Tag Archives: mental health

On the re-opening of early years and school.

 

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This week most schools and early years settings are re-opening. There are so many political arguments about this, which I am not going to enter into on this posting. However, I know staff have been working so hard over the last few weeks, to make this the best they can for the children to return. I know staff have been working incredibly hard at organising, preparing, planning, and changing plans as the government keeps changing the guidance. I know that many staff feel that they are having to compromise what they believe is the best practice in order to fit into the new guidance.

I am aware that in all the arguing and political debating we can easily forget that behind all this are many staff, some will be pleased to return, some will be unsure and others will be incredibly scared. Change is so hard, especially when change is happening and we don’t really know what the outcome will be, how long we will be working in this new way, and whether we will all be shut down again.

Working in the time of a crisis, at a time of change and uncertainty, and at a time when many feel fearful and anxious, this brings with it additional stresses on top of an already demanding job in normal times. These are not normal times.

I am writing this blog for my friends and colleagues who are returning this week, and for those of you I don’t know, I am writing to say I am thinking of you, I know this is going to feel hard and maybe scary and to say thank you. Thank you for doing this, thank you for being there for the children, thank you for making it the best you possibly can for the children, because I believe that is what you will do.

Please make sure you take extra time to care for yourself and if anyone is reading this who lives with or is friends with a teacher, TA or early years worker who is returning, be extra kind to them in these weeks, check in on them, buy them chocolate ( or something else they like!), they are going to need it.

May your week go well.

Below are some links which might be useful

Alistair Bryce Clegg  has an excellent blog post with thoughts on returning

I was asked by my local early year’s team to make some short videos for staff about the return to work, staff wellbeing, and children’s wellbeing. They are accessible to all. This is a link to them.

Wellbeing ideas for children on the return to school/ nursery

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Early years staff and reception teachers have been working extremely hard over the last few weeks preparing settings ready for children to return in June. I know for many this has been a hugely stressful experience, re thinking the spaces and resources children are able to access.  When children return we know their experiences will be massively varied, when they return we are all going to need to pay even more attention to their emotional and mental wellbeing. During this last week the team I work with have been pulling together wellbeing ideas for reception class staff to be able to use in the classroom, some simple ideas which can support children’s wellbeing, that can be done individually or with a socially distanced group and ideas where the resources won’t cause cross contamination. I hope these ideas might be helpful to others.

 

Bubble breathing – Give each child their own small pot of bubbles, tell the child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calm. Get the child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away their worries and fears. You can buy a pot of 24 mini party bubbles from amazon for around £5.

Bee breathing Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Barefoot walking Do this activity all together go outside on a grassy area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Get everyone to take shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel. Bare-foot walking is a slow and mindful activity.

Senses exercise You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Calming bottle – Get each child to fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get the child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book-Get each child to draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Playdough give each child their own pot of play dough to play, squeeze, explore, make a face.

Feather breathing – give each child their own feather, encourage them to take a mindful moment with the feather, notice its colour, texture, how it feels against the skin. Then ask children to take a breathe in and breathe out blowing onto the feather. Do this 3 or 4 times. You can then ask the children to let go of the feather on the out breathe and see if they can keep it in the air with their breathe.

Finger breathing Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

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Make a worry doll ( see bellow) and read the book Silly Billy by Anthony Browne, Worry dolls taken from Alistair Bryce -Clegg website

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Movement breaks

 

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Sunrise

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, the overall theme is kindness. As people who know me will be aware mental health is an area I spend a lot of time in, I work with 4 yr olds who have social, emotional, and mental health difficulties and my Mum has Bipolar. This lockdown period has been a huge challenge for so many children, young people, and adults who have mental health difficulties. It’s also been a huge challenge for people who don’t usually have mental health difficulties.

During this lockdown, I have found myself being asked to write more articles, deliver more training, do more short video links around mental health and wellbeing alongside virtually supporting schools, families, and staff I work with. I found myself regularly questioning what on earth do I know about how to stay mentally well in these times. I am also trying to write a new book on how we support children with social-emotional and mental health difficulties. Lockdown seemed the ideal time to write a book, but actually, that isn’t my experience!.

