Tag Archives: stress

How to nurture your teenager

 

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This is an article I co-wrote with my 17 yr old daughter for the Church times for mental health week.

Recognise and use emotion language with your teenager. Acknowledge how they are feeling. You could use words such as ‘I know you are feeling upset about falling out with your friend, it’s ok to feel cross and upset. When you are ready I am here to help you think about a way forward’. Make sure you don’t belittle their feelings or come up with immediate solutions for them, be there to hear them and listen to them. Help your teenager to use emotion language with themselves; many people learn at a young age to self-criticise, the words we say to ourselves can often be harsher than the words you would say to a friend, children and young people learn to do this at a young age. Help them to use kind words to themselves e.g. ‘I know I am feeling scared, that is ok and normal, it’s an exam, every 16 yr taking exams is feeling scared right now.’

Teach your teenager to be kind to themselves. If we can teach our teenagers to be self-compassionate, we are offering them a great life skill. Learning to be self-compassionate starts with having a good emotional vocabulary as mentioned above. Being kind to themselves is particularly important for girls and boys who are high achievers and have high expectations. Encourage them to recognise when they need to take a break from working hard, e.g. go outside, listen to their favourite music, read a book, have a drink or eat some food that makes them feel good. During exam time or when they are feeling very stressed, ask them each day, ‘what will you do today that makes you happy?’ Encourage them to think about things that are life giving to them e.g. seeing friends, going for a walk, doing some art, doing yoga, going for a run.
Help your teenager to navigate between being independent and having support. Summer Mainstone-Cotton (age 17) says ‘As teens, we think independence is expected of us from ourselves and society, however as teenagers, we are not fully grown yet, we experience so much turmoil during our lives during this stage. Yes, we are independent young adults, but we are still partly children. We need parents to support us emotionally through this, without being patronising, we need parents to empathise with our struggles instead of being judgmental, e.g. a 6th form student may not have enough time in their lives to balance school work, social life and earning money and they should not be pressured to. A teenager might feel overwhelmed with school or home, to nurture themselves they need social time outside the home/school with friends, they need to be supported in this.’

co-written with Summer Mainstone-Cotton. Photo by Summer.

Mental health and our children

 

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On Monday 8th May it is the start of mental health week in the UK. On Monday the 8th May it is also the start of SATS week for year 6 children in England, (for those reading this in countries other the UK, SATS are exams for children aged 10/11 in their last year of Primary school). This feels very ironic.

As we know there is an increase in the number of children with a mental health disorder, Young Minds suggest there are 1 in 10 children in the UK with a diagnosable mental health disorder ( that is roughly 3 children in each class). I am writing this blog piece this morning as I am struck by the irony of how we can have an increased understanding about mental health, how we can have dedicated mental health weeks and yet we are still putting young children under a huge amount of pressure to sit a week long exam in year 6.
I fundamentally disagree with children in primary school taking exams for a week but it isn’t just the taking the exams that is the problem, it is the months and months of preparation that is around it. I have heard this year of some schools choosing to put in revision sessions during play times 3 times a week for months before, some schools sending home SATS papers from October for children to practice and practice, some schools sending home papers during the Easter holidays for children to do every day. Over the last few weeks I have heard locally of Yr 6 children who are self harming, I have had yr 6 children tell me they are worried, they want to do their best but they don’t know if they can, I have heard of yr 6 children waking up in the middle of the night in tears because they are scared. I work in schools and I used to be a chair of Governors, I understand the pressure that the schools and teachers are being placed under, the Government are constantly placing more and more pressure on schools and teachers but it is not ok for that to be passed onto children. I know there are some examples of schools that are doing a great job within the awful system. I heard of one school who sent a letter to their children telling them how wonderful and unique they are and that the SATS do not measure how awesome they all are, I know of another school that told children at Easter to eat ice cream, climb tress, enjoy the holidays.

Surely there comes a time when we need to speak out, when we need to challenge the government, when we need to challenge schools who are putting too much pressure on children, when we challenge multi academy trusts who run schools about how they are addressing the mental health needs of their children. How can we recognise and talk about mental health week and yet in the same week cause mental distress to thousands of yr 6 children?

 

 

How will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

 

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I have an arrangement with a good friend called Will; he is a children’s counsellor working in schools with upper primary school-aged children. During this last term I have messaged him each Thursday, his day when he is not in schools, and ask him ‘ what will you be doing for rest today or what are you doing today that will make you happy ? . I, in turn, tell him a little of my week and what I am going to do to be kind to myself or to find rest. We started this as I noticed Will was getting worn down, run down and I thought he needed to take care of himself more. But also it also came about because I was aware we are both lone working most of the time and I thought this accountability to one another would help both of us.

