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.

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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.

Finding beauty in darkness

 

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Sometimes it can feel that we are surrounded by dark things. This last term has felt at times full of darkness, the world news has been bleak, there has been deeply sad news affecting various friends and some of the stories I have heard through work have been really distressing. Over the years I have learnt that I can’t escape the darkness, that I need to learn at times how to live in the darkness, but within the darkness there can be moments of beauty.

I went for a walk this morning looking for some beauty. I felt that I needed to put this last term behind me and begin the process of finding rest, relaxation, peace and beauty. I have spent the last few days writing a chapter about outdoor play and helping children enhance their wellbeing through the outdoors. Writing it has reminded me that I need some wildness, I need some time outdoors, for my own wellbeing I need to find some beauty.

The moments of beauty for me this morning were in seeing the sunrise, hearing birds singing, seeing a tiny wren in my garden and finding a rose that is still growing. My aim over this remaining advent and into the end of the year is to keep looking out for the moments of beauty.

Working with Children and Animals

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Over the years of working with young children, I have loved seeing their joy and delight, at the wonder and at the awe of the world around them. I believe that children have a natural sense of wonder, curiosity and delight; we often see this more when they are outside and with animals.

I was reminded of that last week when I was taking a walk with a small boy and a dog, this boy usually has limited speech and it has been hard to find out what the boy enjoys, but this week I discovered the boy adores dogs! In the short walk, we made some wonderful discoveries, had a great time climbing trees, watching the dog sniff everywhere, played in mud and with puddles. The extension of his language and communication was amazing. I discovered so much more about what he likes, what he is good at and what makes him happy. We discovered that dogs are very happy most of the time and wag their tails to show us, we discovered that dogs will eat all the biscuits in a little boys pockets if given the chance, we discovered that branches on a tree are quite bouncy when you stand on them, we discovered that dogs and little boys love running together. Going on this walk reminded me of how much more we can learn about children when we give them the space to explore and discover. It also reminded me of the powerful impact animals can have on children. I saw a whole new side to this little boy, through seeing him with a dog. I saw a gentleness, a curiosity, a delight and I heard some fantastic words from him. It’s encouraged me to think about how we can give children opportunities to be with animals.

How do we live our one wild and precious life?

 

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In the summer, I was introduced to the poet Mary Oliver. She wrote a poem called The Summer day, which is a beautiful poem, it talks about noticing, about stopping and seeing and being. At the end of the poem it raises the question, ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

I have had this line going through my head over the last few months since I first heard it.This line is a reminder of the wonder of our lives, about noticing the beauty around us but also about recognising how wonderful, precious and amazing our life is. This line has encouraged me to reflect on what I do with my life, how I spend my time working and playing and resting. I find the question challenging but also exciting. Part of my work life is to train people. I try to encourage them to be inspired and excited about working with children and young people. I try to encourage them to think about how they listen to children and young people and the difference that can make and the influence they can have. I love training, and I often get a real buzz from it. I love the thrill of going into an unknown group, there is always a slight moment of fear that they won’t like what I am saying, but also a hope that I can leave behind some ideas that might influence their practice and ultimately make a difference to children and young people. In the last two weeks, I have been offered an amazing opportunity to write a book for Jessica Kingsley Publishers about how we promote young children’s emotional health and wellbeing. Writing a book was never really in my thoughts or imaginings, but once the seed had been planted I realised how excited I was at the opportunity. This opportunity has reminded me that sometimes things come our way that we were not looking for, that we can’t always plan ahead. To be honest, I am not sure if I can write a book, but I am going to have fun trying and enjoy this one wild moment and opportunity in my life.

How do we nurture ourselves?

 

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Yesterday I attended a retreat led by Ian Adams and Gail Adams. One of the questions they were exploring is how do we nurture ourselves? This is a question I have been exploring and thinking about a great deal over the last few months. One of my roles is a nurture support worker, supporting and working with 4 yr olds who find it very difficult to be in school. The main part of this role is to nurture them, and support the staff in school to nurture them. I feel that I spend a lot of hours in the week thinking about what it means to be nurturing and what the nurture needs are of the children I support and what the nurture needs are of the staff I support. The word nurture has become an everyday word for me, but it is a special word, a word which carries so much depth.

In the last few months, I have been particularly aware of the need to nurture myself. I know that if I do not take care of myself, take care of own wellbeing then I will be unable to fully nurture others. Last weekend we went to see a friend who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. In our conversations together we discussed how she can die well, but also how she can live well now. This conversation was full of laughter and joy but also, some soul-searching for all of us about how do we live well now? I feel the question of how do we nurture ourselves is woven in with how do we live well now.

In my role of nurturing young children, I want to help them feel special, to feel loved, to find joy and learn to love life and live well. I am aware these are things I want for myself, my family and friends. So my aim this week is to continue trying to nurture myself. Part of this is spending time with friends, finding joy each day and to continue learning how to live life well.

The photo was taken this morning, seeing the sun rise over the meadow by our house. My start this morning at living well and nurturing myself.

nurture and wellbeing