In my writing and training, I talk about the importance of a routine for children and adults to support wellbeing. My usual routine before the lockdown was to do an early morning swim each Monday-Friday, I have been doing this for around 8 years. In lockdown I decided to replace my swim with a sunrise walk, at the start of lockdown this was around the time I would normally leave the house, 6.05 and it felt good to continue my normal routine. Then the clocks changed changing the time to 6.50 this still felt good. If I am honest I didn’t think that lockdown would last that long, I could cope with the idea of 4 maybe 5 weeks, I couldn’t cope with thinking of it longer than that. So I decided I would keep going with my sunrise walk. I knew the routine was important, I knew being outside was good for my wellbeing, but it’s become more than that. Now 9 weeks on the time of sun rising is getting earlier, tomorrow it will be 5.14 in our area, by the end of May it will be 4.59. I have been asking myself how long will I keep going, it doesn’t look like pools are about to reopen, so do I keep going, or do I stop? The problem is in my thinking about stopping, I have realised how much I cherish seeing the sunrise. It gives me hope for each day, it’s become a spiritual act, a time where I am reminded that all is not lost, there is still hope with a new day. More than ever this lockdown has shown me I need routine. Also, when all around me feels heavy and frightening, I need to see some beauty and something positive. Starting the day in this way feels like a gentle nurturing act of kindness to myself. I was talking it through with my husband this morning, I am thinking I might just keep going. The solstice is 21st June, sunrise here will be 4.52, that doesn’t sound too bad.

I have written a few books around mental health, see links below

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing- a practical guide for professionals and parents

Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff – a practical guide for looking after yourself and your colleagues

Mummy’s Got Bipolar. 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- 

There is also a free animation of Mummy’s Got Bipolar on Youtube 

 

 

Calming ideas to try at home

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One of my schools asked for an ideas sheet of calming things to do at home. As a team we have created this sheet. Attached it here incase it is useful for others.

Ideas for parents to help your child feel calm

Some of our children are feeling anxious at this time, here are some ideas from the Brighter Future team of activities you could do with your children at home to help them feel calmer.

Bubble breathing – Take a pot of bubbles, tell your child you are going to do some bubble breathing to help them feel calmer. Get your child to dip the wand into the bubble mixture, take a deep breath in and slowly blow out through the wand. Watch the bubbles float away, imagine the bubbles are taking away your worries and fears.

Bee breathing- Sit somewhere comfortable, place your hands over your ears, take a breath in, as you breathe out making a humming noise. Repeat a few times.

Bubbles in a bowl- Put some bubble bath into warm water in a bowl, if possible use some calming bubble bath e.g. lavender scent. Use a straw to blow bubbles to the top of the bowl.

Rocking toy to sleep- Get your child to lie on their back and put a toy on their tummy. Explain they are going to rock the toy to sleep. Get them to take deep breaths, as they breathe in and out their tummy will lift up and down, rocking the toy to sleep.

Barefoot walking- Do this activity together, if you can go outside in a garden or on a grass area, check the area for sharp things, etc. Take your shoes and socks off and walk on the grass, notice how it feels on your feet, notice how it makes you feel.

Senses exercise- You can do this outside or through an open window. Close your eyes and listen to what you can hear, listen to how many different noises you can hear. Open your eyes, notice the different colours you can see. Sniff the air, what can you smell.

Foot bath- Fill a bowl with warm soapy water, invite your child to take their shoes and socks off and put their feet in the bowl.  Gently massage their feet.

Hand massage- Use some hand cream and gently give your child a hand massage

Eye spy bottles- Get an empty bottle and collect some small items from the house, put these inside the bottle, fill the bottle with rice and glitter. Add a label to the bottle with a list of things to spy. Get the child to see how many things they can spy by gently shaking the bottle.

Calming bottle – Fill an empty bottle with water, add some glitter. Get your child to shake the bottle, place their hand on their tummy and breathe in and out slowly as the glitter settles.

Make a happy book- Draw or stick pictures in the book of things that make them happy, when they are feeling sad or need to find some calm, they could look at this.

