Tag Archives: young people

Listening to children and young people

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The news this week filled me with hope, and the main reason was that record numbers of young people chose to vote. I have worked in the field of children and young people’s participation for over 15 years. For many years I ran participation work, commissioned by our local authority. For years I heard policy makers, politicians, budget holders tell me they wanted to hear from children and young people but all too often their actions showed us something different. If children and young people feel like their voices won’t be heard, then they won’t speak out, they won’t participate. But there appears to be a change taking place. Finally, young people feel like someone is listening to them. Finally, they are recognising they do have a voice, and they have a right to partake and give their opinion.

My specialism for years in the participation field was in how we listen to the youngest of children, I have delivered a ‘ listening to young children’ training course, across the country for many years. I know that if we get it right in the early years, then we are providing children with essential life skills.

Listening to young children is a joy, we can and should involve them in decision making about a wide range of areas, including:

Staff recruitment
Staff appraisals
Resources we buy
Follow their interests for our planning
The design of our rooms/ outdoor spaces and buildings
They can help us plans menus etc

Over the years I have seen some inspiring examples of listening to children in the early years. I have worked across many sectors, and I always argued some of the best participation practice was coming from the early years. I would like to believe one of the reasons we are seeing a change in Young Peoples voting today is because those young people were the three and four year olds sixteen years ago that were listened to and had a voice in their early years setting. In early years we are making a difference.

 

 

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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.

Transitions

 

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For a long time I have been interested in transitions, the process of how we prepare, how we think and plan for transitions, for change. I believe we need to give careful time and thought to transitions and change. For my, under graduate dissertation, I did a piece of research around supporting 4 yr olds transition into school, and now 8 years on a large part of my current job is supporting 4 yr olds where it has been recognised they are going to find the transition into school very hard. A key component of a good transition is preparation and support. I know through the work with the 4 yr olds if we involve them in visiting the school, buying uniform, buying shoes , talking about the school, their teacher, talking about what they will do at lunch time, practicing with them carrying a plate with food on or eating from a lunch box and talking about the feelings they have, this all helps the child in the transition. I also encourage the schools I work with to make a booklet for the new children about their school, their teacher and classroom so the children can look at this over the summer.

I often believe what works for 4 yr olds often works with older children and adults too!, the new children moving into senior school, is another huge transition , these children respond well when they are emotionally and physically supported, again the process of buying new school bags, practicing the walking route/ bus route, practicing buying lunch in a cafe where they need to order what they want, carrying the tray, pay for the food, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, their expectations and their fears, all of these are important life skills. These can help ease the transitions when they are talked about, practised and supported.

In our house we are in a stage of a new transition, our eldest daughter is going away to university, we have had many conversations about what it will be like, how she feels about it, over the summer we have been buying new quilt covers, cushions for her new room, mugs, plates, thinking about what she needs to take away and what she doesn’t need, having conversations about independent living, managing money, safety. I am aware this transition is a huge one for all of us, this last year I have been preparing myself for her going, trying to recognise and acknowledge the emotions this brings, both a mix of pride, delight, excitement for her, plus some fear of the unknown and also sadness of a time that is ending but the recognition of the importance of this and looking forward to what is ahead.

During this year I have thought a lot about the physical experience of being wrapped, I noticed over the year that several of the children I worked with responded really well to having a blanket that they could wrap themselves or be wrapped in when they were feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Over the Summer I bought myself a large shawl, it is soft, and I find it really comforting, I have worn it a lot over the last few weeks, I am beginning to think it has been a way of nurturing myself, providing myself with some comfort, not that I have been feeling overwhelmed or sad, but maybe instinctively I have known that I need that extra sense of holding. One thing I have discussed a lot with Lily has been how cold her  new room might be! with this thought I have been knitting a blanket, it is one I started several years ago but now I am rushing to finish it. It’s a blanket of coloured squares, it’s not perfect but it is a blanket made of love, it is a blanket that hopefully will provide some comfort, some warmth and some nurturing at times when that is needed during this transition.

