Children’s mental health and wellbeing
“How are you?”
How many of us ask the simple question of adults as an automatic opener in conversations and do not expect a candid reply? The three simple words can open a wave of emotions which we, as a society, do not seem to anticipate or in so many instances have no time to actually stop and listen to the answer. It seems it should certainly be a question that we should be asking our children and consciously allowing time to listen to the response and perhaps even thinking about responding to the child’s body language and deciding if the emphasis should be on the word ‘’you’ or the word ‘are’. Since the pandemic, many of my fellow early years’ practitioners have noticed an increase in children’s lack of ability to process and communicate their emotions. If we are being honest, are we surprised? I know many adults who struggled to do this before lockdowns, testing and face masks became part of daily life. It is ironic that the resilience of children is something that always surprises us yet at the same time we, as their careers, take it for granted that they will just ‘bounce back’.
Children’s mental health week is a moment for us to just pause, let what has happened sink in and celebrate how we have grown, and to ask that simple question ‘how are you?’ and give it the time that the answer needs. We all know the importance of spending time with loved ones and making time to just ‘be’ in each other’s company. Do we make time and provide opportunities for this to happen in our settings? Do we stop and accept there may be an additional task of thinking of how much screen time each young mind has had at home to help working parents cope?
For Children’s mental health week is a great opportunity to really strip the planning back and make sure that there is room in your setting and timetable to sit and talk with the children. Go at a slower pace than the demands of the days learning can inadvertently trap us in.
Top Tips & Resources for Children’s Mental Health Week
The website Children’s mental health week provides a range of resources. https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/schools-and-youth-groups/
Even though there is no Early Years section, many of the resources available could be adapted to be age-appropriate for the theme of the week Growing Together – and one of the activities in their Primary pack, called ‘Look how we’ve changed’ which suggests using stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar or The Ugly Duckling. Pacey also has a range of tools and resources to help support and teach mental health in Early Years – Early minds matter | PACEY
We have also been reminded through the pandemic that being outside is incredibly important for our mental health. According to the Open University’s OPENspace Research Centre, there is considerable evidence suggesting that letting the children, whatever the weather, spend time in green spaces, local parks, local forests, a family does allotment benefit mental and physical wellbeing. As the children connect with nature you can see their confidence and self-esteem grow, their understanding and involvement in and with peer support improve. Stress and anger reduce as their sense of exploration and understanding improves with their mood added to increasing life expectancy and a child’s ability to function at school, it’s a win-win. We also know from science what a good dose of vitamin D can do to boost our mood and immune system. What is our main source of Vitamin D? Good old-fashioned sunlight. As the sun replaces grey skies, we all experience a sense of revitalisation and confidence in being able to cope. As the staff or parents’ mood lifts so does the positive atmosphere that the children absorb and reflect. Being outdoors naturally creates and feeling of escapism and euphoria – establishing oneself in the world. It would be hard found to find an easier (and free a way) of improving mental health. The imagination naturally starts to stimulate in a positive way; once outdoors I find myself becoming quite the ‘poet’, waxing on about the beauty that can be seen in the every day – when I give myself the time just to ‘be’ outdoors.
Website such as 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ | National Trust; 1000 Hours Outside; Council for Learning Outside the Classroom (lotc.org.uk), have lots of ideas and resources in order to help freshen up and give new ideas or how to increase and improve your learning outdoors. The first two websites can even be a great tool to support parents getting their children outside and screen-free. The RHS https://www.rhs.org.uk and https://www.rspb.org.uk both offer inspiring projects for home and school; providing opportunities for staff to enhance their skills and increase their development. Staff and parents are supported with resources, activities, and spotter guides. An RHS mini pond does wonders for wildlife, attracting all sorts of interesting creatures, even small enough for a patio or a balcony. The strange world of tadpoles and their dramatic transformation from wriggling black dots to leaping life creates connections to nature for children that last a lifetime and who has not had an enchanting set of results from watching the caterpillar turn into a butterfly using sets such as the Butterfly Garden from www.bakerross.co.uk ?
To help support and teach children about emotional wellbeing, they need to be able to recognise their emotions. Books such as ‘The colour monster’ by Anna Llenas and ‘A huge bag of worries’ by Virginia Ironside. These books also come with a range of tools online that teaches about feelings and provide a toolkit with which children can recognise then learn to regulate emotions.
When it comes to our children’s mental health, I think it is key that as practitioners we do not underestimate the power of creating and maintaining a nurturing environment in which children feel safe and valued to experiment with ideas, emotions building on the complexity that is human relations including the one with our self.
About Jessica Holme
Jessica is a highly experienced teacher whose passion for learning is reflected in her own life as well as her professional achievements. At Jessica’s current school she has led the development of a Froebelian nursery unit for the nursery children. As a result of the success of the setting, it will be recreated in the other schools in the academy trust with Jessica’s guidance and expertise. Jessica leads a team of 12 within the nursery setting and enjoys sharing her skill set, experience and learning with others through writing, lectures and supporting local training programs.