Tag Archives: mental health

Teaching children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness now affects 1 in 4 people, during this week there has been more alarming figures and information about how mental health services in the UK are not adequately helping individuals who need it. Many of the children we work with will have family members who have a mental illness but do we talk to children about this?. In my experience we don’t, as professionals we feel awkward, uncomfortable, we often can’t find the words to explain to children about mental illness. Families also can find this hard; it is difficult to explain mental illness to a child. But if we don’t explain things to children, they will make up their stories, fill in the gaps, and the stories they use to fill in the gaps can often be worse than the real story.

Bipolar is one of those mental illnesses that can be hard to explain, I know this from my experience, as I grew up with a mum who had Bipolar, I knew she was ill, but I didn’t know what her illness was until I was 14 and sat in an assembly run by Mind. The story I told myself was that she was dying and then later I heard of cancer and presumed she must have that. Realising through the assembly that she was mentally ill and that she wasn’t dying, was a lightbulb moment.

I work with young children, and I knew there were no books available, for young children, explaining Bipolar, so from my experience of my mum, from working with families and many children, I decided to write a book.The book has been illustrated by a very talented illustrator Jon Birch.

Bipolar disorder affects thousands of people in the UK, and many of them are parents. Sophie and Katie’s Mummy is one of them. The story describes some of the highs and lows of having a Mummy with Bipolar from a child’s perspective, it is a gentle and thought provoking story of family life.

The book is for families, schools, children centres, nurseries, libraries, mental health units and GP practices to use as a resource to support children and families affected by Bipolar. For children and parents to be able to sit together and read the storybook and then be able to talk about the subject.

To order a copy go to my website

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Finding wild spaces

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Today I have been seeking out wild spaces, as a family we drove into the beautiful peak district and then walked high in the hills, surrounded by the magnificent surroundings.

I felt a longing to be in a wild place, to be outside seeing beauty, this may have partly come out of two days of long car journeys, but is was also a recognition in myself of needing to be reminded of the possibility, to see the beauty, the wonder of what is around us. I find being in a wild place offers me a reminder of all the possibilities ahead of me; this felt very timely as we begin to move into the new year.

There is something about wild spaces that feeds the soul. This last year I have been writing a book about children’s wellbeing, this inevitably led me to think a lot about my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others I work with, particularly the staff in schools that I support. I am often thinking about what helps adults and children’s wellbeing, and I think in my top 5 list would be experiencing wild spaces. One of my plans for 2017 is to spend more time in wild spaces.

Photo by Summer Mainstone-Cotton

What helps you to feel calm?

 

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In these last few weeks of term as a nurture consultant, my focus is on helping the children I work with to feel calm. Christmas can be a very challenging time of year for them, all the usual daily routines change, and they often find change tough. They have an increase in intense feelings and emotions which they struggle to identify, and this can leave them feeling overwhelmed, which they often express in many challenging ways. I often use sensory play in my work. These last few weeks have been full of calming glitter tins with children running their hands through glitter in coloured oats, or dried rice. This activity is almost always a calming sensory activity which helps the children to feel grounded, calm and safe; the children all love the feel, the colours and can spend ages allowing oats/ rice/ glitter to fall through their fingers.
I often think I should provide a calming activity for staff too. These last few weeks many of the teachers and Ta’s are just about hanging in for the end of the term. They have worked incredibly hard, the staff I work with do an amazing job at supporting some very unhappy children, which is a tough job. This week I have been asking staff what they will do to find some calmness. We know that we need to help the children to find some calmness, but they also need the adults who support them to be calm. Sometimes the adults can struggle to identify what does help them to feel calm.

Last week was quite challenging, I had some time one morning and knew I needed to find some space, to clear my head, to find some calmness. I went for a walk around the valley at the back of our house; this is a space I have walked many times; it is an area where I can just be. It was a beautiful, icy morning, on my walk I passed a small waterfall, underneath this were the most amazing ice pebbles. For me being outside, noticing the beauty around me, taking the time to slow down, these things help me to feel calmer.

Being in the hard times

 

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In my role as both a trainer and nurture worker I need to put on a cloak of calmness, I need the staff and children I work with to feel that I am there for them, that I can contain their strong feelings, I can travel with them as they are learning and changing and I can sit with them in the hard times. This week several of the 4 yr olds I support have been really struggling, it’s the time of year when everything changes in the school routine and the 4 yr olds I work with find that really hard. This is the time of year when I really need to be calm, I need to be able to adjust, be playful in the face of hardness. Sometimes that means responding in an unexpected way, at one point this week I was on all fours crawling up a school corridor pretending to be a cat with a 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed. In that moment the child needed someone to help calm him, to help him feel safe and to help him find a way through his strong feelings in a playful non-judgemental way.
The difficulty with this role is that I don’t always feel calm and positive!. During these last few weeks I have felt quite bleak, and a bit panicky, I have found life quite hard, I have been judging myself in unhelpful ways. Curiously what has helped me in the last few days is reflecting on the 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed and thinking about the gentle approach I took with him. I have been thinking about how I need to use this approach with myself!, to be kind, to be gentle to myself, to use the emotion language on myself that I use with children- it’s ok to be finding it hard, it’s ok to feel sad. Earlier in the year, I read Kristin Neff book Self-Compassion she talks about the scripts we use on ourselves and the need to use compassionate scripts. I use scripts all the time with 4-year-olds and it really works, but in the same way, I find it does help when I use compassionate scripts to myself.

