What can we do to help them?
As a fairly new mum (three and half years in and every day is still a school day!) it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that children are under incredible amounts of pressure from a very young age.
Being completely honest I find it upsetting and wish that society would allow children to be children for as long as possible. Their innocence, natural creativity and fun-loving nature should be nurtured and encouraged.
Why do they have to grow up so quickly nowadays? For me in particular, it is the pressures that they are put under at school that I worry about. Why are they under so much pressure at school from such a young age? Why has society become obsessed with targets and exams?
The reality is that it is going to be very hard to change the way our government believes that schools should be run and curriculums imposed upon teachers and students. I'm not saying we shoudn't challenge it and try to invoke change because we absolutely should. However, knowing that the change might not happen has made me start to seriously think about how I am going to support my two young girls as they grow up in this "system".
I want to be able to support them, help them and keep their bodies and minds healthy.
I recently read on the Mental Health Foundation website that, "mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age."
The website also states that "the emotional wellbeing of children is just as important as their physical health. Good mental health allows children and young people to develop the resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them and grow into well-rounded, healthy adults."
I would really recommend visiting the website as there is lots of information on there about things that can help young children, risk factors to be aware of and what help is available.
Class of Mum & Dad
If any of you have been watching Class of Mum and Dad on Channel 4 you may also have been thinking recently about the pressures children are put under at school.
For those of you who haven't seen it, it is a documentary that follows 19 parents/carers who return to school to experience the day to day lives of Year 6 pupils (top class at primary school). The series sees adults reduced to tears, struggling under the pressure of Year 6 and rebelling against rules that the children must adhere to.
Hearing the adults speak about their experiences during their time back at school really brought it home to me how difficult it is for children at school and the emphasis that is put on SATs for the Year 6 pupils.
I was horrified to learn that in some schools the Year 6 pupils don't do any creative arts or science in the two terms leading up to thier examinations due to the time that must be spent practising English and Maths for their SATs examinations.
So, I decided that I wanted to start reading up on how we can help children to enjoy their time at school, be confident in their abilities, deal with pressure, help them achieve their potential whilst also encouraging them to be creative, fun-loving, kind, caring and passionate about life.
To me, there is nothing more important in life than health, both physical and mental.
Children's Author Giles Paley-Phillips
In my opinion, books are the best way to start conversations with children about difficult topics. Sometimes it is very difficult to know what to say and how to say it. Thankfully there are some fantastic authors out there who make this much easier for us.
They are able to write children's books in a way that makes difficult issues understandable, not at all scary and are a brilliant starting point for conversations.
I recently spoke to the wonderful children's author Giles Paley-Phillips, whom many of you will already know, to ask him which childrens' books he recommended on this topic.
His top two children's book recommendations are:
The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside
This is a compelling picture book which can be used as a spring board into discussing what children are worried about.
Wherever Jenny goes, her worries follow her in a big blue bag. They are there everywhere she goes, even to swimming, the toilet and whilst she is watching television. Jenny decides that they will have to go. But who can help her?
Mind Your Head by Juno Dawson
This is a great book for older children and teenagers, which touches on anxiety and depression. It contains real life stories from young people from around the world, with witty illustrations.
I asked Giles why he thought it was important to provide mental health support to children. His response was
"I think it's essential to provide mental health support to children, as the pressures and changes that occur throughout childhood can often lead to children feeling extremely anxious, from exams, family break ups, peer pressure, all these things often need children to be able to express their concerns in a safe environment."
Giles has written a children's book about bereavement and loss called "Little Bell and the Moon." It's a wonderful rhyming tale of a little girl who grows up, gets old and turns into a bright star in the sky. It's a very positive story which allows parents and carers to have that discussion with children.
Giles would love to write something about mental health too, as it's a subject close to his heart.
If you like the idea of using books to help open up discussions with children the BookTrust website also has some great recommendations for books about feelings and wellbeing.
Power Thoughts by Natalie Costa
The conversation between Natalie and Nicky instantly resonated with me and I absolutely loved what Natalie was doing with Power Thoughts. I followed up with her immediately and have thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about why she set the business up and her incredible plans for the future.
By way of background, Power Thoughts is a coaching and mindfulness based programme aimed at empowering children to tap into the ‘power’ of their minds. Through their coaching, children as young as five are taught how to become confident, resilient and robust, developing a ‘can-do’ attitude that allows them to flourish both at home and in the classroom.
Created and delivered by the wonderful, Natalie Costa, the underlying theme of the programme is to encourage children to develop a growth mindset so they are able to regulate their own thoughts and emotions and know that they have the ‘power’ to choose an alternative state.
A state that is positive, allowing for learning and growth - where they are ultimately moving toward fulfilling their potential.
Surely this is what we all want for children!
Why Natalie set up Power Thoughts
I asked Natalie why she set up Power Thoughts and share her reasons with you below.
"As a former Primary School teacher I was all too familiar seeing children hold themselves back for fear of making mistakes, having a lack of self confidence and afraid to ‘have a go’ or try something new.
I also realised that from a very young age, children started to become ‘afraid’ of making mistakes, especially if they were struggling to access a piece of work whilst their peers seem to be passing with flying colours. I also realised that when faced with challenges, failure, rejections or setbacks, children would often crumble and it would take quite some time to help ‘build’ them back to a space where they felt strong and confident within their abilities. In addition to this it also seemed to me that we would teach our children how to think, problem solve and come up with solutions, yet we were not educating them about their thoughts, mindset and mental wellbeing.
It is because of this that I set up Power Thoughts. I wanted to help children develop an awareness when it came to their thoughts and emotions. helping build their confidence and resilience. It does NOT replace or dilute the experiences that make childhood what it’s supposed to be. Ups and downs and challenges make us who we are. I focus on building resilience so they are better able to manage their emotions, respond to challenges and obstacles in a more resourceful way allowing children to feel calmer, happier and more confident within themselves.
