Being supported

 

 

IMG_0050It is the last week of the school year for my nurture work, this is a week to say goodbye to staff who I have worked so closely with all year, a time of final sessions with the children who have become very important to me and will also leave a little of themselves in my memory. It’s a time to tell staff once again what an amazing job they have done, to remind them of the progress they have made with the child; and it is a time to tell the children for one last time this year that they are special and how much I have loved working with them.

The end of the school year is a time to stop and reflect, my main reflection has been how important support is. In our nurture role, we are in an unusual position that we can work with a school and child for a year, we can support them by visiting them weekly, by being there, not just advising and telling them what to do but also by being hands on and modelling the work. One teacher told me she appreciated having someone to rant to, others have said they were grateful for having someone who they knew was there for them and supported them through some very stressful times.

We all need people in our lives to support us, people, who will come alongside us and tell us we can do it, to encourage us. A week ago I and a small team launched a crowdfunding project for a children’s book and animation project called Mummy’s Got Bipolar. When we initially planned for this I had not anticipated the strong feelings I would have with it. I wrote the children’s book, drawing on my own experience of my Mum having Bipolar and my experience of working with other families and children over the years. I foolishly didn’t really realise how brave I needed to be to do this project!. I find asking for support in this project quite hard, I am not a natural promoter or marketing person. Also because it is a subject that I believe in and I care about it has brought up feelings of vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Earlier this year I read a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly, I didn’t realise at the time how important her words were going to be to me. Brene talked about having the courage and being brave to step out of your comfort zones and take risks. That is definitely what I have done this last week, but this has only been possible by people supporting me. It has been a very scary week! but various family and friends have been there, given me encouraging words, supported the project, offered ideas and suggestions. Without their support the last week would have been a lot harder. There is still another 3 weeks of the campaign to go and I know that ongoing support is going to be vital to get us to the end.

If you’re interested in looking at the campaign a link  is here

Advertisements

Talking to children about mental illness

86164-656f4c7f064f7971e96d8898519d7450

We know that mental illness affects huge numbers of adults and children in this country, Mind suggest 1 in 4 adults have a mental illness, Young Minds suggest 1 in 10 children aged between 5-16 have a diagnosed mental health disorder. Even with the numbers being so high, mental illness is still a subject that many people feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable talking about.

I grew up in a family where mental illness was very obvious, my Mum has Bipolar, there was no hiding away from it. As a family, we had many many good times together but there were also times that were hard, days when she was very ill. Back then it was common for people with Bipolar to be hospitalised, my Mum spent many, many months over the years in a large mental health hospital called Barrow Gurney in Bristol. As a child I visited her plenty of times; never really understanding what was wrong, all I knew was that my Mummy was ill, that sometimes she couldn’t look after me and sometimes she needed to stay in the large, scary hospital. Thankfully far more is now understood about mental illness/ Bipolar and hospitalisation is often not needed.

I knew my Mum had an illness but I didn’t have a name for the illness. I didn’t realise what her illness was until I was in a school assembly aged 14 when Mind took the assembly and described mental illness and something called Manic depression ( the name for Bipolar back then). That was a lightbulb moment for me, I suddenly realised that it was not just my Mum that was ill. Having an understanding of her illness really helped me.

I now work with young children and young people some of whom have parents with mental illness, some children and young people who have a mental illness themselves. I passionately believe that we need to help children and young people understand what is happening around them. If they or parent/ sibling has an illness I believe we need to help children understand what that is illness is. I use books all the time in my work, I have a mini library of issue books that I use with children and recommend to people, these vary from domestic violence, cancer, divorce, parents in prison. When I had my own children I started to look for books that I could use to explain to my children about their Granny’s Bipolar, and I couldn’t find any aimed at younger children. There are now books available aimed at older children around 7+ but no books aimed at younger children.

I know it can be hard for adults to know how to begin talking to a child about Bipolar, I know some adults are worried about talking to children at too young an age. In my experience young children are curious, inquisitive, they want to ask questions, they want information, not too much, but enough to help them feel safe. For this reason, I have written a children’s book aimed at children aged 3-7 years. I have recently launched a crowdfunding project to fund the illustration, printing of the book and to turn the book into an animation. My hope is that we can make this book available to children’s centres, nurseries, schools, GP surgeries, CAMHS services. The aim of the book and animation is that children and families can look at this together and begin to talk about Bipolar.

