Tag Archives: wellbeing

The danger of wellbeing becoming a tick box exercise

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During this last week, I delivered a wellbeing session to primary school staff. One difficulty we have at the moment is that wellbeing has become such a buzz word, we now have a market place with numerous books ( one of them being mine!) podcasts, magazines, training ( again I do that), and in many ways this is a good thing, it is getting wellbeing and mental health talked about, it is being taken seriously. However, there is a danger that this can also sometimes cause people to switch off, or to become cynical, a friend told me recently she had gone on some obligatory wellbeing training at work and it was so patronising, telling her to do yoga, eat fruit and exercise, she said it also felt like a tick box exercise, enabling her workplace to say they have covered wellbeing. She felt nothing had been discussed on how they can deal with the stresses in the workplace or the pressure they are under at work.
As a writer and a trainer I think this is quite challenging, in my training sessions I explore small changes people can take individually that can help themselves, and I think this is useful and can be valuable. I also look at changes managers can make to support their staff. But working in education I am also very aware that we are in danger of paying lip service to the idea of wellbeing, I know of many schools who now hold a wellbeing day or week, where they try mindfulness, offer staff and children free yoga sessions, have fruit in the staff room, have books about mindfulness and wellbeing for people to look at, do fun activities with the children such as doing activities outside or art projects for the week. Then the next week they go back to endless Sats preparation tests, pressure on the staff to meet unrealistic targets, expecting 4 yr olds to sit and fill in worksheets etc etc. I guess what I am saying is we do need to promote wellbeing and we do need to support our staff and one another and we do need to take care of ourselves, but we also need to look at the wider system. We need to embed wellbeing practice and not have it as a one off, we also need to question what is happening to our education system that so many teachers and early years workers and head teachers are leaving. Sometimes it is time to speak out, to challenge, to write to our MP’s and the education secretary, to get behind organisations such as more than a score, campaigning for the government to not go ahead with testing for 4 yr olds. Also to challenge our multi academy trusts, headteachers and governors to not just put on wellbeing events as a one-off but to think about ways they can embed wellbeing into the ongoing practice of the school.

I know that individually we can not change the Sats testing, or the pressure headteachers have of meeting unrealistic targets that have been set for them. However, if lots of people speak out, and say they want something different for their children and the staff in their schools, if school communities start to work together to explore how they can make small changes to improve wellbeing for everyone, if wellbeing was on the agenda as a positive difference, not just a tick box, then I believe we can begin to see some changes.

The photo above is from a murmuration of starlings, I watched these last night and was struck by the beauty and power when large groupings work together. For wellbeing to change in education we need to pull together and speak out.

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I am

 

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One reason I love my nurture role with 4 year olds is having a year to help a little one to believe they are amazing, to know there are adults who love seeing them and spending time with them, to help them know they are special and unique and wonderful. If we can help a 4 year know that, I believe this is giving them such a good start to life, a strong foundation to believing good things about themselves. We all know that is too easy to grow up with negative ideas about ourselves, negative thoughts, that our internal script can be one of I cant do….

Over the last five years, I have been really challenged in thinking about my own internal script, reading Brene Brown and Kristin Neff has hugely helped this. In the last few days, I have been giving this some more thought, a few days ago my friend Will wrote a piece about an exercise he did where he wrote 100 I am statements. Will and I both work in similar fields, we both work with children who have social, emotional and mental health difficulties, we are both self-employed and over the years we have weekly checked in with another. We have been friends for over 20 years and we have an honest relationship with one another where we can ask the other challenging questions. This last year has been a really tough one for Will and from this experience, he is reflecting a lot on the messages he lives under, the stories he tells himself. This week he wrote about an exercise he did call 100 I am statements. he wanted to challenge his thinking and believes. He describes this exercise as:
100 statements of I AM. Let me tell you that although this is not an easy task it has incredible power to change and shift your thinking about yourself. The list should include things that you would like to define your life. These are statements that you would want to shape your inner dialogue, and simply by changing the words that define your concept of self and choosing the words that you opt to place into your thoughts you take back control of how you see yourself.
The idea of doing 100 seemed huge, but I liked the idea of the challenge, so I gave it a go. it’s a really powerful exercise to do, in my experience, I just did it without over thinking it, this worked for me as it felt authentic. A number of my statements began with I am a woman who…. , this was interesting as when I read back over it I realised how important it is to me, that I identified as a woman who is capable and able to live life fully, a woman who can be creative and imaginative and able to lead as well as being nurturing and supportive. There is so much talk about self-care and supporting our own wellbeing at the moment, I am part of that, I have written a book on wellbeing for early years staff. However, writing these statements reminded me that no matter how much yoga, exercise, mindfulness, good sleep, good eating you do, if your inner messages are negative, if your self-script is one of I can’t rather than positives I am, then this will eat away at your wellbeing, this will impact your mental health. 100 statements is a lot, but it felt like the right amount of challenge. On reflecting on my list I realised how much I have changed over the last 5 years, I don’t think I could have written that list 5 years ago. I recognised that all the statements I had on my list were ones I believed not just ones I aspired to be. I realise that is largely thanks to reading Brene Brown, Kristin Neff and going on Ian and Gail Adams retreats.