Hot Chocolate calming- Make a cup of hot chocolate, breathe in sniffing the warm mug of hot chocolate, breathe out blowing on your hot chocolate to cool it down

Create a calm space – together create a space in the house that can be safe and nurturing, a space to go to when they feel stressed. Make it cosy and put in a favourite toy, blanket, cushion etc. Explain this a space to go in and feel safe and calm.

Lay in a blanket –Find a big blanket, get your child to lie in it and wrap them gently in the blanket, if the child isn’t too big, you could take both ends, lift it slightly off the ground and gently rock them in the blanket.

Play calming music – Find some music that you all find calming, lie down or sit and listen to it

Do some yoga – Do some Yoga together, cosmic kids on Youtube offers yoga and mindfulness sessions. https://www.youtube.com/user/CosmicKidsYoga

Finger breathing

Inhale as you trace up the thumb, exhale as you trace down the thumb, inhale tracing up the next finger, exhale down etc until you have traced all five fingers.

Cloud dough

1 cup of cornflour

1/2 cup of hair conditioner 

Mix together until it looks like dough. This is very soft to play with, it can become crumbly, playing with it in a large bowl stops it getting everywhere. You can keep this in an airtight container.

Home made stress  balls 

1 balloon

cornflour

funnel

Put the funnel into the top of the balloon, 3/4 fill the balloon with corn flour. squeeze the remaining air out and tie the balloon, use this as a stress ball to let out feelings of frustration. You could draw a face on the balloon.

Worry dolls worry-dolls2.jpgTaken from https://abcdoes.com/home-learning/ 

Goodbye to January

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This morning I went for a long walk, partly as a way of starting February off in a positive way. I have found January hard, it feels like it has been a month of mostly bad news about friends and family health, there has been a lot of grey weather and sky, and work has felt challenging, but not in a positive way, challenging in a way that has triggered quite a lot of self-doubt.

This morning I was thinking about what I like in February, the days getting longer, early spring flowers, new leaves which can bring early foraging of nettles and wild garlic, also being able to start some early spring planting in my greenhouse. Yesterday I washed and cleaned the greenhouse in preparation for the new year of planting. The other plus is the water is slowly warming up- perfect for more wild swimming!

These are just small changes but thinking about them has cheered me up this morning, it has helped me to feel more positive about the coming month. Curiously, it has also helped me to think about what has gone well in the last month, rather than staying in the negative thoughts, seeing the small moments of positive in work rather than focusing on the challenges. I am usually quite an optimistic person, but sometimes I can find the gloom can pull me in!.

To aid me through February, I have written a list of ideas of what will help me to thrive during this month, the idea is if I am feeling gloomy and down and I can look at my list and remind myself what will help and do one of them.

Awe and wonder around us

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This weekend my husband and I went to watch the wonder of Starling murmurations on the Somerset Levels, we live quite near the area and it’s something we have started to do each year over the last few years. It’s an amazing spectacle to watch, so awe-inspiring, the movement and fluidity of the birds, in synchronisation with one another is incredible. It is a natural wonder.

This term I am delivering lots of staff wellbeing training, over the coming months I will be delivering this 8 times. In many ways, it’s no surprise that January and February are the months that schools and nurseries are wanting support in this area. For some people January and February can be quite bleak and tough, the lack of sunshine and often endless rain in the UK doesn’t help that. Each time I deliver wellbeing training I talk about being outside, I encourage the participants to get out, to spend time in nature, enjoy the outdoors, to engage with the awe and wonder that surrounds us. This can feel hard to do in the winter months, but it’s worth making the effort. There is growing evidenceshowing how engaging with nature boosts our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Watching the murmuration yesterday evening we were alongside many other people, of all ages, but particularly families with young and older children. It was a joy to share this delightful moment alongside strangers. You would often hear gasps of wonder from across the ages at the sight they were watching, there was something magical that we were all sharing. A reminder of how precious our earth is, how wonderful nature is. I did not doubt that our hour spent out in the dusk, watching birds was a huge boost for everyone’s wellbeing.

