Noticing and seeing the small things

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This week I have been thinking about noticing and enjoying the small things around us. I have spent some of the week writing a chapter about using mindfulness and stillness with children. A crucial part of mindful practice is being aware of the here and now, and noticing what is going on in your head and body. Another element of mindful practice is really noticing the environment you are in. Through the process of writing and reflecting on this, I realised how much of this has become a crucial part of my nurture work with 4 yr olds. In the role as a nurture worker I am often encouraging children to stop and notice how they are feeling and to notice what is happening in their body.

So often we can be so caught up in being busy, of thinking about the next job or the next thing we need to do, that we sometimes miss the small but significant things. This week one child greeted me with a sentence “hello, look I am wearing 2 green tops” . This was one small sentence, to many it would seem insignificant, but to me it was a small moment of brilliance. The little boy had managed to put together a sentence that I could understand, he used the correct colour and the correct number, was also really happy and proud to tell me. It doesn’t sound much, but it was a small and memorable moment, remindng me that we had made significant progress. This small moment made me feel so happy, it was a moment of great job satisfaction. I could so easily have dismissed it, but instead it has stayed with me for the rest of the week and continued to make me smile.

This next week I am going to be experimenting with using some intentional mindful practice with my 4 yr olds. I will be doing sensory play with colourful pasta  ( see photo above!) and noticing how it makes us feel. I am also going to use a friends idea, to use a magnifying glass to go on an exploration to find and notice things, to see if we can stop and enjoy some moments of beauty and enjoy how they make us feel.

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Happiness

IMG_7639We watched a film last night on Netflix called Hector and the Search for Happiness. It’s beautifully filmed, and quite quirky, with some poignant questions. At the heart of the film the main character, a psychiatrist played by Simon Pegg, goes on a journey trying to find out what makes people happy. It sounds really corny, but surprisingly it wasn’t, it was actually very moving. I have also been reading recently a book by Anthony Seldon called Beyond Happiness. Both the book and the film ask questions about what makes people happy, and why are some people more happy than others. Anthony Seldon argues that happiness is good but can be fleeting and it is a deep sense of joy that people really need.

Through the nurture work I work with children who can be very unhappy. In our team we use an assessment tool called Thrive.  This tool helps us to look at a child’s social and emotional development. One of the first stages on the thrive assessment is looking at a child’s ‘being needs’. It describes these as, ‘a child needs to feel safe, to feel special and to have their needs met.’ Initially it is quite easy to look at these criteria and presume that is obvious and something that everyone needs. However as I and my colleagues have worked with these criteria and reflected on them, I have increasingly realised just how fundamental and vital they are. If a child is feeling scared and unsafe, if they don’t believe they are special and don’t hear that they are special, or if their basic needs are not being met including the need to be loved, then they cannot be happy. Their wellbeing will be low, and the way they view and see the world will be through very distorted and unhappy lenses.

As Nurture Workers our role is to support the educators in meeting children’s needs. Through nurture work and support, and providing an emotionally and nurturing stable environment, we often see good progress. However I am also aware that so many other children, young people, and adults are also in a place where their basic needs are not being met and consequently they are carrying great sadness. For me the search for happiness is implicitly linked to thinking about these questions; are you feeling safe, do you feel special, are your needs being met? I believe these questions are worth exploring when working with people who are unhappy.

 

image is of a moment of light by Summer Mainstone-Cotton

Hope

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I am a really keen gardener, I am not very good at it, mainly because I have no spatial awareness, I can’t do straight lines and I am rubbish at following instructions. So my planting is very haphazard and I often forget how much space things need to grow. But I love it, I have realised that being a gardener, particularly my style of gardening, requires a lot of hope.

Today is the first day in my new gardening year. Today I planted broad beans and sweet pea seeds in my greenhouse. I had forgotten how exciting I found the start of a new gardening year; the anticipation, the planning, the preparing. I love the rituals involved at the start of the new gardening year, cleaning the greenhouse, sorting out pots, sorting through seeds. I had forgotten how meditative and calming I find this whole process, but also how happy it makes me. So much hope goes into the process of gardening, at the start of the new year you plan and think about what you will grow, you hope that the seeds that you carefully nurture will first of all appear and then grow and flourish. You then have the hope you experience as you put your small plants out into the garden, desperately hoping that slugs and birds wont eat them. From previous experience I know that I will lose some plants, I know that I will have another battle with slugs and birds and I know that I will probably overestimate how many plants I can grow in my veg patch, but that doesn’t matter, the hope for some good things is what I am hanging onto, because I also know some things will work.

