Mental Health Awareness Week
There has been plenty of information in the news and social media about how this week is Mental Health Awareness Week and it is wonderful that we have such an open opportunity to discuss the importance of our mental health and emotional well-being. Not only is this hugely important for adults but getting it right for children in the early years is paramount.
A child’s well-being is the result of a healthy development within a nurturing environment. Well-being refers to feeling at ease, being spontaneous and free of emotional tensions and is linked to self-confidence, a higher level of self-esteem and resilience. In the early years, infants make emotional attachments and form relationships that lay good foundations for future mental health.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) shows that mental health issues affect around 1 in 10 children. This includes anxiety, conduct disorders, ADHD and the feeling of failure. This is often a direct response to what is happening around them in their lives. Alarmingly, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
The MHF shows that there are things that we can do to help and support young children. These include;
- encouraging them to be in good physical health by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise
- allowing them the time and the freedom to play, indoors and outdoors
- trying to encourage a warm family dynamic
- taking them to a nursery that looks after the wellbeing of all its pupils
- taking part in local activities for young children.
Other factors are also important, including:
- feeling loved, trusted, understood, valued and safe
- being curious about life and having opportunities to enjoy themselves
- being hopeful and optimistic
- being able to learn and having opportunities to succeed
- accepting who they are and recognising what they are good at
- having a sense of belonging in their family, school and community
- feeling they have some control over their own life
- having the strength to cope when something is wrong (resilience) and the ability to solve problems
There are some simple things that we all can do with children to promote their well-being and mental health too. Praising children for their positive behaviour improves a child’s mood and sense of self; and when behaviour falls below our expectations, focusing on the behaviour being the problem and not the child avoids labeling them. Considering also the use of phrases that come so naturally to us – like ‘don’t cry’ or ‘be a big boy’. Instead, we should think about what messages these are sending to children before they are said.
Mindfulness can benefit young children and their well-being too. Why not try out some basic yoga with your child? There are plentiful videos and resources online that can help with this. There are also some fantastic books available, such as Fearne Cotton’s ‘Yoga Babies’, Linda Kranz’s ‘Only One You’ and ‘Happy’ by Alison Edwards and Katie Hickey. Music is also a great way to encourage children to be calm and mindful, especially when used for babies. Music can improve mood, increase intelligence, and enhance concentration. It can also be combined with some movement. Movement is especially important in young babies too but, with the risk of cot death, many parents are not giving their child the opportunity to lay on their tummies. Yet they need to have opportunity for supervised tummy time each day to help build up their muscle strength, which will also help them to roll, crawl, sit, pull to stand and eventually walk. It also increases the babies confidence and independence by helping them become motivated and curious to explore their surroundings.