Children’s Mental Health Week is fast approaching, partnering with children’s mental health charity Place2Be the theme this year is ‘Growing Together’.
From the 7th - 13th February children from all over the UK will be encouraged to consider how they have grown over the last year and how they can help their peers to grow in the coming year.
With this in mind, we feel now is an appropriate time to provide some guidance and understanding for parents who may be struggling to manage their child’s mental health.
Every mind matters
The topic of mental health has gone from being a taboo subject 10 years ago, to being one of the most discussed issues in society today. Whilst talking about mental health isn’t exactly easy, it is so important.
Sadly, for young people and children mental health isn’t a subject that is regularly discussed, nor is it something that you would typically associate with each other. But the reality is that 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 are likely to have a mental health problem. A figure that is increasing year on year.
There is an ever-growing burden on children today. From increasing pressure to excel in their studies, to taking part in numerous extra-curricular activities, young people are regularly subjected to constant pressure to become better than the last generation in everything they do.
Emotional growth is such a fundamental part of our children’s development, and it often tends to be one that isn’t monitored as closely because the growth isn’t as prominent as their physical growth.
The resolution should always start with the caregiver
As the sole caregiver to your child you are ultimately their role model, and caring for their mental health starts with you.
A lot of parents and guardians think that they need to show an example of a perfect being with little to no worries. This is where they are wrong - your children seeing you make mistakes and struggling with certain situations helps to show them that they don’t have to be perfect themselves.
If you can show them that you can go through difficult times and still come out the other side a good person then they will know that they can do it too.
Of course good parenting does not mean that your children will never encounter any mental health struggles. Each time a child faces emotional distress from a difficult life challenge it will take its toll on them, and can affect every child differently.
Life can get pretty hectic, and we all have our own mental health to consider too, so don’t get yourself down over not noticing an issue with your child's mental health straight away. It’s not uncommon for children to hide their feelings, meaning that as parents it can be extremely difficult to know if and when to intervene.
Regularly check in with your children to ensure you have the best chance of recognising any abnormal behaviours. Towards the end of the article we have provided some top tips for parents to help manage any mental health struggles your children may be facing.
ACEs and how they impact children and young people
Negative events in a child’s life are often referred to as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
To provide a better understanding of what would be an ACE here are some examples;
- Domestic violence
- Parental abandonment through separation or divorce
- A parent with a mental health condition
- Being the victim of abuse (physical, sexual and/or emotional)
- Being the victim of neglect (physical and emotional)
- A member of the household being in prison
- Growing up in a household in which there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems
- A member of the household attempting suicide or self harm
ACEs are more common than you may think. An original study by Public Health Scotland found in England that almost 50% of participants had experienced at least 1 ACE and over 8% had experienced 4 or more.
Unfortunately, when a child is exposed to adverse and stressful experiences, such as those listed above, it can have a long-lasting impact on their ability to think and interact with others, thus negatively impacting their learning and development.
Schools, teachers and tutors will all do as much as they can to prevent their students' mental health from impacting their learning, but there are many instances where further intervention is required.
Our students at Learning Cubs are regularly encouraged to discuss their feelings and to open up to their peers if they feel they are struggling. But often the case with young people is that they don’t know how to make sense of their feelings and therefore cannot articulate what it is that is causing them distress.
COVID-19's impact on children and young people
Many parents reading this can concur, regardless of statistics, that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a tremendous negative impact on children all over the world.
An NHS Digital survey found that over half of children and young people (aged 5-22) said that enduring numerous lockdowns had made their life harder
Their daily lives, just like ours, have been heavily disrupted as a result of several national lockdowns.
More than 1.6 billion children have suffered loss of education as school closures became mandatory across the globe.
The continuous disruption to regular routines, education, social activities, as well as increasing concern for their families health, has left many young people experiencing feelings of anxiousness. Many young people spent the majority of the lockdowns scared, confused and concerned for their future.
UNICEF released a flagship report towards the end of 2021 stating that children and young people will suffer the effects of the pandemic on their mental health and well-being for years to come.
Place2Be have also done several studies into the effects of the pandemic on children in the UK, and their observations were heartbreaking. Cases of self-harm had doubled in secondary school aged children during the autumn term of 2020, as well as a 68% rise in suicidal thoughts.
As well as anxiety and depression, there has been a huge rise in other mental health illnesses in children and young people, particularly eating disorders. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health reported a threefold increase in referrals for eating disorders in young people since the start of the pandemic.
As parents these statements and statistics will feel very disheartening, as the measures in place in the national lockdowns were entirely out of your control.
If there ever was a right time to take action, now would be it!
Tips for parents to help manage their children’s mental health
1. Build your child’s confidence
Building children's confidence is a key way to help them recover from the disruption and uncertainty of the last 2 years.
To build your child’s self esteem and confidence there are 3 key components to focus on; make them feel capable or good at something (it can be absolutely anything), make them feel that they have an impact or can influence others to follow in their footsteps, ensure they feel fully accepted and that their input is valid.
2. Get creative to express their feelings
Encourage your children to talk about how they feel, this can be done in a number of creative ways - stickers rather than words, allow them to draw a picture that represents their feelings, write a short story or a poem.
These great ideas from Place2Be encourage young people to think about their support network, the people they trust, and convey this through drawing:
Also let your child know it’s ok to feel down sometimes and ensure they know they don’t need to strive for perfection. It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn and grow from them.
3. Get involved in exercise and social activities
Don’t force your children straight into social activities - they might take a while to readjust to social situations and that’s absolutely fine. But do make sure you encourage them to take part in sports and games with their peers.
4. Maintain a healthy, balanced diet
You’ve heard the saying ‘healthy body healthy mind’ right? Well it might sound cliche, but it’s true! The foods that we intake will affect our overall growth. By enabling them to consume the right nutrients you can help to regulate their moods.
Foods that can help boost their mood are: fatty fish (salmon and tuna), dark chocolate (we’d argue any chocolate will help), bananas, oats, berries, nuts and seeds, and beans and lentils.
Children being children will most likely turn their nose up at most of these foods, but you can incorporate them into their diets in a fun way, for example making banana muffins, a tuna pasta bake, or dark chocolate brownies!
5. Get outside as much as possible
After spending so much time indoors during the pandemic, it is more important than ever to encourage your family to get outside, even if this is just walking to school rather than driving.
Many studies have found that spending time outdoors - either exercising, playing sports, walking, or playing with animals - helps to massively reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Spending time in a green environment helps to improve mood, self-esteem, loneliness and relieve stress.
Children’s Mental Health Week 2022
We hope to see you and your children getting involved in some fun activities next week for children’s mental health week.
At Learning Cubs we want to encourage all of our students to get involved in our competition for Children’s Mental Health week 2022.
The challenge will be to design a poster that shows what mental health means to you, and how you can help others grow. The posters will need to be handed in internally at the Learning Cubs centres, where 1st, 2nd and 3rd place will be chosen - and yes, there will be prizes! Amazon vouchers are up for grabs with 1st place bagging a £15 voucher, 2nd a £10 voucher and 3rd a £5 voucher.
Place2Be have also provided a multitude of resources for parents and carers to access from home to get involved with the events of the week - these can be found via the link: https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/parents-and-carers/
Young people's mental health charities: