Category

children’s health

shy-child

Overcoming shyness

By | children's health, Mental health, play, Relationships
by Poppy O’Neill
Author of Be Brave: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Shyness

If you’re concerned about your child’s shyness, you’re not alone. The pandemic has profoundly altered our social lives and how we interact with each other, and children are no different.

We use the word ‘shy’ to describe many behaviours – being an introvert, social anxiety, speaking softly – so it’s important to note that there’s nothing wrong with those labelled ‘shy’. Enjoying time alone and choosing when to use your voice can be really positive traits. However, shyness can also indicate anxiety around social situations, trying new things and being your authentic self.

Perhaps your child is struggling to make friends, or seems to fade into the background when around others. Maybe they’ve been stung by bullying or teasing in the past, or they avoid taking risks because the idea of speaking up or failing is too frightening for them. The thing about bravery is, it’s not about being fearless – it’s about feeling uncomfortable emotions and persevering anyway.

With your support and patience, it’s possible to build bravery and self-assurance so your child can face challenges, be themselves and grow into a confident, happy and well-balanced young person.

The best thing you can do for your child is to accept them as they are and be patient with them. It might feel tempting to dismiss feelings of shyness or anxiety and encourage your child to go ‘in at the deep end’ but the sad truth is, while this may change their behaviour in the short term, it doesn’t get to the root of what’s going on emotionally for them. If your child is shy, it’s already difficult for them, and extra pressure makes it doubly so.

Comparing your child to others is another big no-no. It can be tempting to point out how confident their friends seem, but this can backfire, causing your child to feel bad about themselves and even more shy. Instead celebrate differences and point out the things that make others unique, as well as what you admire about your child. Acknowledge how important small achievements can be, and how everyone struggles with different things. Your love and acceptance will help them view their own shyness in a new light – allowing them to break free of the ways in which shyness holds them back.

Let your child know that you are on their team and it’s OK to struggle with shyness. Listen to them without judgement and together you can work out what parts of life they need a bit of extra support with. Take your cues from your child: what helps is very personal and varies from child to child. It might help to role-play social situations together, do a ‘dry run’ of a daunting upcoming event or practice your big, most confident voices together. Talking through your child’s biggest challenges and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable chunks can be a really useful exercise – you could draw a comic strip, make a star chart or plan out steps towards progress over the course of a month.

Real bravery is different to how it looks in books and movies. In real life, being brave can mean saying “no” to something you feel obliged to do but really don’t want to – or saying “yes” to something that might inconvenience others. It can mean speaking up in a work meeting or saying “sorry” when you mess up. The same goes for children: the bravest child in the class is often the one who comes last in a race or the one whose voice shakes when they speak.

When children feel understood by the adults around them, they feel more able to strike out on their own, use their voice and be brave. Let your child know that they can take their time and that you are there for them for as long as they need you to be. When a child hears this, it helps them relax, take the pressure off themselves and push themselves in ways that feel comfortable, because they know that you will be kind and understanding, even if things don’t go according to plan or they’re not ready.

Being a kind, empathetic listening ear will help your child grow emotionally strong and resilient. As your child grows, they will be secure in the knowledge that you are on their team and there for them no matter what.

It’s so hard to see your child missing out or shrinking themselves out of shyness, but there’s a lot you can do to support them when you acknowledge their feelings and guide them towards ways to build up their bravery and self-assurance.

Poppy O’Neill has written several books on mental wellbeing for children and adults, including Amazon bestsellers Don’t Worry, Be Happy, You’re a Star and Be Brave: A Child’s Guide to Overcoming Shyness
Find her online at www.poppyoneill.wordpress.com

autistic support

How to support autistic children through the uncertainty of restrictions easing

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, play, Relationships

Whilst restrictions ease, lots of us are feeling a little overwhelmed, living in anticipation of what’s to come. After all, if the past year has taught us anything it’s that we can never predict what lies around the corner. Although, for children with special needs, including autistic children, this can be particularly stressful; the difficulties they face amid such uncertainty often cause more extreme levels of anxiety and therefore require specific, informed consideration.

This is supported by recent research which suggests that some autistic children have experienced ‘worsening in behavioural, social and developmental domains’ during lockdown, with this ‘success or failure’ often being ‘directly related to how their parents coped’ and how they ‘accommodate to the child’s needs’ (Latzer, Letiner, & Karnieli-Miller, 2021). Seemingly, we must understand how autistic children are struggling and proactively support them, embracing any and all professional advice along the way.

However, understanding exactly how we, as parents and/or caregivers, can best support autistic children during an unprecedented and turbulent period isn’t easy. Trevor Elliott MBE is the Managing Director of Kennedy Elliott, an organisation which provides care and accommodation for children and young people aged between 11-25 who have experienced extreme disadvantages. Trevor is a foster parent himself, as he has been for the past five years, and cares for several young people – including a young person with autism.

Trevor understands the difficulties autistic children face and here highlights his tips and insights that’ll help you support your autistic child over the next few months and beyond.

1. Maintain a consistent routine.
It’s widely acknowledged that children with autism cope best when their daily routines are kept consistent, unchanged and uninterrupted. Routines are a source of comfort for those with autism, whilst many experts believe that this helps them to express their feelings. Of course, the pandemic, and subsequent easing of restrictions, has changed everyone’s routine and continues to do so; there’s nothing that could have been done, or can be done, to maintain our pre-pandemic routine in its entirety. This is incredibly stressful for children with autism, not only are their routines now very different, we continue to be surrounded by uncertainty as restrictions are incrementally lifted and, ultimately, we await a very different world post-pandemic.

Fortunately, there are steps that you can take as a caregiver to maintain some consistency. For example, I would recommend following their usual sleep/wake routine, encourage them to complete regular chores and work with them to create a visual schedule that they feel comfortable with.

2. Understand what they love and promote this hobby.
Children with autism often struggle to express themselves, which can lead to frustration and distress – something which is often presented in the form of tantrums or complete withdrawal. Therefore, when an autistic child finds an activity that they enjoy and feel comfortable doing, they’ll latch onto it. During a period of uncertainty, like we’re currently experiencing, make sure you know what your child loves; discuss this with them and look to see what activities/interests really allow them to thrive and flourish. If you’re able to feed their passion(s) amid current restrictions, do so. For example, if your child loves trains, encourage them to play with a train set for a period each day.

If they enjoy dance or art, make sure this is a part of their weekly schedule (which you work with them to create). This will encourage expressive communication which is vital if they’re feeling stressed, whilst generally helping any autistic child to feel more positive and in control.

3. Be patient.
The most important thing you can do to support an autistic child whilst restrictions ease and beyond also happen to be the simplest; be patient. Autistic children struggle to communicate and often aren’t able to articulate their feelings so it’s important that you’re empathetic and understanding. Similarly, autistic children will have varied levels of understanding about the pandemic and what it means for restrictions to be ‘lifting’; they might worry that the disease is rifer than it perhaps is, or simply can’t envisage what their lives will look like in six months’ time. In any instance, describe the current situation to them without any abstract phrasing, be honest, use clear language and take your time.

When communicating with autistic children it can be useful to use visual supports and a social narrative to convey complex information. When discussing the realities of restrictions easing and what this will mean for them in the long-term, towards the latter end of this year and beyond, bear this in mind.

4. Learn what environments work best for them.
To help your autistic child thrive when they’re struggling you must first identify what environments work best for them. For example, they might feel more at ease in small groups inside, or perhaps they benefit from being outside in less formal settings. Whatever the case, do what works for your child (rules permitting) and make sure they understand that their preferred environments will always be accessible to them in one form or another.

5. Explore coping and calming skills.
It’s incredibly important that every autistic child develops coping and self-management skills. Explore different techniques with your child to find out what works for them; for example, listening to music on headphones might work wonders, whilst they might enjoy exercise and feel that this lessens their stress levels. There are also lots of great apps out there – be sure to explore those too.

6.Maintain social contact where possible.
Covid-19 has of course limited social interactions and it’s likely they’ll continue to be limited, to some degree, for a while. However, it’s vital that we maintain autistic children’s social connections wherever possible. Use tools like FaceTime and Zoom to keep in touch with loved ones, explore virtual play groups and/or encourage them to virtually volunteer; there are lots of options and every autistic child needs to be aware that support is within easy reach.

Caring for any child isn’t always easy, particularly during a period of uncertainty. However, the challenges ensued by the pandemic will unfortunately affect our lives, to various degrees, long into the future; it’s therefore important that we equip autistic children with the skills necessary to cope with these difficulties. This needn’t be too difficult; the key is to listen, understand and trust that you know what’s best for your child’s unique needs.

www.kennedyelliott.co.uk

Why going wild is the answer

By | children's health, environment, Green, Mental health, Uncategorized
by Richard Irvine
author of Wild Days and Forest Craft

This very strange year has seen many of us desperate to take whatever opportunities we can to be outdoors, exploring our local neighbourhoods. Wilderness might not always be on the doorstep, but little bits of wild nature can be found everywhere – whether you live in a bustling city or its suburbs, or close to farms, forests or the coast. There are adventures to be had in parks, on city streets, canal tow-paths, riverbanks, beaches, woods, moorland and country walks.

All that is needed is a bit of curiosity, a playful attitude and maybe a tiny bit of know-how. Paying attention to the ordinary and everyday that might have escaped our notice for years, can open the door to tiny adventures close to home. Outdoor play is not just a ‘nice to have’, it is essential for children to experience the world to learn about it and their place in it.

Learning about our neighbour-hood nature connects us to where we live and makes us feel more at home. The more time spent outdoors, the more you notice the patterns of the changing seasons; get to know the sights, sounds and smells of your local wildlife; and enjoy ‘slow time’ as you lose yourself in the fascination of nature. Creativity, resilience and positive attitudes towards the environment and exercise are forged in outdoor play. Understandable fears of busy roads and encounters with strangers can make parents and carers feel anxious about letting their children and young people play out of sight but it is vital that all young people have opportunities for unstructured outdoor adventures.