Supporting young people with stress and anxiety

 

 

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One night this week I was running an information session on stress and anxiety in young people, for year 10 parents at my children’s old senior school. This session came out of a piece of work I did two and half years ago when I still worked for a large children’s charity. Back then I became really aware of the rising number of young people we were seeing who were suffering from stress and anxiety. I spoke with a many young people and heard their stories, their experiences, their worries, and fears. I made recommendations to the local authority about what they and schools could do and I made suggestions to the charity about future work they could develop. At the time, this felt like a really significant piece of work. I had high hopes that we would get new funding and we would deliver a much larger piece of work, but it wasn’t to be. Our project was closed and our work in this area didn’t continue.

The request to run this session came as a surprise, in preparation for the session, I looked back at the initial findings and comments from young people, and was reminded yet again how important their comments were and how broken and sad some of our young people are. During the evening session, I was really struck by how much this school cared about the mental health of their young people, and how concerned the parents were.

We put so much pressure on young people today. We have such high expectations of them, particularly in education, the government is expecting more and more from them. We expect that young people should be able to achieve highly, be organised, know what they want to do with their lives, and make ‘sensible decisions’. Whilst forgetting that they are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in the world, and what they believe. Last year I read a book by Dan Siegel called Brainstorm. He argues that a young person brain is not fully developed until they are 25. I shared this with the parents. This was news to them and many commented that it made so much sense. So when our teens are finding it difficult to make good decisions we need to remember that there is still a lot of development taking place inside their heads.

One of my main messages to the parents was about being there for young people; young people need to have someone who will listen to them, they need to feel loved and know that they belong. They need to hear they are special and that they are accepted for who they are. I now work weekly with 4-year-olds, providing nurture support for children who are finding school life difficult. The main thing 4 years olds need is to know they are loved, they are special, that they belong and they are accepted.

I have reminded again that the needs our children have don’t change as they get older. The way they communicate might change, some of their behaviour might change but ultimately they need to know that even when they are broken, someone will be there to help transform their brokenness and pain. There is a Japanese word for a form of Japanese pottery called Kintsugi. These are pots that become broken in the firing process and are then repaired with a special lacquer of gold or silver, transforming their brokeness into a thing of beauty. I love this image and see it as a way we need to view woking with children and teens who are troubled, broken and finding life hard. We need to find ways to bring out their beauty, and to transform their brokenness. I firmly believe one way to start that process is by being there for them, loving them and accepting them.

Rising number of teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders

On the news today, they have spoken about the rise in teenagers being admitted to hospital with eating disorders. The number has doubled in the last two years – http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/32975654/eating-disorder-hospital-admissions-nearly-double

I wasn’t surprised when I heard the news headline this morning. I grew up with a mum who had an eating disorder for over 30 years. I have friends who have struggled with eating disorders. A friend’s wife died of anorexia and my daughters each have friends who have eating disorders. I have also worked with some wonderful young people who have eating disorders, some of whom have been admitted to hospital for this.

There has always been pressure to fit in with others, to look beautiful, to have the perfect body etc. However, we all know this has greatly increased over the last few years with social media. Last year I did some research with young people about who they could talk to when they were feeling stressed, unhappy, depressed. Over half of the young people I spoke to had struggled with eating disorders to varying degrees. All of the young people I spoke to said that they didn’t have anyone to speak to, that family didn’t know how to help or couldn’t help them and that school was not a place where they could speak to people. They all said they needed to be taught about mental health and eating disorders at school, and they all said school needed to be a place where they could confide in someone, find out information and seek out help. They all felt that schools were scared to listen to them, were scared to really hear about their experience and were scared to ask them how they were.

There are so many issues involved in this topic, but we need to start by providing children and young people with clear information and education. We need to have adults who are able and willing to listen to them, to hear their fears and their worries, who won’t shy away from asking the difficult questions and won’t shy away from the difficult topics.