Children’s Mental Health Week runs between the 2nd and the 9th February this year.
It is imperative that we all make ourselves a promise to prioritise our own mental health and well-being, as well as the metal health of our friends, family and young people.
Mental health doesn’t discriminate in its callous quest to infect us – a harrowing fact that has been proven in recent statistics that sorrowfully confirm that one in four of us will experience some degree of mental health in our lifetime. Mental illnesses don’t care if you’re male, female, old, young, rich or poor. Sadly, there is no strict age threshold when it comes to a diagnosis.
A study conducted in 2017 revealed that 12.5% of 5 to 19 year olds have at least one mental health disorder, and with such figures rising at a seemingly uncontrollable rate, recognising and treating such conditions is crucial.
With cases of childhood anxiety and depression on the rise, it can be difficult to know how to help ease the burden that is facing so many young people in modern society. While suffering, it can be easy to feel alone, and that our worries and fears are both irrational and irrelevant, despite the fact that they are plaguing us from within. Nobody should ever isolated in their struggles, or in a position whereby they are unable to talk to somebody.
It’s true; we can’t cure the demons of our loved ones ourselves, no matter how much we yearn for this to be true. We can, however, do certain things to remind our loved ones that we are here for them: an ear to lend, a shoulder to cry on, or simply just sparing a few words of reassurance.
The gift of simply being there is invaluable, especially to our children and young people. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, aunty, school teacher or foster carer, taking a few minutes a day to delve into how our children and young people are really feeling can make all the difference.
Here are some tips to reconnect the family and get everyone talking:
#1 Head out for a walk
Grab your wellies, grab the dog, and just get out there! You don’t need to embark upon a 10 mile hike to feel the benefits of a good old walk – even a simple stroll around the local park will do wonders for your well-being. There is something about being in the open that just acts as an instant tool of relaxation. With just the elements for company, talking to one another becomes as natural as breathing.
#2 Mute the TV during the advert breaks
Let’s be honest; the only time of year we actually like watching adverts is Christmas (I’m not going to lie - I’m still not over Edgar!). For the majority of the year, adverts are nothing more than annoying five minute breaks that keep us in suspense between our favourite programmes.
The solution? You’ve seen the campaigns: mute your TV and get talking! Use those five minutes to ask about each other’s day, and really listen to the answers. Common culture has always been of the opinion that watching TV can stir negative connotations, however, I feel that there is truth in the expression ‘The importance of being idle.’ Sitting down and watching TV as a family can create conversation on its own accord, as we unite in a variation of emotions from laughter to shock.
#3 Sit around the table together
Life is busy; there’s no denying it. With the constant influx of work commitments, after school activities, and random last minute propositions, it can be hard for us to time our meals with the rest of the family’s.
Even if it’s just once a week, we should all strive to sit and chat over a good, hearty meal.
Why not plan a themed night for the fam? Instead of ordering a Chinese to eat in-front of the box, why not pledge to conjure up your own, home-made Chinese ‘fake-away?’ Get the kids involved in the kitchen, and make everything from scratch, then giggle about the inevitable mishaps as you sit down to tuck in around the table together.
#4 Let kids be kids
Intense nightly homework tasks can present as stressful to most children. While it is important to keep up to date with school work, try to ease the pressure by dedicating just an hour or so to homework, with the rest of the evening scheduled for free time. As long as your child isn’t falling behind at school and henceforth creating further stress, there is no harm is reducing the pressure when it comes to homework. Make time for regular catch-ups with school teachers to identity any problem areas, and be open and honest about your child’s abilities. If they are feeling overwhelmed with school work, you are well within your right to communicate with the teacher to discuss a plan of action and alleviate tensions and strains.
The way of the world in 2020 means that there are so many additional pressures and concerns that simply didn’t exist five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. It seems that there are dangers around every corner, which can prevent us from allowing our children to be just that… children!
Let them roll down hills. Let them jump in puddles. Let them climb trees. Let them pick blackberries from the wild and cringe at the sourness of them. Let them build dens in the living room and jump from sofa to sofa to avoid the ‘lava’ carpet.
#5 Limit device and Social Media usage
Social media and the devices we use it on often find themselves at the heart of heated debates, as we ponder over whether they really benefit our lives.
There might be tears and tantrums initially, but why not promote one day a week as a WIFI/ device free zone, and encourage the kids to do something different? Reading a book, doing some crafts, or simply indulging in some baking are all really good alternatives.
(David Walliams has published some utterly brilliant books that both children and parents will struggle to put down. Funny, enlightening and poignant, they will offer children a bolthole of imagination to escape into – a welcome break from reality).
#6 Do something as a family
Share a passion for football with your kid? Why not invite them down to the local park for a kick-about? And how about reuniting a group of dancing divas by hosting a dance-off in the living room?
Reconnect with your moody teen by reminding them of a past shared hobby, and suggesting that you guys give it a go again for the sake of old times and a good laugh? Your teen will be unable to keep straight face at the sight of Dad horse riding again after all these years!
#7 Encourage your children to express their feelings creatively
Some of us aren’t comfortable discussing how we feel aloud. An alternative is to seek other options of expression. Writing and drawing are popular choices.
When I was younger, I kept a ‘Worry Journal’ under my bed, which I would pen my anxieties into every evening. A problem shared is a problem halved, even if it is just via the aid of a pen and paper.
Looking back at the worries of the past week, month, or year can give young people a sense of achievement, as they realise how much they have already overcome.
I actually still have some of my journals, which make for an interesting read now, 15 years later!
Another idea is to have your child write down their worries on bits of paper, fold them up into tiny squares, cut them up, and then chuck them in the bin. Similar options include dedicating sticks or stones out on walks to worries, and then throwing them into streams or lakes and watching them disappear.
Of course, it won’t eradicate the problems entirely, but the metaphorical element can be both soothing and uplifting.
Cara Jasmine Bradley