A simple walk in the park can be transformed into an engaging, playful experience with a mission to collect materials to make natural art or to make a wreath at home. A bit of string and some twigs can be transformed into boats to sail on the pond or canal with ‘jelly baby’ passengers to keep safe and dry if possible. Playing Pooh sticks, racing marbles down a hill and just gazing up at the clouds can turn reluctance into enthusiasm when it comes to getting children outside.

On your wild days out, it is very important to remember that the world is not a playground for humans but the habitat for us and all other living things. At the very least, we should try and leave as little trace of our activities as possible. It would be fantastic if we could leave things in an even better state than we found them and to have a positive impact on our environment.

To be safe in the world, young people need to be allowed to take risks. If they grow up insulated from potential harm, they may find it difficult to assess what is safe or dangerous for themselves and not learn to ask the important “What if…” questions that help us to consider the consequences of our actions and to make good decisions. Some of the best childhood adventures can involve fires, tools and the chance of getting lost, but all can be undertaken safely with trust, practice and common sense. You know your young people and context. My plea is to let them explore, play and experiment under the open skies. Join in alongside or keep an eye from a distance but try to relax, enjoy being outside with them and remember that the benefits of outdoor play and adventure will stand them in good stead for the challenges ahead.

Richard Irvine is a qualified teacher with a love of the outdoors and over 20 years’ experience in the field of outdoor learning. His specialist knowledge of woodlands and practical education comes from a love of the outdoors and many years working for forestry and education organisations. An accomplished greenwood carver, he brings woodcraft into his work wherever possible through progressing children’s skills at Forest School and running professional development workshops and recreational carving days for adults.
He is the author of Wild Days and Forest Craft from GMC Publications. He lives in Devon.

school-shoes

Back to school – shoe shopping with less stress!

By | children's health, footwear and feet
by Kim Jackson M.S.S.F.
Klodhoppers, Haywards Heath

Before you know it the summer holidays are almost over and it’s time to get your children ready for their new academic year, or perhaps they’re even starting school for the first time.

Leaving the purchase of their uniform, school shoes and other school essentials until the last minute is not advisable – it’s just too stressful!

Hopefully, lockdowns are a thing of the past and a ‘proper’ pair of school shoes is what’s needed to protect your child’s long-term foot health.

Going to your fully qualified shoe fitter for a professional measure and fit is essential, so throw away those ill-fitting supermarket school shoes and the dodgy sizing gauges you’ve printed off the Internet, and put your children’s feet in our safe hands.

School shoes should be sturdy, durable, comfortable and preferably breathable as it is your child’s main item of footwear for six or seven hours a day, five days a week. It can be a false economy to choose a cheap pair which you may have to replace several times, when you only really need one or two pairs per academic year, depending on your child’s growth.

Due to their growth spurts it’s definitely two pairs of school shoes per year for primary age children – if not, then it’s very likely that they are in the wrong sized shoe. However, it may only be one pair per academic year for older (secondary age) children as their feet start to mature and the rapid growth spurts reduce.

Here are some of the FAQ’s asked by parents who visit Klodhoppers:

When is the best time to buy school shoes for my child?
Shop early is our advice. Our shoes are delivered to us during July, just as the schools are breaking up for the holidays. This is when the collection is strongest and there is the best selection of all the styles and size runs. If you leave it until the last week of the holidays then there isn’t much left to choose from.

My child has specific foot health requirements, so when should I time my school shoe buying?
Again, shop early for a child with specific foot health or size issues. If your child has very wide or narrow feet, hypermobility, or wears orthotic inserts, then ‘early’ is the best time to come and buy – and remember to bring the orthotic inserts with you too! Please make us aware of any special requests beforehand so that we can assist you and your child fully and to the best of our abilities.

My son is autistic and doesn’t like shopping for shoes in crowded spaces with lots of noise. Can you help us?
Yes. At Klodhoppers we specialise in offering appointments for children with autism and other special needs. Depending on these needs we can book you in for a fitting at the beginning or the end of the day, when we are closed to other customers. If your child prefers to be in the shop with the lights or the music off, and minimal members of staff around then we can accommodate this too. Please talk to us and let us know how we can assist you and your child.

I don’t want to buy school shoes early as my child is bound to grow over the summer holidays. What should I do?
This is more of a myth than reality. Occasionally some children will have a growth spurt in the six weeks of the summer break, but it is not a good reason for leaving your school shoe buying until the last minute. When we fit school shoes early in the summer holiday we always fit with this in mind and tend to err on the generous side with our sizing. Buying school shoes on the day before they are due to return to the classroom can mean a fraught time running around looking for the preferred style, size or brand, with limited choice available. Also it won’t allow your child sufficient time to wear them around the house beforehand in order to soften up the leather, which is something we always advise. Furthermore it helps them get used to wearing a structured shoe again – especially if they have been wearing sandals, trainers or flip flops all summer. A fitted shoe may feel ‘tight’ until the leather softens.