Recognising feelings and emotions

 

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This week it is world mental health day on Thursday 10th October, a day when many organisations, nurseries, and schools will be focusing on promoting positive mental health and wellbeing. Raising awareness is so important, however, one day a year or one wellbeing week a year in a nursery or school is not enough to embed practice. One area that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how we enable children to have a wide emotional vocabulary and understanding. If we can help children from a young age to understand the feelings they have, to be able to interpret what is going on in their bodies, then we are setting them for a good foundation of emotional wellbeing.  

Along with this is helping children to understand we all have a wide range of emotions and that is ok, we don’t have to be happy all the time. Over the last few years I have worked with a few children who have a fixed smile on their face, at first it is easy to think they are happy, but once you spend time with them, you realise it is a smile that comes out of a place of feeling uneasy, unsure, a bit scared, and they don’t know how to express these feelings. We need to help children to understand it is ok that they are not happy all the time, they can be sad or angry or jealous or scared, these feelings are normal. The problem is when we think happiness is a state we should aim to be in all the time, this can set us up to feel like a failure. As adults we need to model and show children that we all have wide range of feelings and emotions and to be able to name them, part of this is by regular acknowledging how we feel and noticing how the children are feeling- ‘ Lily I can see you are feeling tired and a bit sad today, that’s ok, would it help to spend some time sitting quietly together and looking at a book?’ or children I am feeling a bit worried this morning, I have lost my keys, I keep looking for them, do you think you could help me find them. A rich emotional vocabulary needs to be what we constantly hear in our early year’s settings.

If we can help children to have an emotional understanding and vocabulary from a young age, we are equipping them with a tool for life. I often come across adults who have a really limited emotional vocabulary, they find it so hard to express appropriately how they feel, or they feel guilty about not always feeling happy with their life. This is an unnecessary burden to carry through life, as early years workers we can help to change this. 

I am being interviewed about emotional literacies by Kathy Brodie on her Early Years summit if you want to hear this and many fantastic interviews a link is here

There is a growing range of resources we can use to help children understand feelings and emotions and to support mental wellbeing. A few books I have written are:

Mummy’s Got Bipolar 

Can I tell you about Bipolar disorder- ( for children aged 7 plus)

Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing: A Practical Guide for Professionals and Parents

Stillness and noticing in preparation for the new term

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We are entering the last week of the summer holidays for many in England and Wales, this is a week when it can be a mix of excitement for what is ahead, trepidation, sometimes fear, and these can be feelings experienced by all involved; children, parents, and staff. I am aware I have all those feelings about the new year, I love my job as a nurture consultant, I think it’s probably the best job I have had so far, but there are unknowns ahead, new children, new staff, new schools and I can find new things can lead me to feeling a bit anxious.

Sometimes this week can be busy with organising and sorting, it can be a busy week in the preparation for the new term ahead. I am aware that for me this week needs to also involve some extra time for slowness and stillness, times when I can notice my breathing, recognise the creeping anxiety and nervousness. I have learned over the years the main way to help me find some slowness and calmness is by being outside. I have started this week by having an early morning barefoot walk, around the community meadow, slowly walking and noticing the changes in the season, noticing the first signs of autumn, enjoying the beauty around me. My plan is to repeat this each day this week.

I know many children find this last week of the holiday difficult, their anxiety levels rise with the fear of what is ahead. There is an increasing amount of research to show how spending time outside actively supports children’s ( and adults) wellbeing and mental health. If you are a parent reading this, possibly find some times to be outside this week with your children, go for a walk, pick blackberries, build a den, find a stream and build a dam and paddle. Spending time together outside, noticing, enjoying the joy of the natural world will be positive for you and your children. If you are a teacher or an educator, again find some times to be outside, don’t spend all week planning and preparing, enjoy the natural world around you.

If your child does suffer from anxiety at the thought of returning to school there are some excellent books for children, I would recommend Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly, there is a version for primary and senior age, No worries Mindful kids activity book by Kate Abey ( suitable for older primary and lower senior), Rubys worry by Tom Percival ( younger children picture book).
I have a new book out this week, exploring how we can help engage with stillness practice in a faith context, many of the ideas in there are linked to being outside. The book is Using Christian Contemplative Practice with children.