Support in parenting teenagers

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Most of my work life has been with early years children, when I had my own children I was terrified at the idea of them becoming teenagers, I felt that all I heard was how awful teenage years were, so many people told me that our girls would be demanding, challenging and horrible. Our daughters are now 19 and 21, they have both left home, they are successfully adulting! and one is planning a wedding in 18 months time, we all survived and not only survived but had some wonderful moments along the way. I realise now people rarely seem to talk about the wonderful times of parenting teenagers. Thankfully when our girls were pre-teens and teenagers I worked in a team with colleagues who were fantastic at working with young people. I learned through their work and conversations that teens are not to be feared! and parenting does not always have to be a battle. I sometimes did pieces of work alongside colleagues with teenagers and saw that so many of the skills and tools that work with early years also work with teens, you just adapt them. This was so helpful for me to see.
I am not an expert on parenting teenagers or working with teenagers, we were so incredibly blessed that our girls found great friends and were not very challenging. However, I learned from my colleagues that in the teen years you need to be present, you need to listen, you need to be there, not just physically but importantly with your attention. This is the same with young children of course, but I think with teens this even more important.

I am a huge fan of turning to books for advise, ideas. There were a few I looked at when my girls were in the teenage years, but not that many that I found helpful. In the last few years, I discovered the book Brainstorm: the power and purpose of the teenage brain by Dan Siegel. I often recommend this book, and this week I have found myself recommending it several times to different friends and staff in schools who have teenage children. This is the book I wish I had read when my eldest was 11. This is the book I think every parent who has an 11 year transitioning to senior school should be given!. This book gives insight into how the teenage brain is working, the massive changes they are going through ( no it’s not all about hormones, it is about the changes in the brain). This book helps you understand what is happening, to be compassionate about these changes and helps you to reflect on your parenting style and how you can support them. But most of all this book is positive about teenagers.

I think we need to hear more stories about when it goes well with teenagers, we need to hear more about the joys of parenting a young person, of watching them develop and grow into independence and becoming an adult. Yes there are also some sad and hard stories and I am not denying the hard feelings with these, but there are also some good stories. Looking back I wish I heard more of people telling me that teenage years were not to be feared, I wish I heard more of parents telling me what a delight their teenage children were and I wish I heard more of the joy that teenagers can bring.

Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing and social skills through playing board games

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We are in week three of the new term, this term a big focus of my work is helping the children I support to grow in confidence and to be able to manage their strong feelings when things don’t go the way they want it to. This term I am loving board games!, they are becoming a key part of each session with children for the term. Board games were really popular when I was a child and when my children were little, but they seem to appear less often in family homes, I think one reason is they have been replaced with games on screens.

The reason I love using board games is they help to teach children so many skills, turn taking, waiting, listening to others, resilience when someone else wins or you come last, you notice other peoples reactions and faces and are able to extend the emotional language and understanding. Games are also great for extending children’s language and communication and with some games encouraging early counting skills; they also often bring lots of laughter and joy. My favorite games at the moment are Rocket Kerplunk ( a variation on the old Kerplunk), pop up pirate and lotto games.

It is not unusual for children across the ages to find it really hard to be with other children, to understand the social skills around waiting, turn-taking, listening and increasingly they have low resilience in being able to cope with things not going their way. May practitioners who carry out intervention work with children across the ages will use board games to support this. When a regulated and calm adult is scaffolding and supporting the board game play, this can be a safe space and a safe way for the child to work on these skills. I have also found that children and young people are happy to chat about their day, how they are feeling, what is going on for them when they are engaging in a game.

In this time of an increase in technology, many children are losing out on the chance to play board games. Often children are playing screen games on their own, the screen games do not teach the same social and emotional skills. My main encouragement to parents and staff who support children, is to play lots of these sort of games. I was encouraging parents before Christmas to buy the child a board game for Christmas. In the post-Christmas time now is the time to find board games in charity shops! with lots of families making space in their house or children have grown out of some of the younger games, now is that chance to buy a great variety for little money.

Surviving January

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Schools in this area are back this week so I re-pick up my nurture work and I have 2 training sessions to deliver this week, both reasons to feel motivated and inspired. I have had a lovely Christmas break, I feel relaxed and calm, all reasons to be feeling energetic and motivated. But it’s January, and the last few years I have begun to find January tricky, it’s not due to overindulging or stopping exercise over Christmas, I drink very little alcohol and don’t really eat lots of rubbish food and I have continued to swim throughout most of the last 2 weeks. I think I find January hard partly because of the greyness and the drabness. I am much happier on blue cold and crispy days, but also there is so much talk around new plans, new resolutions, I find all that talk quite depressing as it can feed into my feelings of not quite doing enough or not quite being good enough, those thoughts are largely pushed aside and don’t really live in my head much any more, but January seems to bring them forward.