My son wants to wear black trainers to school as his school’s uniform policy is very relaxed. I would prefer for him to have a proper shoe. What should I do?
Wearing trainers for school all the time is not advisable for developing feet, especially as it is likely that he will be wearing trainers at the weekend too. Boys’ feet keep growing until they are approximately 18 years old (girls’ feet reach their adult size a little earlier – usually mid-teens.) Trainers may be very comfortable and lightweight but they encourage the feet to spread over time and become flaccid. They are designed for sports and casual wear, and should not be a school shoe substitute. If your son really wants to wear trainers then perhaps you can compromise with him and buy a school shoe that has the look of a trainer but has all the support of a proper shoe.

My child is going to be starting in Reception. Is there any specific advice for the first pair of school shoes?
You may want to consider a style with a ‘toe bumper’ or scuff guard, and certainly avoid buckles or laces. A lot of reception children spend time on their knees on the classroom carpet and the toes of their school shoes tend to wear through more quickly than usual. Or perhaps they have a climbing wall, or like to play football in the playground at break times, or even scoot to school – this extra wear and tear can have a detrimental effect on their school shoes. You could encourage your child to put on her new school socks and shoes and have a good walk around the house (while they are still clean) a few days in the lead up to school starting. If they do this for 10 to 15 minutes each day then it will allow them to get used to the shoes and for the new leather to soften up. This way the shoes won’t feel too ‘stiff’ on the first day.

Remember that school shoes are NOT indestructible! Children will always find a way to damage or destroy them!

Also, with younger children especially, they are not intended to last a full school academic year without having them checked for growth spurts.

So here’s to a stress-free ‘back to school’ shoe season to you all. Your child only has one pair of feet to see them through life – make sure they are looked after with great care.

Remember to look for the Society of Shoe Fitters logo and/or the Children’s Foot Health Register to ensure you are putting their foot health in the best qualified hands.

Kim Jackson M.S.S.F (Member of the Society of Shoe Fitters & Children’s Foot Health Register accredited) Klodhoppers, Haywards Heath.

www.klodhoppers.com

Why swimming should be the top priority for your child after lockdown

By | children's health, family, fun for children, Mental health, swimming
by Eri Coles
Sports Generation

The recent lockdowns have resulted in a significant decrease in physical activity levels among children. Sport England’s latest study shows that 31.3% of children and young people in England do less than an average 30 minutes a day of sport or physical activity. That is an increase of 2.4% from the previous year, bringing the total number of less active children to 2.3 million. There are countless activities children can get back to after lockdown, but we strongly believe swimming should take priority over other extra-curricular activities for every child. Read on to find out our reasons.

1. Swimming can save lives
Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide with the highest rates of drowning among children of one to four years, followed by children of five to nine years. Therefore, swimming is a life skill that everyone should acquire from a young age. Even before the pandemic, 23% of children were leaving primary school unable to swim 25 metres unaided and one in five cannot self-rescue, despite swimming being on the national curriculum. With regular swimming lessons, children learn how to stay safe in and around water – something you cannot learn by reading a book or watching YouTube!

2. Swimming helps to build a stronger body
Swimming is a perfect sport for improving overall health and fitness as you move most of your muscle groups against the resistance of water. Because it is full-body workout, it helps to tone muscles and build core strengths far more effectively than any other sports. Swimming increases heart rates without putting stress on the body, therefore it is also beneficial for building cardiovascular strength. In addition, swimming helps to expand lung capacity and improve breathing control which is valuable for everyone but especially for asthma sufferers. These are reasons why many children who swim regularly tend to be good at other sports as well.

3. Swimming is a mood booster
There is increasing concern about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and young people’s mental health. Data now conclusively indicates a substantial overall worsening of mental health in children and young people during the pandemic compared to previous years, according to the APPG’s latest report. Some children find it more difficult to express their emotions or share their thoughts verbally with others and therefore it is important to keep them active and provide enjoyment whilst doing so. So, how can swimming improve your child’s mental health? Swimming naturally reduces the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline whilst simultaneously creating endorphins, the hormones that make you feel happy and increase positivity. The breathing patterns and rhythmic movements created with swimming can be meditative. Another study shows that swimming can reverse damage to the brain from stress through a process called hippocampal neurogenesis. We have seen time after time anxious or fidgety children leave swimming lessons calmer and more relaxed.

4. Swimming can make your child smarter
Studies carried out by Fusion Lifestyle and Griffith University reveal regular swimmers are lengths ahead in school than non-swimmers. When it comes to classroom-based subjects such as maths, English and science, children who frequently take swimming lessons are more likely to perform above average:
• Children who have taken swimming lessons enjoy reading more and are more likely to read outside of school.
• Children can better recite their times tables, with 39% of swimmers able to recite their five times table vs only 28% of non-swimmers.

