‘Ask the Expert’ – My Happy Mind
Our popular blog series ‘Ask the Expert’ provides a platform for all Early Years (EY) professionals, where they can share their experiences and advice with the industry, on their chosen specialist subject.
So, whether you’re a policy expert, nutrition specialist, or knowledgeable practitioner, we want to hear from you!
This month, we speak to Laura Earnshaw, author and founder at myHappymind – an organisation that supports parents, carers, early years practitioners and primary school teachers to nurture a supportive approach to mental health during the early years so that children can learn positive habits which will see them live happily throughout their childhood and beyond. Here, she chats about how the pandemic has impacted mental wellbeing, the role that the early years plays in the development of this crucial element of welfare, and where further resources around this important topic can be found…
Tell us a little about yourself and your background in children’s mental health
I’m Laura, mum of two, founder of myHappymind and author of a book by the same name, published by Penguin.
myHappymind is an NHS-backed, award-winning program for primary schools, nurseries, and families. We’re positively impacting hundreds of thousands of little ones in schools and nurseries across the country. We’re also proud to be BCorp certified – an accreditation reserved for those delivering only the highest social and environmental impact.
I founded myHappymind on the back of feeling that mental health was stuck in a very negative and deficit-based approach. I wanted to bring a preventative and positive approach to schools and nurseries so that all children learn positive mental health habits from the youngest of ages – and so, myHappymind was born!
In general, how is mental health among children at the moment? Are you seeing more or less wellbeing concerns when comparing now to two years ago?
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has brought, and continues to bring, significant mental health issues for children and adults. A recent report described how Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) referrals have increased by 77% over the last year. The social isolation experienced, along with both the financial and general stress that we’ve all lived through, has taken its toll — and in many ways, when it comes to mental health, I believe the recovery is just beginning.
Are there any factors stalling progression/worsening issues around children’s mental health?
One of the constant challenges when it comes to mental health is teaching positive strategies that are preventative, rather than simply focussing on reacting when there is a problem. In the face of recovering from the pandemic, there’s a real risk that the emphasis on positive strategies for all young learners takes a back seat because we’re understandably so focussed on reacting to those children where there’s an issue right now.
Prevention must sit alongside the cure if we’re to turn the tide of mental health.
What impact has the pandemic had upon children’s mental wellbeing?
There are many reasons that children’s mental health has suffered throughout the pandemic — from social isolation to picking up on parental stress, not seeing friends, not engaging their brains in the same way, increases in screentime… the list goes on.
Of course, every child’s experience of this will have been different and many will have seen some benefit from spending more time at home but the unique climate within the home will have shaped this massively. For example, were parents able to home school effectively or were they juggling work? Was the family impacted by ill health? Were there financial stresses etc? All of these factors will have influenced the individual’s experience of, and therefore the impact from, the pandemic.
Can you share some of the top components that encourage positive mental health in children?
Our priority here at myHappymind is to focus on teaching the science-backed strategies that work when it comes to building positive mental health.
For us that’s about creating resilience so that youngsters have a real belief in themselves and approach their learning with perseverance. But this has to be engrained in everything that staff and parents do with children to work effectively.
Secondly, we are totally focused on building self-esteem in children. Contrary to popular belief, we can’t simply do this through praising achievements, we have to take a much more holistic approach to the whole person — and that’s what our programs focus on teaching.
How important are educational settings in creating a culture of positive mental wellbeing?
I think settings play a critically important role and, when they get it right, can truly transform a young person’s experience – positively shaping their character and mental wellbeing. This is all about them having integrated, consistent, and holistic approaches to mental health — both for the wellbeing of the children and the staff.
And what steps can nurseries take to nurture and improve mental health among the next generation?
This is exactly why nurseries come to join the myHappymind family. We provide an entire curriculum with resources for children, parents, and staff that allows them to implement a consistent and science-backed approach to mental health within the setting. We are commissioned by the NHS because what we do is proven to work.
Whether a setting chooses to work with myHappymind or not, the key for us is ensuring there is a joined-up approach among the child, parents, and staff – this is the winning combination to ensure a mentally healthy culture and, as a result, mentally healthy children.
Do you have any tips for engaging children in conversations around mental health?
It’s really important to engage children in positive conversations rather than the starting point always being a ‘problem’. This ensures little ones feel able to talk and, as a result, helps to build trust.
Also, ensuring children are given practical strategies to try and use can be a game-changer too — approaches that are easy, practical, and fun will always win!
Are there any mental health resources/podcasts that you’d recommend for early years practitioners?
We provide lots of free resources which you can find on our website myhappymind.org, including a podcast packed with lots of insights and information.
To find out more about myHappymind for early years here, take a tour here.
If you’d like to take part in our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, please contact our marketing team via firstname.lastname@example.org