My Sunday morning walk this morning around the meadow was quite gloomy, it was grey, misty not much light was getting through. But strangely that felt ok this morning, it seemed a bit of a reflection on how I have been feeling, but also I was aware of recognising that is ok, that’s just how it is right now and recognising there will be days when it feels less grey, when the light will get through.

Who believes in you?

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During this last week in my nurture role I have been struck again at the difference made when staff working with children believe in the children, believe that they can become children who can cope with school, believe that the children are doing their best, believe that they are wonderful, lovely children. In the same way a vital part of my role is to believe in the staff working with the 4 year olds. I need to believe that they are nurturing, caring staff who are doing their best. Sometimes I need to help the staff to see the amazing job they are doing, sometimes they find this hard to believe, my role is to nurture them and support them just as much as I need to nurture and support the children.

We all need people in our life who believe in us, we all need people who tell us we are doing well and that it’s ok when we are finding it hard. There are a few special people I know I can turn to when I am feeling unsure and wobbly, I know they will be honest with me but they will also support me and they believe that I am capable, competent and able. When we are feeling unsure and a bit wobbly we need to have those people around us. Brene Brown suggests ‘carrying a small sheet of paper in your wallet, with the names of people whose opinions matter. To be on that list you need to be someone who loves me for my strengths and struggles’. For me there are 4 people on my list, who I know believe in me and will be there to remind me I am doing my best.

Growing new ideas

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One aspect I love about being self-employed is the freedom to grow and develop new ideas. Sometimes these work, sometimes they don’t, which can be hard, but I really value the space to be able to try and the space to be able to think creatively. Over the last couple of years, I have realised that I really enjoy the creative process of thinking and developing new projects/ resources and I am learning to be braver about trying to push these forward and see if they can grow and take off.

Over the last year I have been working with my husband and 2 close friends on developing one of these new ideas, it started as an idea for a children’s illustrated book to explain Bipolar to children and then developed into the idea of making this into an animation as well as a book. Over the last 5 weeks, we pushed forward a crowdfunding project to fund this idea. We knew we were being highly ambitious in the amount we were trying to raise and we were really unsure if it would work ,if anyone would want to back it. We didn’t raise the full amount we needed, but we did have pledges for half the amount .

When you try out a new idea, you often don’t have a sense of whether it will work, it can feel really risky, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position of risking rejection and criticism and that is very hard. The flip side of that is people do support you and you discover that people love you and believe in your idea. That has been my experience, as a group working on the Mummy’s got Bipolar project we have all been deeply touched by the support we have been offered, the generosity of people. Alongside this the incredibly moving comments from strangers telling us that they didn’t know how to tell their children about their Bipolar, messages of encouragement from people living with Bipolar telling us there is a great need for this project.

This morning I went for my usual Sunday morning walk around the meadow at the back of our house. This is a space where I can think and reflect. This morning I noticed a small horse chestnut tree sapling growing on the edge of the meadow. I loved noticing the beauty of this tiny new tree and the possibility of the great tree it might grow to become. We have been really encouraged by the support we had through sharing the idea of our project with others; our project feels a bit like that tiny tree, I still don’t know quite what it will become, but we are going to try and continue to see if we can make it grow.

Unwinding and slowing down

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My school year in the nurture role has now ended for the summer holidays. I still have other work I will be doing over the break, but it is a 7-week break from working with 4-year-olds. On Friday evening I and my family came down to Cornwall for a family holiday on the Lizard. The last term has been a very tough term, particularly emotionally. During this term, I have been using various techniques to try and stay calm and not allow the stress to take over, not always easy. I have been trying to use mindfulness daily, I have been regularly listening to the beautiful, calming tracks of Olafur Arnalds living room songs and my morning swims have helped to get me through the term. In the last few weeks, I have been thinking a lot about swimming in the sea, a friend on Facebook Karen Arthur swims in the sea daily and photographs what she sees. I really enjoy seeing Karen’s images daily, seeing how she captures the beauty of the sea and how she has used this to help her through depression . For the last few days I have been able to swim in the beautiful green sea, I love wild swimming, I find so much delight in the beauty and the immediate closeness to nature, when I am swimming in the sea, my brain and body immediately switch off from the tension and stress and focus on the delight of that moment.

I know that taking, this time, to unwind and slow down is vital, a time to care for myself, a time to enjoy being with my family. Not all work has stopped, as I am still keeping an eye on the Mummy’s got Bipolar campaign, and still trying to get more support to make that happen, but at least when I am in the sea swimming I can have some time when nothing else matters other than enjoying the moment and the beauty.