This is down to several factors:
• A child who swims after school has busy weeks, meaning they are disciplined with their time. It is natural they would apply this time-management to their studies.
• It develops focus in children, showing you must work hard and consistently to achieve your goals.

We all find it that little bit easier to work hard when we have something positive to look forward to – like swimming in a warm pool!

5. Swimming builds self-confidence
Swim England’s research has revealed that seven to 16-year-olds who swim rated a higher feeling of life being worthwhile compared to those who don’t. Swimmers are, on average, 2.5% more confident than non-swimmers. Girls who swim have considerably higher increases in wellbeing, health and self-confidence compared to boys.

As you can see, swimming is one of the best and most valuable activities out there for your children, and with this skill it would open doors
to other opportunities later in their lives. It is a true worthwhile investment for your children.

Sports Generation offer swimming lessons to children from age two years and above with up to two children per class to maximise learning potential. Lessons, taught by highly experienced coaches, are engaging, confidence building and results-based. If you want your child to get back into swimming, email contact@sportsgeneration.co.uk or call 0208 940 9431 to find out more.

References: Sports England: Active Lives Children and Young People Survey. Academic Year 2019/20, January 2021 World Health Organization: Drowning, April 2021 Swim England: Value of Swimming, 2019 All-Party Parliamentary Group: The covid generation: a mental health pandemic in the making. April 2021 PsychCentral: How Swimming Reduces Depression,2010 Griffith Institute for Educational Research, at Griffith University, 2013.

Five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt

By | children's health, Education, family, Mental health, play, Playing, Relationships

Children inherit more than just genes from their parents. Your manners, habits and overall view of life tend to influence the person your child will become. It is important to introduce certain habits into your child’s routine from a young age to maximise the chances of them carrying it through into adulthood.

Here, Richard Dwyer from UK Flair Gym shares five basic but often overlooked habits your child should adopt:
1. Making the bed – It has been suggested that making your bed in the morning can improve productivity levels which, in turn, boosts your mood. Not only will your child’s room look tidier, but they will be more likely to achieve their daily goals.

2. Eating breakfast – If your child skips breakfast from an early age, it is likely they will carry this bad trait with them for the rest of their lives. Teach them that eating breakfast helps kick start their metabolism and will energise them for the day – giving them both brain and body power!

3. Daily exercise – Whether you encourage your child to join a sports team or simply go for a bike ride, making sure they exercise for at least thirty minutes a day is a great habit to form. Aside from the physical aspect, daily physical activity will boost mental wellbeing and help make your child look at life more positively.

4. Make new friends – This is a skill that your child will require throughout their entire life. Knowing how to confidently build relationships with new people will not only enhance their social life but also their professional one.

5. Reading – Although weaved into their school life, it is encouraged that children should read at home for leisure. Not only will this make them a more confident communicator, but it will also enhance their writing and comprehension skills which are invaluable in later life. Try incorporating reading into their bedtime routine!

Since his childhood, Richard Dwyer has been passionate about his own fitness. With experience as a stuntman for countless films and TV shows, Richard decided to put his full energy into building gymnastics clubs to allow children (and their parents) to benefit from physical activity. Now, he builds children’s confidence through gymnastics that teach valuable life skills. Richard does this through three separate businesses: www.ukflair.com/ www.gymclassroom.com/ www.kidzimpact.co.uk

Supporting families in the early years

By | children's health, Education, family, fun for children, Health, Mental health
by Dr. Amanda Gummer
www.goodplayguide.com

There is clearly some great work being done, but the issue is that there’s no overarching strategy and a lack of cohesion so the examples of best practice in supporting young families are not replicated and often under-funded.

The arguments in support of providing high quality services and facilities for young families have been well-researched and include economic arguments. The work of Professor James J. Heckman shows how much better for the economy the preventative interventions are in the longer term, and in respect to health – the demand and strain on physical and mental health services is reduced if families are able to engage actively with their community. Not only does this reduce isolation and increase parents’ support networks, but engaging in activities within the community promotes healthy activity levels and encourages general wellbeing in both parents and children. Educational outcomes are also improved when sufficient support is provided in the early years and the longer-term benefits lead to reductions in school exclusions and a positive impact on children’s mental health.

One of the key areas of contention in this area is the split between universal and targeted interventions. Universal provision is available to all families and, when done properly, is sufficient for most families to help them manage and hopefully thrive. Targeted support focuses on supporting particularly vulnerable families who often have multiple challenges. The targeted support can be expensive and vulnerable families may not engage with health visitors and social workers as they are afraid of being judged, and the possibility of having their children taken into care.

The accepted wisdom is that there is no magic money tree and difficult decisions need to be made. I disagree. I believe that by thinking more strategically, and using examples that are already working well – such as the play streets initiative and befriending services, empowering parents who have benefitted from this support to give back once their children are older, we will be able to quickly see the benefits across all of the above areas. It soon becomes a ‘no-brainer’ to fund initiatives that more than pay for themselves in the long run.

