February 1st – 7th see’s Place2Be’s ‘Children’s Mental Health Week’ campaign in full swing, a week dedicated to raising awareness and educating adults and young people about the importance of looking after our emotional wellbeing from an early age.
This year’s theme is ‘Express Yourself’, encouraging children (and adults) to explore the different ways we can express ourselves, and the creative ways that we can share our feelings, our thoughts and our ideas.
At Action Tutoring, we are always looking to support pupils’ wellbeing, as well as their academic needs. It is important for us that, in addition to achieving a meaningful level of academic attainment at school, pupils are also able to develop as happy, healthy and well-rounded individuals.
1 in 6 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition, and with more potentially struggling with lockdown, bereavement or bullying, there’s never been a more appropriate time to talk about children’s mental health. Young people have spent almost a year being in and out of school, often locked in for long periods and out for only short bursts of time, which has been enough to put adults’ mental health under duress, never mind children.
Encouraging children to express themselves could help alleviate some of these difficulties, and lead to improved emotional wellbeing. So how can we help young people (and ourselves!) reconnect with the creative streak that lives within us all?
- Drama – you don’t have to be on the West End stage to engage with drama and performing. Whether acting out a scene from your favourite book, or recreating a scenario to act out with friends or family, drama is open to everyone. Drama can not only be a great way to release your curious and creative nature, but it can be also truly beneficial in helping children understand different situations. At a recent webinar, a mum explained how she’d been using role play scenarios to help her child understand what a ‘return to school’ would look like. They took it in turns to be the teacher and pupil, and even practiced social distancing in their home! What a fabulous way to help a young person understand what’s going on, or how things might be different moving forward, whilst also letting them be a playful child!
- Art – we’re all spending way too much time looking at our screens, and too little time using our hands for anything other than typing. Grabbing a colouring book or some pens and paper might encourage a young person (or adult) to take a break from the virtual world. Why not draw a picture of how you feel right now and discuss it? This can be a great way to express how you’re feeling other than through speech, and with a bit of colour!
- Dressing up – for lots of us, this year has consisted of pyjamas, work outfits and changing back into pyjamas when the clock strikes 5:30pm. Getting dressed up, even if it’s to sit in the house, can really boost how you feel about yourself. For children, letting them play dress up or wear what they want for the day might really help them express themselves and bring a bit of colour to the gloomier winter days.
- Walking – a simple, but easy one. We all know walking is great for mental health, and after months inside it’s more important than ever. Walking can be creative – take a litter picker and clean up the streets, take photos of the lovely flowers or insects you see, or even take a new route to your usual walk. You could also simply walk and let your thoughts come to you naturally – nothing is more creative than original thought!
Identifying and responding to mental health concerns
Encouraging children to express themselves and talk about how they feel really is important, especially now. However, it’s also important to know what signs to look out for if the young people around us are struggling with their mental health and, crucially, how to support them.
In a national lockdown, children are bound to miss their usual structure, friends and family, which can lead to feelings like uncertainty, boredom and restlessness. This may also prompt uncomfortable or insecure feelings in their familial relationships, and subsequently, reactionary misbehaviour or misplaced hostility. Here are some tips on how to help and respond:
- Listen – Find an opportunity to listen to what’s wrong, listen carefully to their answers and reassure them as best as you can to reinforce their stability and standing in the family.
- Express – If they are reluctant to talk about their feelings, encourage them to write a letter or a diary entry to address their emotions. Journaling allows for self-reflection and relieves stress.
- Routine – Build positive routines, such as healthy eating and exercise. Physical activity, whether indoors or outdoors, improves self-esteem,
increases concentration and can improve academic performance!
- Praise – Give lots of positive feedback and encouragement to their achievements, whether it be a piece of school work, a drawing they’ve done or even just tidying their room.
- Support – Reach out to other parents and carers, or other friends and family, yourself. A problem shared is a problem halved, and talking is a great way to keep positive, motivated, and to be able to model this behaviour to your dependents.
“It’s important to remember that being able to express yourself is not about being the best at something or putting on a performance for others. It is about finding a way to show who you are, and how you see the world, that can help you feel good about yourself” – Place2Be
So let’s start watching out for the signs of anxiety or deteriorating mental health, remember how to get support and start expressing ourselves. Let us as adults be role models to help the younger generation express themselves as well. Children’s mental health should always be a focus, but let’s take extra care this week. Childhood is precious. Let’s protect it.
Action Tutoring would like to thank Place2Be for championing this brilliant cause with their campaign and we encourage everyone to check out the resources on the campaign website.