Providing these tools from an early age, in my opinion, is crucial to supporting them and providing them to be their best selves. Having these tools does not dilute the childhood experience, but rather provide them with positive tools to manage the obstacles and stumbling blocks that occur.
Increasingly, we adults are exploring and investing in improving our emotional and mental health. For you it might be self care habits, being more aware of having offline time, perhaps using apps and self development books to bring more clarity and calm to your day. Every little helps and even small shifts can make a big difference. Up to now, the focus on wellbeing and building life skills has been reserved for grown ups. And this is what i wanted to start bringing forth to our children, helping them develop the tools and skills that would help them during their crucial life stages /milestones?"
Power Thoughts Programmes and Resources
Natalie offers the following programmes and resources for schools and parents.
Natalie's workshops and 1:1 coaching sessions generally cover similar themes. For schools she usually provides either termly programmes or half-day workshops. In some instances she also runs smaller-group sessions (these are children that the school has specifically selected) and we will work together for a set time period.
Typical themes covered include:
- Back to School with Confidence
- Start Year 6 with Success
- The Worry Buster Masterclass
- The Exam Buster Masterclass
- The Power of my Super Hero: Tapping into Positive Mindset and Beating Fear
- Going to 'Big School' with Confidence
- Step up with Power: Primary to Secondary transition workshop for Year 6
- Feel Fabulous: Mastering your Emotions
- The Confidence Masterclass
- Get your Happy On!
In addition to this she also hosts speaking events for parents on the themes above
Parent / 1:1 coaching for children
For 1:1 coaching packages the sessions tend to be more tailored according to the particular needs of the child. A typical package will usually consist of 4 coaching sessions. Natalie also ensures she shares the tools and information with the parents after the sessions, so that they are able to continue supporting their chilled, thus reinforcing new positive habits.
In these situations (if the child is 8 years and older) she also provide a DISC profile personality assessment of the child. This is a fantastic tool to help parents understand their child at a deeper level, recognising their preferred communication style, their motivations, fears and how they can change their language / communication so that they are better able to support their child. This also provides the child with a greater insight to their personality and how they are able to make shifts and changes so that they can improve relationships, have better communication and approach challenges in away that works for them. In many cases Natalie provides a DISC profile for the parents too and this has proven to greatly enhance the communication among the whole family.
Power Thoughts Hangout
Natalie has also recently launched a new service called Power Thoughts Hangout. This is an online session where she will run monthly programmes. Each programme will run for a series of 4 weeks (one session per week) and children will be able to receive recordings of the sessions too, allowing them to refer to the tools taught. All information and worksheets will be emailed before each session.
Natalie's advice to parents and carers
Let children know that ALL feelings are valid. So often children think that feeling angry or sad is a ‘bad’ feeling. Let them know that all feelings are important, even the uncomfortable ones. Natalie often shares in her sessions that when we feel the uncomfortable feelings we need to ‘sit with it, or ‘surf the wave’.. if we try to push against them they become bigger and bigger, but if we just sit with them for a while, practice our mindful breathing, or imagine ourselves ‘surfing the wave of the feeling’ we will slowly start to notice the feeling subside.
Encourage children to label their feelings too and model this for them.
Natalie is kindly offering a 10% discount for any bookings taken during Mental Health Awareness Week (14th - 20th May 2018) for either school workshops or 1:1 coaching sessions.
Just visit the Power Thoughts website to book a session.
Worry Stones by My Story Stones Rock
Another fantastic resource that I have come across are the "Worry Stones" which are beautifully handmade and hand painted by the lovely Mel of "My Story Stones Rock".
For those of you who have never heard of worry stones, they are smooth, polished stones usually in the shape of an oval and are used for relaxation or anxiety-relief. Children can use them by holding them inbetween their index finger and thumb and gently moving their thumb backwards and forwards across the stone.
They can be used by children as a self-soothing exercise and can replace other destructive coping mechanisms such as nail-biting, scratching, lip-biting etc.
Mel had heard of worry stones but hadn't come across any that were child-friendly so she created her first three little worry monsters and named them Henry, Arthur and Rose after her three children.
Her aim was to create stones that were cute, fun and a colourful sensory aid for children to relate to. Her stones are the perfect palm size companion and are incredibly tactile making them perfect as worry stones.
Mel has received lots of wonderful feedback about her worry stones not only from children and their parents, but also from adults who also use them.
It touches Mel's heart to know that her Worry Monsters are making such a big difference to people's daily life.
Here are some of the testimonials she has received:
"Your worry stones have chaged her little life honestly, she doesn't have any worries as long as she has her worry stone. Could never thank you enough xx"
"Just been in to check my daughter and this is how she sleeps every night with her worry stone. She just adores it. She normally has her hand hidden but managed to see it tonight xx"
"Harry and Arthur loved their worry stones. They both have them by their beds at night to help them get over their bad dreams. Thank you! They are beautiful x"
"My little girl absolutely adores your stones. Her worry stone is in her hand all of the time and she won't leave the house without it."
"We continue to love your products; infact our daughter takes her worry stone to school every day and it has made a huge difference in her anxiety."
Mel's stones are all CE approved and really are beautiful. If you know someone who would benefit from one of these amazing stones please visits Mel's My Story Stones Rock Shop.
So, these are the brillliant tools and resources that I have come across so far which I think are fantastic for helping us to protect children's mental health. I know that there must be so much more out there and I would love to hear about anything you come across that could help. I will then keep adding to this blog post so that I and others can refer back to it when we need some help and inspiration, so that we can in turn help children.
Let's keep children's minds healthy, encourage them to develop a love for learning and a passion for life.