Around three children in every primary school class has a mental health struggle. This statistic then increases in secondary school.
1 in 8 children and young people have a diagnosable #mentalhealth condition. It has also been highlighted that many mental health conditions start by 14 years of age. A confusing battle that I have personally experienced and see on a weekly basis.
Every week, I work with school students struggling with mental health challenges and illness. Trying to build their confidence, help them truly smile and open up.
“It isn’t ‘cool’ to open up about your emotions, it isn’t ‘cool’ to be unique, it isn’t ‘cool’ to have a different family set up and it isn’t ‘cool’ to be happy all the time”.
What is seen as ‘cool’ I ask…
“To have a physical fight and win – It’s the only way to stop bullying”
“To be pretty”
“Be like the crowd”
These are all common thoughts that I have been told by children in the past 8 months!
It is said all that the time, that being a child is easy…it isn’t! It is a constant battle to try find your own passions and self-worth. Whilst trying to fit in, learn how to make friends, be good at every subject (but not too good) and control your new, all over the place emotions. That doesn’t include living through and confidently surviving any early traumatic events and experiences.
It is scary to ask for help, start a conversation with someone new, say that you are struggling or try a new activity.
This year’s theme is Find your Brave! Children face fear on a daily basis, not by choice. Having to go to new places, be around new people and constantly learn new things; all chosen for them, with no control and before their brains have fully developed to be able to understand and manage thoughts/feelings. Sometimes in a school/home environment, it is easier to either fight any fears and anyone nearby until it stops or retreat inside yourself keeping words to a minimum – leading to mental health struggles. Facing the fear and finding your brave is really tough, especially if you aren’t shown how, given the opportunity to talk safely or provided with any coping mechanisms!
As adults, we can choose to protect ourselves to some degree by keeping things the same – our job, friends, home, lifestyle. Children have none or very little control, which causes early mental health challenges and negative thoughts to spiral quickly.
That being said, children are very resilient, so let them make mistakes and support them to work through their challenges.
I could talk about this forever, but I want you to hopefully take something away from this blog, as there is many actions that as a parent, grandparent, relative or carer you can do to try help. So, I will finish by leaving you with two things – more words that I have heard from children and a list of tips that could help you with children you know.
“I get kicked out of classes because of my behaviour”. Why do you misbehave? “Because I don’t understand what the teacher is trying to explain. I ask for help once or twice sometimes, but I need them to explain it to me slowly and for them to be able to answer all my questions. They can see that as annoying, so now I don’t always ask for help, lose focus and misbehave instead, as then I don’t have to worry and can leave the room.” Makes sense, right?!
“It is difficult to make friends as a teenager. You can’t just go up to someone and say ‘will you be my friend?’ and if you just start talking to someone new they can think you are weird.”
– Ask if they are ok – TWICE! Never just once, even if it does slightly annoy them.
– Be patient – no matter how much this annoys you.
– Give them control and responsibility of something.
– Allow them to make decisions – big and small.
– Talk about your emotions openly – good and bad.
– Remember that children are naturally very resilient, so don’t let your own anxiety change this view.
– Go outside – walk, skip or jump around in nature. Talking openly whilst walking is much less daunting then sitting down too.
– Don’t tell little ones to not be shy and try not to say “go give ‘said person’ a cuddle otherwise you might upset them if you don’t.” You could be implying that they need to change their behavior away from their own personality and comfort levels, just to please others. Let them become closer to people at their own pace.
– Apologise when you mess up.
– Try not to say that you know how they are feeling! Because even if you have been through the same situation, your feelings and thoughts will be different.
– Never hide your own traumatic experiences from teenagers in the hope it will protect them. You never know if they are going through something similar and are desperate to know that they aren’t the only one.
– Let them see how you make friends, this will teach them.
– Have your own hobbies which you love, so that they learn how to find their own joys and be proud.
– Share your experiences as a teenager like you are reminiscing within part of general conversation – feelings and actions. Don’t hide that you didn’t go to school on occasions, tried smoking, stole a chocolate bar, kissed someone, worried about what people think, didn’t like a particular subject or was called a particular name. Talk about your successes, fun times and naughty adventures.
– Have lots of fun, sensory based activities to hand. Don’t think play doh, paints and slime are for just little ones. All ages from toddlers to adults can benefit from sensory play. Make hand prints, throw paint on paper, play with soil, make cakes or create lego masterpieces. Do it with them too sometimes!
Lastly, I recently read this and loved it instantly; supporting children and helping them grow isn’t about trimming, pruning or modifying them. It’s about being the soil, water and sunshine for them to grow in their own direction, naturally, in their own way.