It is my firm belief that by taking a play-based approach to supporting families through community play groups, well-designed and maintained play spaces and parent and toddler play clubs, we will go a long way to improving physical and mental health so children will be more active and social, and importantly, parents will not feel so isolated.

Parents and carers can help make their families more playful by giving children a ‘balanced play diet’ – making sure they get plenty of opportunity for active, social, imaginative play (the super-foods of the play diet) and limiting their solitary, sedentary, passive play time – in the same way you would limit their intake of sweets and treats.

Five tips to help balance your child’s play diet:
• Active, social, child-led play is the superfood of the play diet. So try, where you can, to make this a big part of your daily routine.
• Balance inside and outside activity and choose toys that can be used inside to promote active play even when the children can’t go outside.
• Don’t forbid screen time or tech play. Engage with it but don’t use it as a babysitter
• Mix and match playmates – children play differently with different people so involve other family members, older and younger children as well as peers (bearing in mind of course any social distance guidance!)
• Do your research before buying toys, tech or apps for children to make sure they’re going to get maximum benefit from it. Our Good Play Guide has a host of recommended games, all independently reviewed as a great starting point.

The abilities to control the playfulness of your child’s play diet and the different stimuli they interact with is at the core of promoting a healthy family life that ideally connects them with other parents. It is important too that parents consider their own welfare to help them overcome high-stress levels and their own health and wellbeing for their own benefit but also to set any example for their children who will look to them as role models and begin to copy them. A parent-centred approach to family life can help to achieve this by giving parents the ability to meet their own needs, in turn providing their children with a healthy model of adulthood to copy and learn from.

Whilst the latest report from the Royal Commission has done a great deal to re-focus the attention within mass media, it is important that it does not become another talking shop moment and that decisive action is taken in to create an overall strategy to support parents and children in their early years.

Dr. Amanda Gummer – making the world more playful. Amanda has a PhD in Neuropsychology and over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. She is a media friendly, go-to expert on play, toys and child development. She can be regularly seen in the media including BBC News, Sky News and The Daily Mail offering advice on the news stories which matter most to families and issues surrounding child development. Founder of Dr. Gummer’s Good Play Guide (www.goodplayguide.com) home of and The Good App Guide she is dedicated to ensuring every child can develop the skills they need to thrive and
enjoy a happy, healthy childhood.

Should you be talking about mental health with your primary aged child?

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health
by Helen Spiers
Head of Child and Adolescent Counselling, Mable Therapy

It can be hard to accept when our children are struggling with their mental health. Childhood is often seen as a stress-free time of fun and frolics, but for some children this can be far from true. There are several factors that can contribute to poor mental health. Our relationships, sense of identity and the world around us have a massive impact, so it’s hardly surprising that the events of 2020 have seen some children in emotional crisis. Many children have thrived in the pandemic, relishing the chance to spend more time at home with the family, but for others the disruption and uncertainty has left them anxious and overwhelmed.

Routine and boundaries play a huge part in reducing anxiety, so cancelled activities, school closures and continuously changing government guidelines have done nothing to support young people’s mental wellbeing. At our children’s counselling service we wondered whether the new school year would see referral rates drop. Would the increase in structure and purpose help to combat the tsunami of mental health issues? Sadly not. Since September our referrals have gone up, in both our schools and private service. For those directly impacted by Covid-19 it’s been devastating, but even for those seemingly unaffected, prolonged feelings of fear and dread have led to toxic levels of stress and anxiety. We’ve also noticed an increase in younger referrals, as parents struggle to reassure their children about future uncertainty. So how can we support our children with their mental health, without burdening them with adult worries? What are the signs that our children might be struggling? And how do we support them to develop the resilience to face the new normal?

Stay alert
Spotting mental health issues can be tricky. Many parents come to me feeling helpless, seeking my expertise. I tell them that when it comes to their children, they’re the experts. If instinct is telling you there’s an issue then you’re probably right. Changes in behaviour are a strong indicator, so if your child has become uncharacteristically withdrawn, aggressive or anxious then they may be struggling. If they’ve lost interest in themselves or their relationships, this could also be a sign of a change in their mental health. Whether it’s bullying, anxiety, or stress about school or friendships, identifying that there’s a problem is the first step in supporting them.

Find the positives
When the pandemic first hit, even counsellors struggled. How do we reassure young people, when we don’t know what’s happening ourselves? This was a huge warning sign that we hadn’t dealt with our own anxieties. Dedicate time to exploring your own emotional state and seek support from those around you. Only then can you model the calm reassurance that children need to develop their resilience.

Once we’re in a positive place it’s easier to promote a sense of optimism and self-esteem, which is key to building resilience. We want children to see the world as a safe place where problems are temporary and challenges can be overcome. Give your child space to talk about their worries, but try to steer conversations in a positive way: ‘It’s really sad to think your football might be cancelled again, but we got through it last time so we can do it again.’

To promote children’s resilience, the last few years have seen many schools adopt a ‘growth mindset’ approach to learning. It focuses on modelling positive language. Saying ‘this is hard, but with practice I’ll get there’ will make children more likely to persevere than ‘I’m terrible at this’. Praising persistence over results is a great way parents can help with this. Avoid comparing children to their peers and instead focus on their effort levels and improving their own ‘personal bests’.

