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7th-13th February 2022 is Children’s Mental Health Week, and this year’s theme is ‘Growing Together.’ Children’s Mental Health Week was launched back in 2015 by Place2Be, a school’s based mental health charity. As parents, we know it is important to nurture and support our children’s mental health and development, but it can be difficult to remember and even more difficult to know where to start. Children’s Mental Health Week brings that focus to the forefront, reminding families to be proactive with their children’s mental health and also allow other care providers such as schools a great opportunity to concentrate on this important matter.
In celebration of Children’s Mental Heath Week, I reached out to Karen Gibb, a fully qualified teacher and founder of Mind Marvels, to answer questions about supporting your children’s emotional growth and development.
Now, onto the Q&A with Karen Gibb…
Younger children don’t say “I’m having a hard day, can we talk?” They say, “will you come and play with me?” For older children, it can help if parents have a quiet word in the corner or asking a question that doesn’t require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. For example, “What has been the best or most difficult part about today?” to enable genuine connection with our children. As parents, it can be reassuring to share some of our own childhood worries and fears, where this is appropriate and helpful. We all feel vulnerable at times so young people can begin to better understand that adults can feel anxious and worried as well. “Mum is going to take five deep breaths in the corner because she is feeling stressed.” Talking about times when we felt certain ways helps children know that we have experienced similar feelings and that we are here for them. Crucially we can all contribute to building the best possible support system around our young people and this provides the best opportunity for development and for secure attachments in the lives of our children.
Breathing is a great tool to help with anxiety and stress. We breathe all day, every day. But when we take the time to breathe properly, the benefits are enormous. Taking some deep slow breaths when we feel overwhelmed can help calm our nerves, and in turn reduce stress and anxiety. A fantastic way to introduce this visually with parents and children is through saying; “smell the flowers, blow out the candles”. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Controlled deep breathing allows minds to be clear and ready for life’s challenges whatever your age.
Some other child friendly exercises could be counting slowly to 10 or counting backwards from 20 to feel calm. A favourite exercise with families I work with is to count everything yellow in the room or notice things that are shaped like a circle. This is part of ‘grounding’ – helping young people feel calm by paying attention to what is going on outside of their own head.
Think about how you feel about your own self. Do you use positive or negative language towards yourself? Would you talk to someone else the way you talk to yourself? We need to pay closer attention to our own thought process when life doesn’t always go to plan. On our own journey, with a positive mindset, we can learn to reframe our thoughts more effectively to pass positivity onto our children.
Start a gratitude jar together filling up with lots of positive notes, experiences or times that made you feel thankful. At the end of the year, or when your child is feeling low, you can look through them together to feel grateful for all the wonderful experiences you’ve had.
We can help build insight by introducing different words for our feelings from an early age; sadness could also be a cover word for feeling anxious or scared. Children may notice how their body reacts when they experience different types of feelings, such as their tummy might be sore when they are feeling stressed. We can sometimes mistake this for sickness. Create the opportunity to have a quiet chat with your child about their symptoms, how they are now feeling and what has happened, reassuring them that this is ok.
Claire, fellow lifestyle blogger from www.clairemac.co.uk, has a three year old daughter about to transition into nursery. She asks:
‘We’ve been speaking to our three year old about starting nursery and so far she’s really excited. I’m very aware however that once we get there that this might not be the case. Any tips for supporting her and such a big lifestyle change?’
Create a ‘hug’ button between you both – where you push into the spongy part of the palm of your hand. It’s a relaxing tool that can help the child to ‘feel a hug’ from their parents when they are not present.
Talk about all the positive things that are going to happen at nursery that day and how you are looking forward to hearing about them later in the day, making that day exciting for the child.
‘Can you recommend any books that help support toddlers in talking about their different emotions.’
Last but not least, a personal question from me relating to my son’s dinosaur obsession…
My son loves imaginative role playing – do you have any ideas for improving his emotional development through this style of play?
Freeplay is a fantastic way to build confidence, self esteem and resilience. Using their imagination allows children to be creative with different scenarios. Ideal props for this would be to use toys with different emotions or faces on them, ask the young person how they are feeling, introduce new emotions (shocked and surprised can be similar) so children can improve their emotional development this way.