The story is about a Mum, Dad, 2 girls and 2 guinea pigs. It will be a beautifully illustrated book, illustrated and animated by my close friend Jon Birch. It is a gentle story introducing Bipolar, helping children to understand it is not something to be afraid of, and it is ok to ask questions about it.

Please have a look at the crowdfunding page, it would be great if you could support this and tell others about it. We need to raise a lot of money, £13,000. The great idea with crowdfunding is that no money is taken until the whole amount has been pledged, so no-one loses out.

 

Image by Jon Birch, 1 of the illustrations to be used in the book and animation

 

 

Stopping and noticing beauty and change

 

 

IMG_1482

This term is about reflecting and reviewing the nurture work over the past year. It is time to write end of year reports, remember the children as they were in September and recognise the tremendous change , they, their staff and I have seen over the year. It is about stopping and noticing the beauty in their development.

The year has at times been fraught, there have been many tears and much laughter. Some highlights for me have been seeing children who started the year very scared and frightened are now laughing, joining in, making friends. Being able to write end of year reports and describe a child as being a happy, smiling, joyful child is a wonderful achievement. Once again I have seen school staff work so hard to accept, love and support these children. Once again I have been reminded that progress for a child is not just about their academic attainment.

Throughout the year I have walked around the meadow at the back of our house, every Sunday morning, it’s a bit of ritual for me, it is a place where I can think, reflect and just be. A thought I had this morning was about the changes I see in the meadow through the year, in the Autumn it has been mown, it is short, sparse and a bit spiky, in the winter if often looks quite bleak, then in the spring it begins to develop new life, to grow and develop and in the summer it is space of beauty. This morning I noticed the butterflies and moths have returned, more of the wildflowers were there, it is back to being a space of beauty. But you only really notice the butterflies and the flowers when you slow down and notice and look. I felt this was really similar to the nurture work. There are times at the beginning of the year where it is hard and spiky work and there are many times in the year where it feels really bleak. But it does change, through the process of remembering and reviewing, of stopping and noticing the small changes that have been made, we can see the beauty that has developed and that is something to celebrate.

Looking for hope

IMG_1271

 

It has been a week of awful news , the homophobic deaths in Orlando, the tragic death of Jo Cox and personally an old friend of mine , Bob Holman died of motor neurone disease this week. I have also been reminded several times this week, how extremely hard and sad life is for many of the children I work with. In weeks like this, it is really hard to find any hope, to find any light in the darkness. I have found myself each day acknowledging how hard it feels, how desperately sad it makes me feel. When life is dark it’s important to acknowledge the darkness and the feelings that brings. But I also know, particularly with the children I work with, I need to find some light, some hope.

The hope for me this week has been reading Brendan Cox’s words, just hours after his wife’s death, calling on people to “fight against the hatred that killed her”, reminding people how Jo believed in a better world. Bob Holman’s death is very sad, but he leaves behind a legacy of fighting for justice and against poverty, his work influenced and touched many people, my memory of Bob is that he hoped and believed that things could be different, he believed there could be change.

Finding light in my nurture work has been through seeing the children laughing, engaging and playing, these sound like small things, but for many of the children I work with, that is a huge achievement. Also in the rest of life enjoying being with friends and family, enjoying the preciousness of our time together and giving thanks for our lives.

Re-connecting with nature

 

IMG_0050

This last week has been a half term holiday for me, a small break from working in schools, an opportunity to refresh and relax a bit. I have spent large chunks of the week re-connecting with nature. I spend a lot of time with children outside, helping them re-connect with their feelings while outside, this is great but it is work, I work hard while with the children commenting, supporting, observing, modelling to staff, supporting staff and enabling the child to engage.

So this week I felt that I needed to reconnect my feelings with nature. When you work with children who find life hard, who become dysregulated quickly, it is so important to be aware of your own feelings, emotions and needs. I spend a lot of my time telling staff they need to be kind to themselves, so I need to make sure I do that myself!