Be open
The stigma surrounding mental health is thankfully on the decline, but for some children they’re still learning that difficult emotions are shameful and not to be discussed. I often work with children who have never learnt to recognise or talk about their emotions, and this becomes the biggest part of our work. If children have no outlet to discuss their anger, sadness or fear, then they hold the feelings inside. These internalised feelings will always find a way to come out, whether it’s through disruptive behaviour, tantrums or anxiety.

By modelling that these feelings are okay, we’re letting children know they’re normal. For young people keen to fit in, this will come as a huge relief! If your child does share their feelings with you it’s important to listen carefully without interrupting, respond in a calm, non-judgemental way and don’t dismiss their worries. You don’t need to problem solve. By letting them know you’ve heard them and understood them, you’ll be validating their feelings and reducing their anxiety.

Make real connections
For many parents, screens and social media were a real lifesaver during lockdown. It allowed our children to stay in touch with their friends and acted as childcare when deadlines were looming. Screen-time limits were loosened and monitoring our children’s online activity became even trickier. When they are back at school, it can be hard to get the genie back in the bottle and return to the pre-lockdown rules.

However, we all know the negative impact screens can have. Development, academic results and mental health are all impacted by excessive screen-time and that’s before we consider the content being viewed and the need for ‘likes’ at any cost.

Restricting screen-time can lead to conflict and resentment, but handled correctly it could be the key to improved mental health. Board games, baking or crafts may feel like a big ask at the end of a long day, but they could be the key to an improvement in your child’s wellbeing.

If you’ve tried these strategies and your child still seems low, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seeking support shouldn’t be seen as a last resort; it doesn’t need to be the mental health equivalent of going to A&E. Good mental health is a lifelong pursuit, so it’s more like taking your emotions to the gym.

www.mabletherapy.com

Talk Talk! Knock, knock. Who’s there? Kanga. Kanga who? No, it’s kangaroo!

By | children's health, Education, environment, Language, numeracy skills, reading

Jokes often narrowly miss the mark, but children love them. In amongst the less serious context of joking and any play on words, is a more complex business which plays a much bigger role in our children’s early development than we could ever believe.

Children who are taught about the complexities of the English language through language-rich conversations with their parents or siblings are the same children who get ahead of their peers. As a child soaks in the rich talk at home, they become more adept at sensing intonation, playing with tone, using words in the right context and increasing their chances for a vocabulary advantage in their school. In the last ten years, there has been extensive research about language quality and early talking and how they significantly impact each other. The quality of a child’s language environment has a huge impact on their relationship building, their early reading skills and therefore their access to the curriculum.

“Yes, yes” we hear you say, “but how can we help?” we hear you say. Before they even step through the school gates, some children have been exposed to five times as many words as some of their peers. There are many reasons for this, and we could analyse the amount of time a parent/carer spends on their devices whilst ‘humouring’ a child, or how long a child plays on a device, or plays alone. However, analysing is not the vital thing here, talking is! So significant is this issue that the government have launched an initiative on helping to close the vocabulary gap. Helping every child to have the early advantage of successful language development is likely the best educational priority we can select.

So, what can we do about ensuring every child sees the benefit of the early vocabulary advantage? The remedy is actually so much simpler than you might think. You simply cannot talk too much to your children. I used to explain it as a running commentary when asked what I meant about lots of talk. As breakfast is being prepared, a commentary on the routine will expose your child to the most commonly used vocabulary and when you later go for a walk and see all the natural things around you, your vocabulary may become more complex with new words starting to penetrate their sponge-like brain. For example, “Look Louis, the deer are rutting and making extraordinary noises. Can you see how their antlers can be used to warn away the other male deer? They are called stags.”
This introduces more infrequent words, helping their vocabulary grow more quickly.

There are many activities that you can do with your children in order to help them with their vocabulary:
• Turn-taking.
The quality of our talk is obviously crucial and balanced turn-taking is vital to not only holding the attention of young children, but seeing them develop their language.
• Expanding and modelling.
When your daughter/son says “It’s big car” – you can expand upon it and model the grammar a little too, “Yes – it is a big, red car – isn’t it enormous?”
• Extending and explaining.
Explaining events, such as what is going to happen at the shops, or what happened on holiday last year, is the type of extended talk and language that has a positive impact on a child’s vocabulary developing successfully.

For many of us this is a normal part of parenting life, but for some of us we realise all too quickly the times when we are not talking or even more importantly, actively listening to our children. A really useful tool is using picture books as a stimulus or prompt. Story structure, pace, prediction and vocabulary are all useful spin-offs to a picture book. How often have we as parents flicked through a story at bedtime, our eyes almost closed, skipping pages so that we finish earlier. We have all done it. But, some of those conversations are vital to that ever-growing vocabulary sponge in every child and it is our job to water it. There is no such thing as too much talk.

