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Blog: Lisa Fathers, Director of Teaching School and Partnerships at The Alliance for Learning, part of Bright Futures Educational Trust and National Trainer with MHFA England, discusses how children can ‘find their brave’ for Children’s Mental Health Week.
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3rd February 2020

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week (3-9 February), set up by one of our partners, Place2Be, to shine a spotlight on children and young people’s mental health.  This year’s theme is ‘Find your brave’ something that takes courage for all of us to do and to discuss. Bravery is about finding positive ways to overcome challenges and things that are difficult, as well as looking after ourselves.    

We know that approximately 50% of people with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14,1 so it’s never too early to equip children and young with the right skills to understand wellbeing and develop their own emotional literacy early on. 

Helping children to understand that we all have mental health, just like physical health, in fact that they are connected and it’s just ‘health’ is so important and we can do this by getting them to recognise how they respond to experiences with their emotions, feelings, thoughts and behaviours. We don’t always have a good day and explaining that all feelings are valid – it’s okay to feel unhappy and sad about things sometimes – is a good way to start. 

Recent research by Bupa2 has found that misuse of mental health terms used on TV programmes could be discouraging teenagers from seeking help.  It highlighted that across 30 hours of programming (52 episodes) aimed at teens, inappropriate mental health descriptors were used on average, twice per episode. In addition, half (50%) of parents questioned via the research believe their children’s knowledge of mental health mostly comes from popular culture including social media, TV and the internet, influencing their perceptions of mental health conditions.

The education system is well-placed to support young people to become healthy adults, both physically and mentally, but as parents, carers and educators, if we make talking about feelings a normal part discussion, children will feel more comfortable and secure in discussing their emotions and mental health overall.  

So how can we help children and young people – find their brave?

We can encourage children of primary school age to understand that what feels brave to one person might not feel brave to another. Being brave might mean telling someone about your worries and asking for help if you need it. It could be trying something new or making the right choices.  Sharing worries with an adult is often the first step to being brave and taking positive action. As adults, we know that taking small steps towards something can have a hugely positive impact on the way we feel – it’s progress!

Talking more and listening even more is key to taking a preventative approach. Happy schools are schools where relationships and people matter.

Teach positivity from within.  It’s natural for individuals to dwell on negative thoughts and it’s often easy to blame negativity on a variety of external factors that are sometimes out of our control, for example, experiences, relationships with others and even fate.  However, we can teach children and young people the importance of being positive from within.  Looking inward and reinforcing positivity ourselves takes practice, but our own voice is an important one!  Just like our bodies require training to build up the work they do through exercise, re-affirming positivity takes some training too. 

Help young people to see positives by asking them to write down things they are grateful for, doing a good deed to help another, as well as talking about positive affirming beliefs e.g. ‘I am loving’, ‘I really tried my best today’. 

Working with Place2Be, the Youth Sport Trust and 42nd Street to deliver the Greater Manchester Mentally Healthy Schools and Colleges Project  I’ve seen how children have learned to build their confidence and self-esteem as a result of workshops with athlete mentors who have supported students to learn coping strategies for the challenges they may be facing, either at home or in school. Techniques have involved drawing up support networks, talking about stress and feelings, and trying out breathing techniques to help them make sense of their emotions. The programme, commissioned by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and involving 125 schools and colleges has also worked with students to become young mental health champions.  Acting as peer mentors for their classmates they ask one another if they are okay.  By doing this they have learned that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay!

At the heart of wellbeing work should be physical activity and moving more! To find out about how you could have a truly whole school approach to this and become a ‘Well School’ why not book to go to the Youth Sport Trust National Conference  

There are plenty of free resources for schools, parents and community groups on the Place2Be website: https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/ Take a look and help someone to ‘find their brave’ today. 

The Alliance for Learning is offering 50% off mental health and wellbeing courses when booked during Children’s Mental Health Week.  Please use the discount code ‘CMHW50%’ when booking one of our courses online via our website:      

References:

1 Mental Health Foundation https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/statistics/mental-health-statistics-children-and-young-people

2 https://www.bupa.com/newsroom/news/misuse-of-mental-health-terms-in-teen-tv-influencing-perceptions 24 January 2020