It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, and studies have shown that one in ten children now have a diagnosable mental health problem – and 75% of mental health problems in adults stem from childhood.
There are various reasons behind this increase, but one thing is certain: stress levels are rocketing. Childline has seen demand for its online counselling sessions leap by 11% – all linked to exam stress. In addition, the NSPCC has cited ‘excessive workloads’ and feeling ‘overwhelmed’ as the reason for escalating anxiety, depression and stress.
With this in mind, it’s more important than ever for us to teach emotional resilience, self-control, mindfulness, social skills, and the importance of nurturing physical health. This has added benefits – children with better emotional wellbeing make more progress in primary school and are more engaged in secondary school, for example.
A strong sense of emotional wellbeing will create a springboard from which children can achieve success, helping them to:
Here are some things that parents and children can try to reduce anxiety, protect mental health and increase their overall sense of wellbeing.
It’s been proven that practising mindfulness regularly has a number of benefits: for example, it helps children to develop coping mechanisms, improves their concentration, enhances social skills, and also reduces stress and anxiety.
The broad aim of mindfulness is to help the person practising feel truly present: this helps you feel a sense of connection to your body and also brings with it a sense of calmness. There are lots of different mindfulness techniques you can try, from reciting mantras, to counting breaths, to meditating. Focusing on small details can be a useful way to start, as this brings your attention into the present, rids the mind of distractions and quietens a noisy brain. With children, you can play ‘I spy’ or the senses game: what do I see right now; what do I hear right now; what do I smell right now, etc.
Deep breathing exercises are valuable, too, but they can be a bit hard to get into. One of our top tips is to start with blowing bubbles: an act which requires you to take a deep breath and exhale slow and carefully (or else the bubbles won’t form fully). When your son or daughter has mastered this, you can progress onto more detailed breathing techniques and practice using these in situations of stress or anxiety. There is some great supporting material you can draw on to help with this: we like The Breathing App by Edwin Stern, or this ‘Quick-Fix Breathing Exercise’ podcast from the Mental Health Foundation:
Make good thoughts and feelings a part of your everyday life; this can be a really valuable tool for creating a boost, particularly during this time of coronavirus when many of us are feeling more anxious (and disconnected) than usual.
We love the ‘happiness’ jar technique. For this, you need only an empty jar and good intentions! Simply make it part of your child’s routine for them to write down positive things whenever they happen or whenever they remember something that makes them feel happy (a bit of good feedback from a teacher or tutor, for example, or a compliment from a friend). When you’ve finished one, fold it up and pop it in the jar. In time, you’ll create a library of positive memories that can be drawn on whenever your child feels low or worried: you can get the jar, which is brimming with happy remembrances, down, and pick a few out to remember and discuss together.
Though there are positives to be found from the increasing popularity of social media (especially during the quarantine period), too much time spent staring at screens can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Here are some steps to take to reduce the impacts of online overuse:
Lead by example. Put your own device away and insist on ‘digital blackouts’ for the whole family at various intervals during the evening. Consider implementing – and enforcing – the ‘one-screen rule’, too: this stipulates that whenever you are watching television or a film, no handheld devices can be used, as there’s already a screen in front of you!