The past year has been difficult in so many ways and we will all have seen how COVID-19 has impacted our children and young people.
Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week couldn’t have come at a better time. It has allowed us to shine a spotlight on the importance of children and young people’s mental health and encouraged us to talk together about how we can support our children’s Wellbeing to shine.
The ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ is an evidence based tool researched and developed by the New Economics Foundation. It is designed to help us support the mental health and Wellbeing of our entire population. I’d like to use it to offer you five ideas designed to nurture emotional connection between you and your child, enabling the move from Worries to Wellbeing.
One of the most damaging impacts of Coronavirus has been its impact on connection. We’re all horribly aware of the pandemic’s ability to increase loneliness, isolation, disconnection; all of which are hugely detrimental to children. Yet, no matter how disconnected or isolated a child may feel, there is one thing that is guaranteed to fuel connection, a moment when an adult reminds a child why they believe in them. Truly. It is a form of magic. Keep the story brief and accurate. Encourage others around your child to do the same. It may be, if your child is struggling, that they can’t hold tight to that story and that feeling of connection for long. But the magic of that moment will tuck itself away somewhere. And, if you tell enough stories, over time, it’s possible that the magic will become large enough to hold tight to. I have seen Belief make the most difficult things seem possible.
Sharing a story with your child is a wonderful activity to help them with their Wellbeing. Engaging with stories is a safe and familiar activity for children. It is easier to explore the thoughts, feelings and actions of a character in a story than it is to explore your own. Learning about characters who face similar struggles to you, introduces the idea that things can get better for you just as it did for the character in the story. We would love to share with you and your child the story of a very special Worry Wizard called Jack. Jack was far too busy Worrying to have time to do anything else until he discovered that sharing his Worries with someone he trusted was the start of a very exciting adventure. The video is on The Worry Wizard website along with a free Wellbeing Activity you can download for you and your child to enjoy, together.
Encouraging your child to keep learning about themselves and their Wellbeing will help them to maintain good mental health. Hopefully they will quickly discover that learning new things about yourself can be exciting. I support children to learn that their Wellbeing has needs. The difficult truth is, the less robust your Wellbeing is, the less likely you are to attend to its needs. This is particularly true for children. Here’s an activity you can do, together with your child, to help them discover the things they can do every day to make sure their Wellbeing is looked after. Grab pens and paper. Let your child know that you would like to do this activity too. Explain that everyone needs to look after their Wellbeing every day. Write ‘My Wellbeing – What It Needs’ at the top of your pages. Think together about what you need to do each day to make sure your Wellbeing is ‘okay enough’. You might use the ‘5 Ways To Wellbeing’ as a starting point. You may draw pictures of each thing or simply write words down. I wonder what you’ll discover, together?
When your child is struggling with their mental health, a natural desire is to try to relieve that struggle; to try to direct them to a place you believe will be more comfortable for them. “Why don’t you think of it like this? Why don’t you feel more that?” “Have you tried doing this?” But, time and again, I have seen how staying on the side of wondering, rather than knowing, can nudge a child’s own curiosity and encourage them to begin to explore their emotional world. These three words can help, “I wonder if…”. Try sharing your wondering with your child. For example, “I wonder if it feels a bit all over the place at the minute?” And, if you’re genuinely wondering, curious, not sure, it can offer your child a springboard to join you. Your wonderings may be wrong. Right or wrong isn’t important here, what matters is that you demonstrate a genuine Curiosity to understand your child’s emotional world. When you are able to pause and be curious about your child’s thoughts and feelings and ways of doing things, it becomes possible to experience their world as they do and support them in that place.
Research shows that carrying out an act of kindness once a week over a six week period helps your Wellbeing to shine. Moreover, when your child is able to think of others, and do something kind for them, it offers you the opportunity to retell this ‘great story’ to them again and again. Being able to recognise your ‘great stories’ increases self Belief which, in turn, positively impacts Wellbeing. These acts of kindness don’t need to be big, grand gestures. I remember vividly when a child I supported excitedly shared that they leave bacon fat scraps in their garden for the birds who visit. Not only was this an act of kindness, it encouraged the child to connect with nature, another idea proven to improve Wellbeing.
Watching your child struggle with their mental health and Wellbeing is difficult and tiring. Please take a moment to take notice of how you are doing. Whilst your focus may be on supporting your child, you too need to feel supported, not just from others but also from yourself. Sometimes we can be so focussed on helping our child to believe in themselves that we can forget to let ourselves know the ‘great stories’ about us, the stories that make us feel a ‘good enough’ parent. Take a moment to notice all of the moments you’ve been right by your child’s side, loving them as mightily as you can; these moments matter.