I swim every Monday-Friday, at 6.20 am at my local community pool. I have grown to love swimming; I feel I can be totally myself, I love the rhythm of swimming, I love the way my body glides through the water, I love the sense of freedom it gives me. My morning swim feels life giving and life enhancing, it helps me to feel really good about myself. The other activity that I love is reading. On Thursday afternoon I went to my favourite bookshop Mr B’s emporium and bought a new book, a hardback book. Buying a hardback book felt hugely indulgent, but I knew the act of purchasing this new book was a way of telling myself that it was time to take a rest, it was time to be kind to myself. The book was ‘Leap in’ by Alexandra Heminsley, this is a book about a woman learning to love swimming! And it was fantastic. My last few days I have read this book and relished and enjoyed every moment.

So now I feel in a better place to encounter the new week ahead.

Finding wild spaces

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Today I have been seeking out wild spaces, as a family we drove into the beautiful peak district and then walked high in the hills, surrounded by the magnificent surroundings.

I felt a longing to be in a wild place, to be outside seeing beauty, this may have partly come out of two days of long car journeys, but is was also a recognition in myself of needing to be reminded of the possibility, to see the beauty, the wonder of what is around us. I find being in a wild place offers me a reminder of all the possibilities ahead of me; this felt very timely as we begin to move into the new year.

There is something about wild spaces that feeds the soul. This last year I have been writing a book about children’s wellbeing, this inevitably led me to think a lot about my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others I work with, particularly the staff in schools that I support. I am often thinking about what helps adults and children’s wellbeing, and I think in my top 5 list would be experiencing wild spaces. One of my plans for 2017 is to spend more time in wild spaces.

Photo by Summer Mainstone-Cotton

How are you loving yourself this Christmas?

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The run up to Christmas can feel fraught, particularly if your work is hard and challenging then put onto that Christmas, it can leave people feeling stressed out and irritable. For many of the children I work with Christmas can be a stressful experience, the change in routine, the expectation of something different but their experience of something different is not always good. I think many adults also find Christmas stressful, the expectations they put on themselves or feel that others put on them can lead to a sense of dread.

I have been fortunate to have this last week off from the school’s work; it has given me a chance to do some planning, write some training but importantly to slow down and think about how I am. This last week I decided I needed to start to be a bit more proactive about loving myself, listening to my body and trying to attend to some of the niggles I have been experiencing. During the last six months, I have had an increase in headaches and lower back pain. I have felt that they are linked to muscular tension but have not really addressed them. Finally this week I saw a brilliant physio and later in the week I had an aromatherapy massage. As I suspected the muscles in my neck and back are holding lots of tension and are almost certainly contributing to the headaches. Although these two sessions are not a miraculous cure, they are helping me to recognise what my body is telling me and to think about ways to address this.

In my role as a nurture consultant I support and nurture children, but an essential part is also supporting the staff who look after the children. I am always asking them what they are doing to be kind to themselves. I am often encouraging them to love them themselves. As part of the ongoing process of loving myself and thinking about how I can be kind to my body, this morning I made myself some aromatherapy massage oil to use on my shoulders and my neck, and I made some coconut bath melts to use over the next few days in a hot bath. These are just simple gestures, but they are the reminder to myself that I need to take care, I need to be kind to myself, and I need to love myself.
The recipe for the bath melts- in case you need some care as well!
Two tablespoons of coconut oil ( melted)
Ten drops of lavender essential oil mixed with the melted coconut oil
pour this into ice cube trays and put in fridge or freezer to go hard. ( see image above)

Put them into a sealed container

Use 1 or 2 in a hot Bath or melt in a shower

What helps you to feel calm?

 

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In these last few weeks of term as a nurture consultant, my focus is on helping the children I work with to feel calm. Christmas can be a very challenging time of year for them, all the usual daily routines change, and they often find change tough. They have an increase in intense feelings and emotions which they struggle to identify, and this can leave them feeling overwhelmed, which they often express in many challenging ways. I often use sensory play in my work. These last few weeks have been full of calming glitter tins with children running their hands through glitter in coloured oats, or dried rice. This activity is almost always a calming sensory activity which helps the children to feel grounded, calm and safe; the children all love the feel, the colours and can spend ages allowing oats/ rice/ glitter to fall through their fingers.
I often think I should provide a calming activity for staff too. These last few weeks many of the teachers and Ta’s are just about hanging in for the end of the term. They have worked incredibly hard, the staff I work with do an amazing job at supporting some very unhappy children, which is a tough job. This week I have been asking staff what they will do to find some calmness. We know that we need to help the children to find some calmness, but they also need the adults who support them to be calm. Sometimes the adults can struggle to identify what does help them to feel calm.

