To mark Childrens Mental Health week which is taking place between 1st – 7th Febuary our Mentoring Scheme Coordinator; Beth Thomas writes about childrens mental health, the covid-19 pandemic and offers some free resources for families to use to help children express themselves and encourage families to talk about mental health.
Beth Thomas has a wealth of expereince in supporting children and young people with mental health challenges and is currently studying a Masters degree in Child and Adolescent Mental Wellbeing.
Supporting Childrens Mental Health
Whilst we are approaching a year of lockdowns, masks, hand sanitisers and social distancing, it comes as no surprise that many children are experiencing issues with their mental health. A national survey conducted in June 2020, identified that 80% of youth participants struggled with their mental health during the first lockdown, Young Minds (2020). We are now in lockdown three.
Collectively, children and adults united, many of us are tired and drained. Nights are darker and the weather cold and dreary. School closures and home-schooling has hit many households like a wild tornado as parents across the country fight a losing battle against long divisions and fractions, tearing their hair out with frustration trying to work out the difference between past perfect tense and past perfect continuous tense (Yea, I have no idea either!).
And who would have thought that a flurry of snow across the nation would have bought so much joy? Even if it was short lived, to see so many families out and about, creating snow models, snowball fighting, sledding, smiling and laughing together – it was a lovely sight, and a welcomed tonic in what is an extremely difficult time for many.
It is understandable that many children will be experiencing an array of mental health challenges throughout this period. Over the past year, the Our Place Mentoring Scheme have supported those experiencing trauma, those that have experienced the loss of loved ones, many of whom have not been able to say a proper goodbye because of restrictions. We have seen an increase of referrals identifying children who are struggling with low moods and increased anxieties, an increase of those children experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours, and those who are struggling with the lack of structure and uncertainty that lockdown brings. We must also bear in mind that these challenges are in addition to the issues that children were experiencing in a pre-COVID world. The lack of social interaction and being stuck surrounded by the same four walls seem to have only amplified the existing challenges faced by children. In addition, children who may not have had any previous issues with their mental health are finding it increasingly difficult as days, weeks and months continue to roll into one.
However, like many periods in our lives, the whirlwind of Coronavirus will pass.
To quote the fabulous Charlie Macksey:
“This storm is making me tired,” said the boy, “Storms get tired too” said the horse, “So hold on”.
In essence, we just need to hold on to our hats and ride out the storm.
We must also remember that we are currently living through a global pandemic and there is no right or wrong way to feel. In fact, many of us, children and adults alike, are ‘just winging it’. There will be days which are filled with laughter, fun and excitement, where kids can be kids and not worry about the stressors of life or the dreaded ‘C’ word. In contrast, there will be days where even the smallest of tasks will seem like a climb up Snowdon against the elements and life itself completely overwhelming, and this is perfectly OK and normal. Most certainly you are not on your own.
Think of Mental health as a journey. It is a continuum, children will move along the spectrum of mental health, times where they feel good, times where they may feel low and times where they may experience anxieties or stress. This is a good starting point to discussing mental health with children. Think of it as a squiggly line, there are ups, there are downs and there are times when we feel, well ‘meh’! And that is fine! Letting children know that there is no ultimate ‘end goal’ of good mental health is a great way of not only encouraging conversation but it also removes the pressure of thinking that they must feel a certain way to be ‘normal’.
When it comes to supporting children with their mental health, another key factor to remember is that behaviour is communication. Children may be disciplined or labelled ‘naughty’ and so forth, for behaviour that may be deemed challenging, such as anger, tantrums, crying, or withdrawn. However, by seeing behaviour as an outcome then we can recognise that there is something else going on beneath the surface – very much like an iceberg. Verbalising thoughts, feelings and emotions can be difficult, even for adults, so we cannot automatically assume that children can do the same, especially when they may not have the vocabulary or skills to do so.
With this in mind, allowing a child to express themselves is a good way of promoting mental health. It sounds simple and pretty obvious; however, children often lack the platform to do this. Taking time out the day to allow your child to express themselves, their thoughts and emotions (whether happy, sad or angry) will have a positive impact on their overall mental health. In addition, we must also ensure that when a child does share their thoughts and feelings that we ensure that these are validated, even if we struggle to understand them ourselves.
As the expression goes “It’s good to talk” and giving children a specific platform, in a safe, non-judgemental space allows them to practice effectively communicating their thoughts or feelings. Every child is different, which is what makes them so wonderful. Allow your child to express their feelings through play, art, dance, or talking, whatever mode they choose, and why not join in? By normalising the conversation around mental health and joining in with your child you are helping to remove the stigma and barriers that often prevent children from speaking up about their struggles.
To support you in talking to your child about mental health take a look at our free easy to use resources below which look at talking about emotions – expressing ourselves! and mood monitoring.