 

Thinking about mental health

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I have spent the last few weeks thinking a lot about mental health, mainly because my Mum is really struggling with her mental health at the moment but also the last two weeks I have spent a lot of time talking to staff and parents about anxious children. One of the reflections I have had is that when someone is suffering from mental health it impacts not just the person but many around them. One problem is this is such a difficult thing to talk about because we don’t want to make the person feel guilty. There is, of course, nothing for them to feel guilty about. However, poor mental health always affects more than just the sufferer. Talking about mental health is less of a taboo than it used to be, and that is a good thing, but I think talking about the impact on surrounding people is talked about less.

JK Rowling writes about the dementors in her Harry Potter series, she has talked about how the idea of dementors came about from her experience of depression. I think this is such a good description, depression and anxiety suck the life out of you, it sucks away the joy of life, which is exactly what the dementors do in her stories. The problem is this doesn’t only impact the person, it also impacts those around them. When a child is highly anxious in school, they will often show this through very challenging behaviour, leading to the staff feeling distressed and often de-skilled as they feel unable to help or support the child. When a parent has a child who has been excluded due to their challenging and often distressing behaviour, again the parents feel worried, anxious and don’t know where to turn for help and support.

There are no easy answers in all of this, but one small thing that is needed is for people around to notice, and offer support. This week my colleague Fred called me and popped in for a tea in the middle of our day between schools visits, he knew my Mum was ill and he wanted to check in that I was ok. This meant so much to me. This small act of kindness and noticing made a huge difference. I think sometimes we can feel de-skilled when we know depression and anxiety is affecting a family or a school. When I delver staff wellbeing training I regularly talk about the need to support our colleagues. If you know a teacher or teaching assistant in your school has had a tough day due to being hurt by a distressed child, check in with them, ask them if they are ok. If you know a friend is struggling with their anxious child and the child has been excluded for the day or refusing to go to school, check in with the parents, ask how they are.

The other question you can ask for those surrounding the person with mental health difficulties is what small thing can they do help themselves feel well. They need to be well themselves to be able to support the person who is mentally ill. Thinking about their own mental health is so important. I write a lot about how swimming helps me feel mentally and physically well. On Thursday this week, I knew I needed to swim outside, the weather was awful, but I knew outdoor swimming would help me. I swam in our local Lido, in the pouring rain and it was the best decision I had made all week. It felt wonderfully refreshing, it allowed me to let go of what is in my head, it was cool, but that was I needed, the rain was at times heavy but that just increased the mindfulness of the experience. I am looking forward to my next outdoor swim this week.

How to thrive during term 6

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During half term, I have been thinking a lot about how to thrive during term 6. Term 6 is often the busiest term of our year, we take on new children and end with the children we have supported all year. From the last 5 years, I have learned that by the end of term 6 I am exhausted and drained both emotionally and physically. I love my job as a nurture consultant with 4 year olds, it’s incredibly rewarding and challenging which works well for me, however, I realised I often spend term 6 in survival mode not thriving and I want to change that.

Over the last few years wild swimming and outdoor swimming has become a key part of my summer, last year I managed 23 outdoor swims over the spring and summer months and that was great. Last week I had time away in the Peak district and then the Lake district, I discovered a Lido in Hathersage at the beginning of the week and then I swam in Wastwater Lake at the end of the week. The swim in the lake was probably the most beautiful wild swim I have done. The water was amazingly clear and fresh, and the lake is surrounded by stunning mountains, including Scafell Pike. It was a cold swim, this is the deepest lake in England, but I decided I wanted it to be my first wild swim of the year without a wet suit. It felt amazing, the endorphins I got from this swim were fantastic! yes, it was cold, but it was so worth it. Since returning home I swam yesterday in my local favourite swimming spot in a nearby river and again this was wonderful. I have known for years that swimming really helps my wellbeing, both mentally and physically, that is why I swim five days a week in a local pool. Last year I began to realise that wild swimming particularly helps me to feel great. Knowing this I have realised that is what I need to do to thrive term 6, I need to swim outdoors at least once a week. So that is my aim, to swim in the local lidos and to swim in the river, I have booked it in my diary, to help me make sure I remember. I hope this will increase my wellbeing and help me to thrive this term not just survive this term.