Tracey Chong is Head at Surbiton High Boys’ Preparatory School, an academic independent IAPS School. www.surbitonhigh.com

NHS Thank You

Pandemic parenting

By | children's health, Education, family, Health, Mental health, Uncategorized

Psychotherapist offers positive parenting tips

If you are one of the many families struggling with home schooling and feel that you are failing in meeting your children’s needs, you will not be in the minority. Psychotherapist Noel McDermott has over 25 years experience in this field and is keen to reassure families that any struggle in the here and now is OK. It is normal for both parents and children to be experiencing feelings of anxiety at this time. Here he provides simple tips to help support your child’s mental health.

Noel comments: “Talk to your children about how they’re finding the lockdown and home schooling this time round, reassure them it’s okay to ask for help if they feel low. Explain it’s normal and natural but that they don’t have to suffer alone. Monitor for signs they are struggling by watching out for mood, presentation or behaviour changes that last longer than a day or two. Increase family time and family events to be able to lift each other up and observe your kids at work and play.”

Positive parenting tips for both parent and child:
• Get outside. Nature is brilliant at lifting mood and it doesn’t have to be the great outdoors, your local park or even your garden is just as good. In fact, even noticing something simple outside like the trees in the park will elevate your mood!
• Challenge your thinking. Don’t give into those low mood thoughts, tell them they are temporary and will go away, that all feelings have an end by date and theirs is coming soon. Get involved in activities and events even though you might think they are useless and boring at the time; you will soon change your mind!
• Exercise as a family, stay active and get the blood flowing. Getting active for 20 minutes a day regulates your mood, just add some brisk walking into your day, take the kids for a run at lunchtime or do an online exercise class together.
• Sleep, eat and drink well. Children need good, sound sleep to ensure proper body and mind development. A nutritious diet plays an important role in a child’s physical and mental health. Get the basics right and the rest will follow.
• Treat your kids. Have a list of those things your children especially like and treat them when you think they deserve a lift! You also deserve treats – be kind to yourself.

Alternative social interaction
As well as providing education, schools and nurseries provide another even more important function in a child’s development and that is access to complex social group interaction. Children across the country will be missing their friendship circles and for all kids, but especially younger ones, access to play with other children is central to healthy development. Think outside the box and help support your child’s needs, for example:
• Plan movie nights: teleparty www.netflixparty.com is a fun way to have film nights with friends and family who cannot see each other in person.
• Organise virtual playdates: these will help fulfil your
child’s social needs and find positive opportunities. Perhaps they could have a tea party online, do arts and crafts together or simply read a book with their friend?
• Arrange a gaming session for your children with their friends – gaming, especially online, can provide immeasurable benefits to those who are lonely and isolated. It provides safe social contact and a place where skills can be developed. These skills can provide a much-needed boost to self-esteem.
• Online spaces – organise social and groups activities online with both friends and family that stimulate and develop social interaction. Although not as effective as a real-world connection, helping kids organise online groups and activities with their peers and friends can be very beneficial. The online space challenges the child (and the adult) to engage socially and cognitively.

How to spot anxiety in children
Unfortunately, cases of anxiety and distress in children are on the rise now and this is being caused by an almost constant diet of scary stories on the news/Internet, isolation from peers with schools being closed and from picking up on the stresses of family and parents. For many children they will be experiencing more vivid dreams during this time, interrupted sleep, issues around appetite and so-on which are all classic signs of distress.

Younger children and COVID-19 concerns
Little ones might try to protect you from their distress and say they are fine, but it will show up in other ways such as, in their play, which can become preoccupied with the worries; mummies and daddies getting sick and going to hospital, people getting hungry, people fighting and getting angry with each other. Kids might become avoidant when they are upset, not talking, and withdrawing. Behaviour may deteriorate and arguments and fights start. They may ‘regress’ and start to act in a younger manner, depending on age you may see thumb sucking, incontinence, clinging behaviour.

Older children and COVID-19 concerns
In teenagers, distress can often appear as disconnection (I don’t care, I don’t want to talk about it) and through avoidance behaviours. Avoidance and procrastination are both classic signs of anxiety. In older children we are seeing increases in anxiety as reported by parents, this includes relapses in anti-social behaviour, substance misuse and so on.

Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “Parenting in a pandemic is not an easy feat but now more than ever it is vital that parents help children develop and maintain good mental health and emotional wellbeing. You can do this by helping them feel safe, keeping healthy routines, managing their emotions and behaviour and by being positive at home. By being positive ourselves, we promote positivity to our children. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health don’t be afraid to ask your GP for support.”

Vaccination and the end in sight
It’s important to explain that we are on the final straight now, with the vaccination programme well under way. Soon, your kids will be able to see their grandparents as the shielded ones are being vaccinated first. Tell yourself this is positive news as well! The closure of schools, as well as being temporary, is for the last time. We are all looking forward to a big party soon to move on from all this stress.

Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education.
Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual.
They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home –
www.noelmcdermott.net/group-therapy/