Today Will’s question for me was How will you celebrate the work you have done this term, and that threw me, but I loved it. This week and this term have felt pretty tough and long, there have been some hard and sad stories that I have heard, that I have supported children and staff in, those stories don’t have happy endings, they are still hard and sad and messy. At the end of a term like this it is easy to feel exhausted, I know I am run down both physically and mentally, and it is easy to miss the achievements and overlook the small but good moments.

Will’s question helped me to reframe my term, to tell myself what has been good, I do this all the time with staff, but recently I have forgotten to do it to myself. I took the time to write a list of what I am proud of in my work over this last term, and that felt good. So the next part, how was I going to celebrate?- I love gardening, and this is my favourite time of year in the garden, with planting new seeds. So I decided to buy some sunflower seeds, I have planted ten seeds to celebrate the ten children I have supported and worked with this term, I will enjoy seeing these seedlings grow into beautiful flowers over the coming months.

So my question is – how will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves

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My focus this week in the nurture work has been making calming jars with children, to help them find some calmness when they are stressed, anxious and agitated. These are great to make, to find instructions look on Pinterest. I have also been having an ongoing conversation with staff about dealing with stress and anxiety in themselves.

Next week I am delivering some training to a team who are about to go through major changes with redeployment and having to reapply for jobs. The training is not based on change but I feel this needs acknowledging, so I will be starting the session doing some work on thinking about their wellbeing. For part of this, I have written a simple guidelines sheet, which I am also going to share with the teachers I work with. The idea of the sheet is to give some simple thoughts around what we can do to take care of ourselves when we are feeling very stressed/ anxious/ worried.

The ideas are below:
Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves
1. Be kind in words you use to yourself– acknowledge the feeling of stress/ finding the situation difficult – say kind words to yourself, e.g., ‘ It’s ok to find this hard,’ ‘It’s ok to feel stressed about this,’ ‘ I can get through this.’
2. Breathing If you are aware that you are becoming very anxious, fraught or stressed- take a moment to notice what your breath is doing- use 7/11 breathing or finger breathing
7/11 breathing
For this you need to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm, this is about deep breathing, not breathing from your chest, which is what we often do when we are stressed. You know you are breathing from deep in your body if your stomach is pushing out.

Breathe in for a count of 7
Breathe out for a count of 11

The important part of this is to ensure your breathing out for longer than you breathe in. If you can’t manage 7/11 try 5/7 or 3/5.

Repeat this exercise for several minutes. It will slow breathing, the longer breaths out slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. The deep breathing exercise triggers our Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is opposite to the Sympathetic nervous system which is the fight and flight

Finger Breathing

Hold one hand in front of you, as you breathe in trace the outline of your hand with your index finger, e.g., follow your index finger up your thumb as you breathe in and as you breathe out bring your finger down the thumb, repeat this for each finger.
3.Get outside If you can take a short walk outside, get some air, step outside, notice and enjoy some nature. Recent research has shown the benefits being outside has to our mental wellbeing

4. Do something which makes you happy / helps you to feel good. This doesn’t have to take lots of time; it can be something simple e.g. spend half an hour reading a book or listening to music, take a warm bath, watch a film, go swimming or for a run, plant some seeds.
5. Eat some good food when we are tired and stressed we often forget to eat well. Make sure today you eat something good, food that makes you smile, this maybe a bowl of soup or a curry or variety of fruit or a fish finger sandwich!. The important thing is to give some thought to what food will help you today. The act of feeding yourself, of giving thought to what you are eating and how it will help you is an essential nurturing practice we can all do.

How do you deal with stress?

 

 

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This week many of my conversations have been with staff about how they deal with stress. Stress is a word we all talk about, we know it can have a massive impact on our bodies, but as educators/ care givers we are not always very good at stopping and noticing what it is doing to us, what impact it is having. Sometimes we don’t notice until it reaches crisis point.

In one school this week we had a staff meeting, with all the staff in the classroom. We talked openly together about how stressed they were feeling, what this was doing to their bodies and their minds. The staff recognised there were moments when they were feeling overwhelmed and panicked. One tool I shared with them was 7/11 breathing, this is a simple tool to use when you are feeling anxious, stressed, in a panic. 7/11 breathing won’t solve the issues, but it will enable you to take a moment to focus on your breath, a time to slow down your breathing and help to calm your anxiety.

7/11 breathing
For this you need to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm, this is about deep breathing, not breathing from your chest, which is what we often do when we are stressed. You know you are breathing from deep in your body if your stomach is pushing out.

Breathe in for a count of 7

Breathe out for a count of 11

The important part of this is to ensure your breathing out for longer than you breathe in. If you can’t manage 7/11 try 5/7 or 3/5.

Repeat this exercise for several minutes. It will slow breathing, the longer breaths out slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. The deep breathing exercise triggers our Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is opposite to the Sympathetic nervous system which is the fight and flight. If you would like to know more about this, the Human Givens blog explains this in more detail.
One of the statements I remind staff of all the time is that we need to be kind to ourselves. Using the 7/11 breathing technique, recognising the impact that stress is having on you is one small but important step towards being kind to yourself.

How swimming and reading have helped my wellbeing this week

 

 

poolThis week the primary focus of my work has been on helping the staff I work with to feel listened to and to be supported to take care of themselves. This week has mainly consisted of challenging meetings, very stressed staff, upset parents, concerned senior leaders. In 2015 there were two survey’s with teachers and early years staff, they found that 79% of teachers were considering leaving the job due to stress (Espionza 2015) and 59% of early years staff were also considering leaving the job due to stress ( Crown 2015). In many ways this week was a timely reminder about why I have been commissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write my next book “Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff: A Practical Guide for Looking after Yourself and Your Colleagues’.

Working with children can be a very rewarding job, but it can also be incredibly challenging, stressful and exhausting. As educators, we are in a position to make a profound difference in a child’s life, and that is amazing. However, as adults, we need to be in a good emotional and physical space to be able to do that. We need to find ways to look after ourselves; we need to put in place strategies that support us.

This week I was interviewed by Kathy Brodie for her early year’s summit – a web summit for early years practitioners which will be available at the end of March, I am one of her speakers on the subject of Adult wellbeing. I did this interview 30 minutes after coming out of a very stressful child protection meeting. At the forefront of my mind were the pressure and stress that staff I work with can encounter on a daily basis. The question turning in my head was I wondered what they were doing at the end of that day to take care of themselves, to be kind to themselves.

I think the phrase ‘what are you doing to be kind to yourself?’ can leave people feeling awkward. People who work in the caring / educating profession are expected to give out; for our emphasis to be on how we are kind and compassionate to others. Being kind and compassionate to others is important, but I also know that we need to be kind to ourselves first until we are kind to ourselves and meet our needs, we can not fully nurture others.

With all this in the front of my thoughts, I have been mindful of being kind to myself. Being kind to myself always involves swimming, I swim every Monday-Friday, at 6.20 am at my local community pool. I have grown to love swimming; I feel I can be totally myself, I love the rhythm of swimming, I love the way my body glides through the water, I love the sense of freedom it gives me. My morning swim feels life giving and life enhancing, it helps me to feel really good about myself. The other activity that I love is reading. On Thursday afternoon I went to my favourite bookshop Mr B’s emporium and bought a new book, a hardback book. Buying a hardback book felt hugely indulgent, but I knew the act of purchasing this new book was a way of telling myself that it was time to take a rest, it was time to be kind to myself. The book was ‘Leap in’ by Alexandra Heminsley, this is a book about a woman learning to love swimming! And it was fantastic. My last few days I have read this book and relished and enjoyed every moment.

So now I feel in a better place to encounter the new week ahead.

How are you loving yourself this Christmas?

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The run up to Christmas can feel fraught, particularly if your work is hard and challenging then put onto that Christmas, it can leave people feeling stressed out and irritable. For many of the children I work with Christmas can be a stressful experience, the change in routine, the expectation of something different but their experience of something different is not always good. I think many adults also find Christmas stressful, the expectations they put on themselves or feel that others put on them can lead to a sense of dread.

I have been fortunate to have this last week off from the school’s work; it has given me a chance to do some planning, write some training but importantly to slow down and think about how I am. This last week I decided I needed to start to be a bit more proactive about loving myself, listening to my body and trying to attend to some of the niggles I have been experiencing. During the last six months, I have had an increase in headaches and lower back pain. I have felt that they are linked to muscular tension but have not really addressed them. Finally this week I saw a brilliant physio and later in the week I had an aromatherapy massage. As I suspected the muscles in my neck and back are holding lots of tension and are almost certainly contributing to the headaches. Although these two sessions are not a miraculous cure, they are helping me to recognise what my body is telling me and to think about ways to address this.

In my role as a nurture consultant I support and nurture children, but an essential part is also supporting the staff who look after the children. I am always asking them what they are doing to be kind to themselves. I am often encouraging them to love them themselves. As part of the ongoing process of loving myself and thinking about how I can be kind to my body, this morning I made myself some aromatherapy massage oil to use on my shoulders and my neck, and I made some coconut bath melts to use over the next few days in a hot bath. These are just simple gestures, but they are the reminder to myself that I need to take care, I need to be kind to myself, and I need to love myself.
The recipe for the bath melts- in case you need some care as well!
Two tablespoons of coconut oil ( melted)
Ten drops of lavender essential oil mixed with the melted coconut oil
pour this into ice cube trays and put in fridge or freezer to go hard. ( see image above)

Put them into a sealed container

Use 1 or 2 in a hot Bath or melt in a shower