As I was planting the seeds this morning I was thinking about how hope is an important part of my work life too. The hope as a self employed person that people will want to buy in my services of training and consultancy; the hope as a nurture worker for the small children I work with, that things will improve for them, and that I and the education staff can help them to feel safe, loved and secure. I know that there will continue to be some difficult times in my nurture work, and probably some scary times ahead being self employed, but I also know that having hope is a good thing.

People that nurture you and promote your wellbeing

 

 

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Recently I have been thinking about friendships and the relationships we have with others. In my role as a nurture worker, I am often reminding the staff I work with of the need to nurture themselves, and to look after their wellbeing, but my focus has often been on things they can do to help themselves, e.g exercise, time to play, good food. The last few weeks I have been reflecting and thinking about my own life and what helps my well-being. I have been reminded how important friends are and the relationships I have with others, to my own wellbeing. Often our lives can be so busy with work, family life, and other commitments, it can be hard to make time to spend with friends. Since becoming self-employed I have had the opportunity to re think many things in my life. One area I have intentionally tried to do more of is seeing friends. I still don’t manage this as much as I would like, there are friends who live far away that I rarely get to see. Having opportunities to spend time with others, usually over a coffee or a meal, with people who I care for and I know care for me, is very nurturing. The relationship of listening and being listened to, of being with people who we can be honest with and who accept us is an important part of an enriched life and essential to our wellbeing.
In the nurture work, I spend a lot of time helping children with friendships, learning how to be a good friend, how to be kind to others and how to play well with others; helping children to understand the need to work on their friendships. With children and young people, we know friendships are key to helping with their wellbeing. It can be really upsetting seeing children and young people who are struggling with friendships, who have been hurt or rejected by their friends. In the early years in the UK, a lot of emphases is given to helping children with their social skills. In Sweden and Denmark, the curriculum is based on this until a child is 7, believing that if we don’t have those foundations right a child cannot thrive and is not ready to learn. As children get older we often stop thinking about those social skills, but I am beginning to think again about this. I believe we are never too old to think about our social skills, our friendships, and our relationships. Periodically we need to stop and ask ourselves, are we spending enough time with friends? Are we being a good friend? Do we have good, mutually nurturing friendships and relationships in our lives?

This weekend I have had the opportunity to drink coffee, eat meals, laugh, cry, be honest and just be with some great friends, for that opportunity I am very grateful and feel very blessed.

 

Photo is of one friend who my life would be very empty without her

Supporting young people with stress and anxiety

 

 

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One night this week I was running an information session on stress and anxiety in young people, for year 10 parents at my children’s old senior school. This session came out of a piece of work I did two and half years ago when I still worked for a large children’s charity. Back then I became really aware of the rising number of young people we were seeing who were suffering from stress and anxiety. I spoke with a many young people and heard their stories, their experiences, their worries, and fears. I made recommendations to the local authority about what they and schools could do and I made suggestions to the charity about future work they could develop. At the time, this felt like a really significant piece of work. I had high hopes that we would get new funding and we would deliver a much larger piece of work, but it wasn’t to be. Our project was closed and our work in this area didn’t continue.

The request to run this session came as a surprise, in preparation for the session, I looked back at the initial findings and comments from young people, and was reminded yet again how important their comments were and how broken and sad some of our young people are. During the evening session, I was really struck by how much this school cared about the mental health of their young people, and how concerned the parents were.

We put so much pressure on young people today. We have such high expectations of them, particularly in education, the government is expecting more and more from them. We expect that young people should be able to achieve highly, be organised, know what they want to do with their lives, and make ‘sensible decisions’. Whilst forgetting that they are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in the world, and what they believe. Last year I read a book by Dan Siegel called Brainstorm. He argues that a young person brain is not fully developed until they are 25. I shared this with the parents. This was news to them and many commented that it made so much sense. So when our teens are finding it difficult to make good decisions we need to remember that there is still a lot of development taking place inside their heads.

