The NHS Mental Health of Children and Young People in England Official statistics (Publication date:22 Nov 2018) note that 1 in 8 children in the UK have diagnosed mental health conditions.
1 in 8! My daughters class has 60 children in reception. That would suggest 8 of these children are having difficulties (that we know of).
But do our services really reflect this? The feedback I receive is unfortunately no.
There is still a stigma attached to mental illness. This is everywhere. We do have schools and homes that are very much aware of mental health and the impact this has on our children and their carers, but there are many more that do not.
What can we do as parents to enable our children to talk to us? So we are aware of any difficulties or stressors they are experiencing?
From my on going learning journey of life I have discovered a few tips that I advise parents, my child and family.
1. Educate yourself. Be aware of your own emotional needs, your levels of stress and anxiety that you may think is normal may be hindering you and impacting those around you. The old saying "you cannot pour from an empty cup" applies here. You cannot even contemplate recognising and helping someone else fully when you are in a state of stress yourself.
If you feel you are mentally well, still educate yourself, so that you are aware of how the mind operates, and you can offer your child information which is factual and supportive. I'm not saying take a course or a degree (unless you want to), but just simple advice from educational shows, or books would aid any parent. Just as you would make yourself aware of physical signs and symptoms of disease "just in case", this applies to our mental health too.
2. Talk and listen without judgement. Encourage your child to express all and any emotions they have. You won't always have an answer (none of us do). Sometimes just expressing our feelings is a relief on its own.
3. Be present. Learn about being present for yourself and your child. Pop down your phone, your magazine etc and just "be". You are a human being, stop being a human "doing". Offer your child eye contact, let them tell you for the millionth time about that painting that "jack from school ruined" it may seem trivial, but them knowing you have given them the time and attention to express this concern will comfort them and help them to acknowledge you as an approachable adult. Also eye contact is known to release oxytocin for both parent and child which is our "love hormone" again, encouraging that bond.
4. Do not be afraid to talk about mental health. If you or your child had broken their leg, it is almost like a right of passage to tell people and sign the cast! However, when your child is crying with stomach ache due to the levels of anxiety experienced we are unlikely to discuss this. Please do. We need more awareness, this in turn will encourage more support and makes it acceptable for your child to be open with you.
5. Look into guided visualisations, encouraging your child to breathe deeply and relax with you encourages the mind to relax, the body to release tension and bonding time for both. There are many books available for children around this.
If you have any concerns regarding your child's health and wellbeing, please discuss it with someone. We are not superhuman, sometimes we need support and that is OK!
We want our children to be happy, content and well balanced in life. Supporting them mentally and physically unconditionally is our aim, sometimes we have to adapt our own thought process in order to grow and support our children in this ever changing world.
My name is Casey, I am a qualified Mental Health nurse, and Relax Kids Coach based in the West Midlands.
I have worked with both adults and children in my career which has seen many, many challenges and vulnerable people.
Having realised I felt that I had not been able to fully offer my support to children as I had liked, I felt a passion to find something that I could use to enable me to equip children and parents with skills to cope with daily life, and encourage awareness of mental health. I found Relax Kids which offers a 7 step focus on relaxation, promoting confidence, calm and the ability to express emotions.