So this year I have decided to make a plan, for each week, I am going to actively to do some simple things which I know make me feel happier and more hopeful during January, things which I know bring me pleasure. I have written them in my diary to remind myself. The list is simple but they are things that I know will help. My list is

Make marmalade
Buy daffodils each week
Garden each week
Go for extra walks
Make dates to see friends
Watch a feel-good film
If it is sunny, have a picnic lunch in a sunny spot at my husband’s studio ( with him!)

These will be alongside the usual swimming, yoga, and mindfulness, all things that I know are essential for my mental health. I know from experience that in a few weeks when we begin to see leaves returning and spring flowers appearing, that I will feel lighter and more hopeful, but in the short few weeks of the dark months of winter, I am going to try and be more active in helping myself.

You are here

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I have been looking over the photos on my phone of 2018, they are mainly photos of wild swimming, fantastic books I have read, walks around the meadow, gardening and being with my family. All the photos are showing times of when I was fully present, enjoying that precious moment. Of course these photos are not a full representation of the year, there were many many times when I was distracted, frustrated, very scared; the year brought us some frightening illness of loved ones, and believing that they would die, it brought several times of tears about the circumstances the children I work with are living in. The photos also don’t show the doubt and questioning I encountered over writing projects or the times of being with friends and not having the words to support them in their pain.

I am not someone who looks into the new year with plans or resolutions, I have ideas but these are mainly based on lists of different wild swims or a list of lidos I would like to swim in. What I have learned over the last few years is to enjoy the moments, be present to the now and try hard not to panic or worry about the next day. I find this so hard sometimes, I have written before about how easy I find it to worry, stress and presume the worst. The pleasure I have had while looking back at my photos is how I have captured times when I was enjoying the precious moments.

One of my Christmas presents this year from my husband was a carving he made me of the words You are here, a reference to being in the moment, this links to our mindful, contemplative practice that we both try hard to embrace and practice. This piece of art will go in our house, and I hope at times over the year it will remind me to stop, be present to the now not thinking ahead and worrying about the next.

Being inspired and having hope

 

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I work part-time as a nurture consultant and the rest of my working week I write books, articles and deliver training. The nurture role with four year olds informs the writing and the training, the research for the writing and training informs the nurture role, I see each part as being closely connected and each vital to one another. In this time of austerity, it can be hard to get training opportunities so when they come along I usually say Yes to most things and hope that it spreads out during the year. November has been unusual for me, I have been asked to speak at 8 different training events, across the country. On Saturday I was speaking at Calderdale early years emotional health and wellbeing symposium in Halifax.

It always feels a huge privilege to be invited to speak at an event or lead a training day, I am so aware that peoples time is precious and money is tight, yesterday this felt particularly so, the conference was on a Saturday, 175 people attended, all giving up their weekend to be at this event. Everyone attending the event works in early years, they were all participating, on their day off to listen to ideas and suggestions around how we can all make a difference in children’s lives. I was one of the keynote speakers along with three other speakers Cath Hunter, Dr. Sam Wass, and Debbie Garvey and three practitioners sharing their excellent practice and learning from their child care setting. Attending training on a Saturday can be a challenge both as a speaker and an attendee, it’s the end of the week, often people are tired and worn out, they don’t necessarily have the concentration to listen to a day worth of speakers no matter how inspiring they are!. However that wasn’t my experience on Saturday, there was such a buzz in the room, a real enthusiasm from the attendees. We know that currently, it is hard to work in early years in the UK, services are being cut, a shocking number of children and families are living in poverty and struggling with life causing distress and stress in their lives. Staff and managers feel under increasing pressure with endless changes, budget cuts etc. This all has a massive impact on our work and could lead people to feel disempowered and lethargic, however, this was not my experience yesterday. During the conference I was really impressed at the vision and hope behind Calderdale early years team who instigated a project focusing on raising children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I was impressed at how their enthusiasm and passion has encouraged and motivated so many early years staff in the area. This felt visionary, this felt hopeful, in a time when it is easy to be cynical and feel hopeless, this team is showing a different way. I felt one of the messages being repeated through the day was in believing that we can make a difference.

My section in the conference was to finish the day by talking about staff wellbeing and the need to look after ourselves. My finishing encouragement was for people to go away and do something that weekend that made them happy. To follow my own advise I spent the Sunday at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with my husband. A day spent outside in beautiful surroundings and enjoying art, for me this is wonderful. There was a sculpture by Jaume Plensa called Wilsis, this piece ( photo above) is a portrait of a young woman’s head, it was seven meters high. The artist describes his aim to transform something ordinary into extraordinary. He describes how he believes that all people have the potential to be remarkable, regardless of background and status. I loved this idea and felt it resonated with the conference the day before, offering hope and believe that we can all do something remarkable when we work with young children and we can help them to become remarkable people.