One of my main messages to the parents was about being there for young people; young people need to have someone who will listen to them, they need to feel loved and know that they belong. They need to hear they are special and that they are accepted for who they are. I now work weekly with 4-year-olds, providing nurture support for children who are finding school life difficult. The main thing 4 years olds need is to know they are loved, they are special, that they belong and they are accepted.

I have reminded again that the needs our children have don’t change as they get older. The way they communicate might change, some of their behaviour might change but ultimately they need to know that even when they are broken, someone will be there to help transform their brokenness and pain. There is a Japanese word for a form of Japanese pottery called Kintsugi. These are pots that become broken in the firing process and are then repaired with a special lacquer of gold or silver, transforming their brokeness into a thing of beauty. I love this image and see it as a way we need to view woking with children and teens who are troubled, broken and finding life hard. We need to find ways to bring out their beauty, and to transform their brokenness. I firmly believe one way to start that process is by being there for them, loving them and accepting them.

Being Vulnerable

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I think the idea of being vulnerable and being open to being vulnerable is a challenging one. Often being vulnerable is seen as a failing. We are often led to believe we need to be strong all the time, we can’t show our true feelings, raw emotions or our vulnerability.

But I have found working with children who are finding life difficult requires us to be vulnerable and to recognise how vulnerable they are being. When we are working with children directly we need to be emotionally stable, calm and resilient, but when we step away from the child, and we are reflecting on the work with colleagues, it is ok, in fact, it is good to be vulnerable, and to be honest about how the work is making us feel. Inevitability the work can touch us in unexpected ways and we need to be able to acknowledge that.
I have been thinking about vulnerability quite a lot recently, partly prompted by a book I have read, ‘Daring Greatly’ by Brene Brown. She believes it is vital that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, allowing ourselves to recognise what we find hard, what scares us and what barriers we put up to stop us really being in touch with our feelings. This has made me think a lot about what makes me feel vulnerable. She proposes that by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable we are daring greatly and living wholeheartedly. The last couple of years has been a massive time of change for me, started by being made redundant from the children’s charity I had worked with for 20 years. I chose to become self-employed, I felt and still do that I was putting myself in a vulnerable place, waiting to see if anyone wanted me. More recently I have been asked to write a book, in many ways this is terrifying and I am aware it is making myself very vulnerable; the messages in my head are saying it won’t be good enough, I will be judged as being a rubbish writer. Brene Brown suggests we need to make ourselves vulnerable, to be daring, try new things, realise that there will be negativity but we need to give things a try.

I know the 4 yr olds I see each week are being vulnerable each day at school when they try something new that terrifies them when they manage to sit in a lesson when inside they don’t believe they can do it. I am hoping 2016 will be a year when I allow myself to be more daring, to allow myself to try more things that make me feel uncomfortable.

Book referenced: Daring Greatly- how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. Brene Brown. Penguin

Trying hard not to catastrophise

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I am very good at imagining the worst; at catasrophising. Since using mindfulness I am now far more aware of my tendency to do this but there are times when it is very hard to stop. Over Christmas I was dreading this first week of January, I had a strange week planned, I was going to Centerparcs with friends, but also still working in schools as Centerparcs is only 20 minutes from many of the schools I work in. My sister, her family and my mum were also going to be at Centerparcs; and then my sister and her family were leaving on Thursday to emigrate to New Zealand! I imagined awful things, I presumed that I would spend the week crying, that my Mum would be a mess and the children I work with would all be distressed at returning to school. I couldn’t imagine anything good about the week and all I really wanted to do was hide.

On the Tuesday morning I left early to go to work. My journey was a walk through the beautiful Redwood trees just as the dawn was beginning. I heard owls, I heard the birds morning song as they awoke and I saw rabbits. I made a decision that morning that I needed to choose to have some fun, that this was the last time for several years I would see my sister and her children and I needed to decide to enjoy it.

The week is now over, all the things I dreaded did not actually happen. The children I saw were mostly in a good place and pleased to be back at school, happily there were no tantrums or distress from them. My Mum coped amazingly well; I did cry as I knew I would, but not all week! and I had a lot of fun playing in the pool with my family and friends. As I am writing this piece I am also having an i-message conversation with my sister on the other side of the world. She is 13 hours ahead and telling me about their day on the beach where the sea is warm! So my fears of the plane crashing and never hearing from her again were very wrong! I am reminded again that catastrophising doesn’t help and often the things I really fear don’t fortunately happen.

nurture and wellbeing