By Clare Harris, Content Director
As we mentioned earlier, we believe that it is the role of everyone in society to help both prevent the causes of mental ill-health, as well as support those that need some help. As the well-known quote reminds us ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. We believe that rather than attempting to always try to influence at a global and political level, sometimes it’s more appropriate to think about the impact that we can have at a micro-level. Therefore, we focus on some small steps that we can more easily commit to, to look at our own behaviour and attitudes first. We have spoken to parents, teachers and reflected on our own experiences (as parents, and as those that had our own challenges with childhood mental ill-health) and these would be the small habits that we would invite you to consider:
- Allow time and space for children to speak and be heard. Today, we live ‘busier’ lives than the previous generations and spend most of our time multi-tasking. When was the last time you gave a child your un-interrupted attention? No phone in your hand, no TV on in the background, no laptop in reach? Next time you have the opportunity, try mono-tasking. Just listening to the child and making them feel heard. This can reduce anxiety and help build an understanding of how that child is feeling.
- Encourage children to try something new. Children love routine. They know who they like to play with, what they enjoy eating, their favourite programmes and what their weekly routine entails. But when did they last try something new, something that challenged them to ‘find their brave’ as is the theme of this year’s Children’s mental health week? Providing an opportunity to take the child out of their comfort zone is a great way to build confidence and resilience, address fears and encourage new interests.
- Empower children to be comfortable with being imperfect. A growing habit in adults is to provide endless encouragement, reinforcement, and positivity. Our fear of making a child feel like they have failed or at least that they could have done better seems to be a big ‘no-no’ for most adults. Whilst we wouldn’t encourage people to belittle, embarrass or be overly negative to children, they do need some balance and by talking about the imperfect, and sharing our own stories of when we haven’t achieved, makes it ok to try and to learn when we didn’t hit the mark. As adults, we understand that there is a success is a failure and we should develop this understanding in children and young people.
- Lead by example. It’s easy to have the mindset of ‘do as I say, not as I do’. Children notice a lot. As adults (parents or not) we are role models. Our behaviour is what children see as acceptable and even aspirational. We need to be accountable for what we say and do, and how we talk about ourselves and others. This shapes attitudes, forms biases and models what behaviour is acceptable.
- Establish the benefits of taking small steps. Children seem to want to grow up fast. They want to learn fast and move on to the next exciting thing. We need to teach children to be in each moment and to take small steps in order to progress successfully. Enjoy the process, celebrate each milestone, loopback if necessary. There is no rush or race. Again, we need to model this by slowing down and sharing when something is going to need to take us a little longer.
- Highlight acts of bravery in what you see and read together. Being brave isn’t easy. There are psychological and physiological factors that make us feel fear and resit it. But to learn as a child to be brave, to face fears, to know that fear and excitement are closely related, is a crucial lesson in resilience, innovation, exploration, and learning.
We would encourage you to take just one of the points above, consider how as an adult you are practicing this, and commit to giving it your attention for just 5 minutes every day over the next two weeks. You might be surprised at the big difference these small steps can make.
Whilst reflecting on this and our last article, it should be noted that most mental health issues go unreported, and therefore there is a risk that what we have presented here is the tip of the iceberg.