Since a trip to Denmark over 5 years ago, I have developed a love of foraging!. So this week I have been enjoying foraging and cooking. I have enjoyed cooking nettle soup, elderflower cordial and red clover cordial. I have also enjoyed times of walking barefoot on grass, in meadows and on a beach. I love the experience of walking barefooted, it makes you feel more connected to the earth, more aware of what is around you. This morning I took my usual early morning Sunday walk in the meadow at the back of our house, I love the beauty of this space and how it changes over the season. It is now almost at full height, with the various grasses, clover, wild orchids and oxeye daisy’s growing. There is a path mowed around the edge of the meadow, for the community to be able to walk around and enjoy it without trampling all the wild flowers. I walked it this morning barefooted, I noticed this made me really slow down, really take notice of what was around me. This felt very timely as I know I am about to enter my busiest term of the year, ending with current children, meeting new children and supporting an extra four year six children, as well as training and writing. Lots to look forward to.

 

Photo of Tunley meadow

How will you be kind to yourself this week?

 

 

IMG_0049

I have spent my week mostly asking this question to the teachers and TA’s that I work with. It’s the end of the term, the teachers are exhausted, the children are a mix of being irritable and bouncy! they inevitably pick up on the stress of the staff and this, in turn, leads them to respond in ways which the staff finds hard. So, everyone, this week has been saying how much they are looking forward to the week off, but then in the next breath, the teachers have been telling me the work they need to do, the planning that has to be done, the reports that have to be written. So my question has been how will you be kind to yourself  this week?

When we are busy, when we are stressed, those are the times it is particularly important to be kind to ourselves. For one teacher I suggested that each day in half term she did one thing for herself that she enjoyed, that made her feel good. She looked a bit blank and wasn’t sure what that could be, I told her that for me I like to bake or garden, those are 2 things I enjoy and find therapeutic. She agreed that she loved baking and would try this.

I am interested in how we learn to be kind to ourselves and what different people do for this, I have one friend who loves running, Jenny  ran through her treatment of cancer last year, this was one way she could be kind to herself. I have another friend who loves knitting and finds the process of knitting helps her to switch off. My husband cycles, if he doesn’t have a chance to cycle in a week he becomes agitated, this weekend he is cycling to and around the Isle of Wight with a group of friends and Amos Trust, to me that is an extreme way to be kind to himself, but it works for him!.

During my week off from schools it will be an opportunity to start a new chapter, the next one is on staff well-being, it feels pretty timely after this last week!; but along with writing I plan to be  kind to myself by gardening each day, my garden at this time of year brings me so much joy and pleasure ( as long as the slugs don’t eat everything!).

Preparing for change and transitions

 

IMG_2549

This week has had a focus on preparing for change. I have just begun working with my 4-year-olds to help them prepare for the change and move into a year 1 class. It is vital to help these children to prepare for and be ready for changes. To start this process I got them to take photos in school about what they enjoy and like doing in school. I will make these into mini photo books for them, they will have a copy and a copy will go to their new year 1 teacher; helping the teachers to understand and hear directly from the children about what is important to them and what makes them happy in school. I love asking children to take photos, it allows us as adults to view the world through their eyes. Many of the photos this week have been of outdoor spaces, another reminder of how important it is to have children outside, how happy this makes them feel; hopefully, something the year 1 teachers will be able to include lots of next year.

As a family, we have also been thinking of change. Our eldest daughter has been on her first foreign holiday with friends. This has brought about some anxiety on my behalf! but also the reminder to myself, her Dad and sister that she is moving to University in September. We have all found seeing her bedroom empty this week quite poignant and sad, we have missed her this week and have been talking about her moving in September. This is, of course, an important transition for her and one we will celebrate, but it is also a transition that will bring some sadness. One close friend who has already experienced this change dropped off today some ‘ magical brownies guaranteed to bring slight consolation to anyone who maybe missing a child or sibling”. This was such a wonderful reminder of the support we have from close friends who will help us to manage our next transition.

 

Photo of outdoor space taken by a 4-year-old

nurture and wellbeing