Tag Archives: mental health

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.

Mental health awareness week and yr 6 SATS week

 

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This week is mental health awareness week, mental health is talked about a lot more now, which is no doubt a fantastic and vital thing. However, for me, there is also an irony with this week being mental health awareness week as it is also Sats week for year 6 children across England ( 10 and 11 year olds) and if there was evidence of a week when thousands of children, teachers, and parents will not have good mental health, it is during Sats week. The pressure around children passing these papers is huge, it has never been great, when my daughters were in school there was some pressure, but it appears to be increasing year on year. It is common now for children to take practice papers in schools from the September they start year 6, revision sessions being provided for children for months in advance, and parents being encouraged to buy revision material. The emphasis on the Sats in yr 6 has led to the  curriculum in year 6 becoming very narrow, with the focus on teaching to the Sats paper. There are a growing number of myths about Sats and the importance of them, a recent survey found that 1 in 4 children believed their Sats results would affect their job prospects- this is of course wrong. My major concern with the Sats testing is how this is causing huge pressure on our children and negatively impacting their mental health.
Over the last few months, I have heard an increasing number of parents reporting how stressed their children are about the Sats, how their children fear they will fail, that they are not good enough, worried that if they fail their Sats they will then fail in Yr 7 and will never get GCSEs. I am sure this is not the message that schools, teachers and head teachers want to pass onto children, however when we put a huge emphasis on children passing a test at the end of Yr 6, when we continue to get the children to take revision papers all year, this will inevitably cause some children to feel huge pressure and a fear of failing.

We repeatedly hear that in the UK we have a growing number of children suffering from mental illness. In the UK 10% of children aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem (mental health UK website), these are the ones who have been diagnosed, there will be other children who have not been diagnosed. There needs to be change, we need to take this seriously and we need to act. We need to look at the wide range of causes that are impacting on children’s mental health. For me, one of the areas we need to look at is how we are testing children from a young age. With the issue of testing children, there are a growing number of head teachers, educators, and parents who are lobbying for change. The group of More than a score has lots of information about ways in which we can all lobby our MP’s, speak to our children’s school and to try and bring about some change. I would encourage you to have a look at their website.

Savouring Joy

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During the last week, I have been in Cornwall with my family, staying on the Lizard, the countryside and coastline here is breathtaking. I have learned over the years I find it helpful to be in a wild space at the start of the school holidays, this helps to me let go of the previous term. Towards the end of a term, I crave wild spaces, where I can take coastal walks, swim in the sea, and find some spaciousness. I know that being by the sea helps me to feel relaxed and brings me huge amounts of joy. During the week I was reading a book called the Blue Mind by Wallace J Nichols, he looks at neuroscience, psychology, evolutionary biology, and medical research to understand why many people are connected to water and how water can be very good for our health and wellbeing. As a person who swims 5 days a week and who feels a real draw to being by the water, this book made so much sense and explained some of the strong feelings of joy and calmness I have when I am by water. The week away, being by water, enabled me to build up many more moments of joy in my memory.

One idea the book talks about is how we need to savor joy for 15 seconds for it to imprint on our mind. By noticing we are feeling joyful and savoring that moment with gratitude it will imprint on our minds. I have read this in a few places over the last few weeks, and this has made me think about how we can help children imprint joy in their minds. Many of the children I work have an imprint of sadness and hurt on their minds, and do not always recognise when they are encountering joy. Neuroscientists have found that hurt and sadness sticks to our minds and memory immediately, whereas joy takes 15 seconds to stick. As trusted adults who are co-journeying with them, we can notice it for them, comment to them e.g. wow you look so happy there, you are smiling and laughing, I think you are really enjoying this moment. Helping children to build up a memory bank of joyful moments is such an important way we can support them in their wellbeing.

Sensory mindful walking

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The last few days I have been intentionally walking around the community meadow slowly, mindfully, with the idea of really noticing how spring is developing. The meadow is a space I regularly walk around, sometimes it is a space where I walk to wake myself up, other times to work through problems in my head. However the last few days I have been wanting to be more mindful, intentional and notice the changes that are happening. Yesterday I spent around 20 minutes listening to all the bird song, there was such a range of birds, starlings, great tits, sparrows, magpies, robin, and a wren. Often I am aware of lots of bird song, but I haven’t always noticed the wide range of birds in the meadow.

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about how busy and noisy a lot of our schools and early years settings are. With lots of background noises, often a bombardment of visual things around the classroom, often busy schedules and timetables. There is little time to slow down, notice, find some stillness. I do believe that our busy, noisy lives are contributing to our children’s and our own mental illness.
With this in mind during this next week I am going to be doing some sensory spring walks with the children I work with, walks where we listen, smell, feel, notice, where we have un-rushed time to see and discover what is around us, where we can get in touch with our senses and our environment. These mindful walks are a good way to introduce some slowness and quietness to children.