The importance of looking after children’s mental health

The importance of looking after children’s mental health

Like many of families I am having to mix child care and home schooling around work. Even though my wife is working from home it is still difficult to balance the competing demands of both our jobs, the children’s education and home schooling and then our physical and mental well-being. Being in the home all the time is not healthy, as much as I love my house as a human being I need to be outside, I need to be active, socialise and basically do all the things that we take for granted every day.

However after 42 years I have at least been able to build my resilience, knowledge and understanding. I have gone through many bad situations and times and have managed to come out of the other side. I have a fair idea of what I need to do to maintain and improve my mental and physical well-being. I have also been very fortunate to study and I have qualifications in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Coaching, nutrition and health and I am a mental health first aid instructor. This is great for me but it does not necessarily assist my children, and that is the point.

How does all of this affect our children? Like most children, mine are very fortunate, they have a good life, a good education and lots of friends, they have their toys, electronics and plenty of things to keep them busy. However it is not until really tough times hit, such as now, that children’s mental and physical health starts to suffer. Especially now in what is one of the strangest, most complicated, upsetting and frightening times of most our lives.

The thing with children is even though being off school will be a novelty at first they will eventually want more, they will want to be outside, be with their friends, they will want to be at school, learning and playing, they will want to see their grand-parents, aunties and uncles, they will want to be children. So we as parents and guardians have to make sure that we are looking after their physical and mental well-being as much as possible.

Statistics suggest that there are over 1 million children in the UK who have a diagnosable mental health condition (NHS digital, Mental health of children and young people in England 2017) So it is vital that we look after ours and our families mental health – By become the family therapist.

Here are some hints and tips to assist:

  • Just control what you can, focus on the things you can control and from this set goals to complete tasks. Produce plans for all scenarios and especially for each day’s activities. Don’t try and ‘wing it’, that just leads to stress for you and boredom in your child/children.

  • Home schooling – This is going to be a vital part of the next few weeks/months. Children like routine, so do everything you can to make sure that their weekdays are consistent. Start their school day at 9am, give them breaks and down time and finish at 1400-1500. Most schools will have sent out time tables and curriculums and there is a wealth of resources which thankfully should be free with school logins. But do not put pressure on yourself, we are not teachers, it is hard. I have been a police officer for 17 years, I would last 5 minutes as a primary school teacher. As long as children’s brains are ticking over, they are taking in information and working on that muscle in their head, they will be fine. Work on their weaknesses, cover the basics. English, Maths, basic science, PE. Let them decide their time tables, let them help to direct and manage their day.

  • To contradict the last point, do not put pressure on yourself to do a full day of teaching. Quality not quantity is the key to this. It is far better to do 2-3 hours of really good learning and then spend the day doing fun things around the house and garden. Children like the rest of us have small concentration spans so look to do 30 minute sessions and then let them have a break, letting them do something totally different.

  • The dreaded C word. Coronavirus/Covid 19. Talk to your children about it, ask what they think it is and how it affects people, what we can do to try and stop the spread. Maybe get them to watch Newsround every day or other day, complete diary entries, write a letter to family/friends, be aware of its presence and what they have to do to in relation to washing hands and isolation. The more children understand it, where appropriate the better, at the same time think of their safety, children also need to have ignorance.

  • Try getting into the habit of doing a 10 minute daily meditation session with your children. Carm, Headspace or any similar app will do. Meditation is proven to work, to help anxiety and stress. As the Dalai Lama once said “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

  • Two good mindfulness acronyms are -

RAIN - Recognise what is happening, allow the experience to happen, investigate, nurture and move on

STOP - Stop what you are doing, take a breath, observe, and proceed

  • Connect with family and friends, we may not be able to see people in person, but set up group chats via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. Set a time each day for your children to have chat time with their friends, see if their school has any live teaching or chat time sessions with their teachers. Make sure that you also do this, especially if you have elderly and vulnerable family members. Take time to also talk to your family and listen to what is said, what issues have arisen and any other concerns.

  • Be active. Make sure you exercise as a family each day. We are allowed one bit of exercise outside with members of our household, so go for a walk, jog or bike ride. Work out in the garden, take part in a Joe Wicks on line PE session. Do anything that encourages at least 30 minutes of activity per day. Remember to use your imagination and make it fun.

  • Take notice of things around you. When you are out walking, make sure your children notice everything in the environment around them. Encourage them to notice what they are feeling and how they are behaving, get them to process their emotions positively.

  • Ask them to keep a journal/diary so they note what has happened each day, what they have learnt, seen on the news etc. Not only that ask them to write down there concerns and worries, how they have made themselves feel better and if they are in a good mood jot that down as well. In addition ask them to write down what they are thankful for. This period will go down in history so no doubt in the future there will be school work and exam questions on this period, so keeping a record could really help your children. If it inspires children to become Dr’s, nurses, health care professionals then that can only be a good thing.

I really hope that some of this can help.

If you have any other queries, questions or just need to chat about yourself or others close to you then please feel free to contact me via phone, email or video chat.

Other sources that can be accessed are.

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://mhfaengland.org/

www.youngminds.org.uk

www.parentzone.org.uk

www.giveusashout.org

https://www.headspace.com

https://www.calm.com/

Paul Brown – CBT Practitioner |Life Coach

Mental Health First Aid Instructor | Workplace Well-being

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Paul@balanceofwellness.co.uk

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