Every year we celebrate Children’s Mental Health Week in the UK and this year it runs from the 5th to the 11th of February. This dedicated week provides an opportune time to raise awareness about the mental health challenges individuals may encounter and explore strategies to overcome them.
All children deserve to have good mental health but sadly, this is not the case for many young people. In fact, according to The Children’s Society, in a normal class of 30 pupils, 5 are likely to have a mental health issue. Fifty per cent of all mental health problems start by the age of 14, and the Mental Health Foundation say that seventy-five per cent of children and young people who experience mental health problems are not getting the support they need. Some examples of mental health disorders that children can suffer from include anxiety disorders, depression, other mood disorders, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Without treatment, these mental health conditions can prevent children from reaching their full potential.
These statistics and facts should be a wake-up call to all adults especially those in the caring, education and healthcare professions to see what else we can do to support the mental health of our children and young people.
Raising awareness and celebrating Children’s Mental Health Week (CMHW) is a great place to start so we’ve given you some more information and ideas as to how you can do this in your setting. The first CMHW was launched in 2015 by the charity, Place2Be, and since then, thousands of people across the UK have worn a green ribbon and participated in events and workshops across the country. The theme this year is “My Voice Matters” and the aim is to empower, equip and give a voice to every child in the UK, and to give them the tools they need to express themselves.
Everyone can take part in the week, and it is never too early to begin talking to children about their emotions and how they feel. There are lots of downloadable free resources on their website at www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/ including assembly guides, worksheets, top tips and more.
One of the goals is also to ensure that no child or young person must face a mental health problem alone so some of the resources are also aimed are families, parents and carers and there are some informative videos including ones with British Sign Language (BSL) interpretation.
How Can You Help Children Express Themselves And Find Their Voice?
Many children and young people are still learning to express themselves and this can take years for some people as they learn to navigate social norms, and relationships and find their unique place in the world. Pre-school children are unlikely to have the words to express themselves lucidly, but they will understand when they feel good about things and when they don’t. As early years practitioners, it is part of our job to help them find words to communicate effectively with those around them, so they can learn to regulate their emotions rather than be a slave to them and mature into emotionally intelligent beings.
Tips To Help Children Recognise And Regulate Emotions To Support Their Mental Health
- Stay calm and manage your own state – you cannot help someone manage big emotions in others if you match their stress, anger or anxiety. Stay calm, use de-escalation techniques and remain patient
- Start early – you can talk to babies about their emotions and begin pointing out when characters in stories and films are feeling sad, happy, anxious or angry
- Be present and connect – take the time to connect with the child in moments of high emotion: ensure you are on their eye level and are actively listening to them. Soothe and reassure them to help them feel safe
- Help children find words for emotions – this is one of the most important things to do. When children display big emotions, help them by saying things like; “I can see you are feeling angry now”, or “People who are feeling anxious can sometimes show this by….”
- Teach, don’t punish – if a child makes a mistake in addition, we don’t punish them; we teach them the right concepts and strategies to get to the right answer. Yet when we look at emotions and behaviour, we can sometimes forget our teaching remit and think that if a child has trouble managing their emotions, we should somehow bring them into line by introducing punishments and sanctions. Remember, that all behaviour is a form of communication, and our role is to help the child learn to communicate better!
- Be a good role model – modelling the behaviour and emotional intelligence that you want to see from your youngsters is a great way to get them to pay attention and begin the journey of self-regulation. Children learn by watching and imitating and this is true of emotional regulation too
- Remember the long-term goals – be prepared to help young children over time. No one will get everything right the first time, and not every time, even adults can struggle with this. So, be patient, offer praise and reward progress
Things You Can Use To Help Children Talk About Emotions To Help Their Mental Health
There are many resources to help children learn about emotions. Think about:
- Emotion cards and visuals
- Zones of regulation
- Social stories
- Storytime and circle time discussions
- Sensory stories
- Encouraging children to tell their own stories through literacy or verbal storytelling
- Using puppets and toys to help children talk about emotions and feelings
- Setting up a buddy system
- Playing emotional board games or quizzes
Other Ways To Celebrate Children’s Mental Health Week
- Organise a day to celebrate good mental health or an “Express Yourself” day to help raise funds for the Place2Be charity, or even just to celebrate the uniqueness of your setting or your children.
- Register an event on the website
- Wear a green ribbon
- Use your social media channels to spread the word about how you are supporting children’s mental health
- Train your staff in mental health awareness and support
- Run a workshop or information meeting for your parents to raise awareness and help parents learn how to help their own children too
Use the week to create a positive change for your children’s mental health and well-being. And remember to let us know what you’re doing by emailing email@example.com.
Take a look at other mental health blog here:
Mental health and music in the early years
Mental Health – Harnessing Your Senses