Last week was quite challenging, I had some time one morning and knew I needed to find some space, to clear my head, to find some calmness. I went for a walk around the valley at the back of our house; this is a space I have walked many times; it is an area where I can just be. It was a beautiful, icy morning, on my walk I passed a small waterfall, underneath this were the most amazing ice pebbles. For me being outside, noticing the beauty around me, taking the time to slow down, these things help me to feel calmer.

Being in the hard times

 

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In my role as both a trainer and nurture worker I need to put on a cloak of calmness, I need the staff and children I work with to feel that I am there for them, that I can contain their strong feelings, I can travel with them as they are learning and changing and I can sit with them in the hard times. This week several of the 4 yr olds I support have been really struggling, it’s the time of year when everything changes in the school routine and the 4 yr olds I work with find that really hard. This is the time of year when I really need to be calm, I need to be able to adjust, be playful in the face of hardness. Sometimes that means responding in an unexpected way, at one point this week I was on all fours crawling up a school corridor pretending to be a cat with a 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed. In that moment the child needed someone to help calm him, to help him feel safe and to help him find a way through his strong feelings in a playful non-judgemental way.
The difficulty with this role is that I don’t always feel calm and positive!. During these last few weeks I have felt quite bleak, and a bit panicky, I have found life quite hard, I have been judging myself in unhelpful ways. Curiously what has helped me in the last few days is reflecting on the 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed and thinking about the gentle approach I took with him. I have been thinking about how I need to use this approach with myself!, to be kind, to be gentle to myself, to use the emotion language on myself that I use with children- it’s ok to be finding it hard, it’s ok to feel sad. Earlier in the year, I read Kristin Neff book Self-Compassion she talks about the scripts we use on ourselves and the need to use compassionate scripts. I use scripts all the time with 4-year-olds and it really works, but in the same way, I find it does help when I use compassionate scripts to myself.

My Sunday morning walk this morning around the meadow was quite gloomy, it was grey, misty not much light was getting through. But strangely that felt ok this morning, it seemed a bit of a reflection on how I have been feeling, but also I was aware of recognising that is ok, that’s just how it is right now and recognising there will be days when it feels less grey, when the light will get through.

Who believes in you?

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During this last week in my nurture role I have been struck again at the difference made when staff working with children believe in the children, believe that they can become children who can cope with school, believe that the children are doing their best, believe that they are wonderful, lovely children. In the same way a vital part of my role is to believe in the staff working with the 4 year olds. I need to believe that they are nurturing, caring staff who are doing their best. Sometimes I need to help the staff to see the amazing job they are doing, sometimes they find this hard to believe, my role is to nurture them and support them just as much as I need to nurture and support the children.

We all need people in our life who believe in us, we all need people who tell us we are doing well and that it’s ok when we are finding it hard. There are a few special people I know I can turn to when I am feeling unsure and wobbly, I know they will be honest with me but they will also support me and they believe that I am capable, competent and able. When we are feeling unsure and a bit wobbly we need to have those people around us. Brene Brown suggests ‘carrying a small sheet of paper in your wallet, with the names of people whose opinions matter. To be on that list you need to be someone who loves me for my strengths and struggles’. For me there are 4 people on my list, who I know believe in me and will be there to remind me I am doing my best.

Mindful moments foraging for sweet chestnuts

 

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This half term has given me the time and space to slow down, think, reflect and enjoy the autumn. I have been thinking a lot this week about well-being, how I reflect this in my nurture work and my business, how I bring a sense of well-being into the training I deliver. An essential part of well-being for me is being aware of feelings, thoughts and the effect this has on the body. Many of the children I work with through the nurture role find it hard to name feelings and sensations in their body, so much of our work is helping to put them in touch with what is happening in their minds and their body.

I find mindfulness practice a really useful tool to stay in touch with my body and mind. I love the practice of stopping and noticing, for me, this fits so beautifully with my work with young children. Young children are often so good at noticing, taking a walk with a toddler can take so long! while they stop and peer at every snail, stick, stone and dog poo. As adults we have something to learn from this, taking the time to notice can be so enriching. I plan this week to be doing some listening and watching walks with my nurture children, stopping and noticing, listening and seeing what is around us and thinking about how that makes us feel.

This afternoon I went for a walk with my husband in the local woods, we found lots of sweet chestnuts and spent quite a while foraging through the leaves and shells to find chestnuts to take home. This was a wonderful moment, when you are foraging you have to give it all your attention, it becomes a very mindful experience, searching through leaves, watching out for the sharpness of the outer shells, looking for the shiny brown chestnut. We hadn’t planned to do any foraging, but we enjoyed the opportunity, space, the activity and later tonight we will enjoy roasting them on our open fire.