Category

children’s health

Talk PANTS and stay safe

By | children's health, Education, Relationships, Safety

From an early age we talk to children about how to stay safe. We teach them how to cross the road safely and not to run with scissors. But some subjects can be trickier to discuss than others. For example – sexual abuse. Where on earth do you start?

Talking about sexual abuse with children can feel like a daunting prospect. It’s something you hope you never have to discuss and you might feel that if you do; you’ll scare them or take away their innocence.

But the truth is abuse happens and we need to talk about it to keep children safe. During the year 2019/20, police forces across the UK recorded more than 73,500 child sex offences – an increase of 57% over five years. By talking about it from an early age, potentially before it even takes place, we can help children speak up if something happens that worries them.

But talking about abuse doesn’t need to be a scary thing and we can show you how. You can start by teaching them the NSPCC’s Underwear Rule, or PANTS. Since the NSPCC launched its PANTS campaign in 2013, it has sparked over 1.5 million conversations between adults and their children to help keep them safe from abuse.

PANTS stands for:
Privates are private
Your underwear covers up your private parts and no one should ask to see or touch them. Sometimes a doctor, nurse or family members might have to. But they should always explain why and ask you if it’s OK first.

Always remember your body belongs to you
Your body belongs to you. No one should ever make you do things that make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. If someone asks to see or tries to touch you underneath your underwear say ‘NO’ – and tell someone you trust and like to speak to.

No means no
No means no, and you always have the right to say ‘no’ – even to a family member or someone you love. You’re in control of your body and the most important thing is how YOU feel. If you want to say ‘No’, it’s your choice.

Talk about secrets that upset you
There are good and bad secrets. Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or presents for other people. Bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened. You should tell an adult you trust about a bad secret straight away.

Speak up, someone can help
Talk about stuff that makes you worried or upset. If you ever feel sad, anxious or frightened you should talk to an adult you trust. This doesn’t have to be a family member. It can also be a teacher or a friend’s parent – or even Childline.

Next, you’ll need to pick the right time to start talking about it. The right time is… anytime! It’s important to make it part of everyday conversations you might have with your child so that it doesn’t feel forced or as though it’s a big deal. Some examples are:
• During bath time, when applying cream or when getting your child dressed.
• During car journeys – it’s a neutral space and it might be easier to get their undivided attention.
• Going swimming is the perfect time to explain that what’s covered by swimwear is private.
• During a TV show that features a sensitive storyline – you could ask them what they would do in that situation and encourage them to think about adults they trust and could speak to about a problem.

There’s even a video for you to sing along to with your child, to help them learn the Underwear Rule. The yellow, cuddly, pant-wearing dinosaur mascot, Pantosaurus, sings and dances his way through these important safeguarding messages but it’s fun and incredibly catchy.

Singing not really your thing? Don’t worry – you can always read the PANTS book together. Pantosaurus and the Power of Pants follows the story of Pantosaurus as he receives a new pair of pants. Dinodad tells him that they will give him special powers. Pantosaurus then experiences a problem at school and just as Dinodad told him, his super pants give him the power to speak up.

There are lots of other sources of support available on the NSPCC website – www.nspcc.org.uk/pants. You can sign up for regular emails with tips and advice, download free PANTS guides in 16 different languages and sing along to the Pantosaurs video.

There are also PANTS activity packs, and Pantosaurus and the Power of Pants is available to buy in the NSPCC online shop – shop.nspcc.org.uk

For further advice and support, the NSPCC’s Helpline is available Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends. Trained professionals can offer tips and advice and can help you if you have concerns about a child. You can call them free and in confidence on 0808 800 5000 or visit www.nspcc.org.uk/helpline

hay-fever

Ten top hay fever tips for parents

By | children's health, Health, Summer
If your child has hay fever it can be extra challenging for parents, with symptoms that include itchy eyes, runny nose, sneezing and general exhaustion. But there are things you can do to help. Below, trusted airborne allergens expert, Max Wiseberg, gives his ten top tips.

“As with many other things, prevention is better than cure!” says Max. Here are my ten tips to help reduce your child’s pollen load. The less pollen there is in the body, the less there is to react to. We can all tolerate a certain amount of pollen without any reaction. Keeping your child below this level will mean they have no reaction.

1 Limit your child’s exposure to pollen during peak periods. Pollen is released early in the morning and travels upwards as the air warms up. In the evening, as the air cools, it moves back down again. Symptoms are usually worst during the early morning and evening, when the pollen grains reach nose height, so try to keep children indoors at these times.

2 Encourage your child to wear wraparound sunglasses. This creates a protective layer between their eyes and the pollen-laden atmosphere, and can reduce symptoms considerably. It also relaxes their eyes, which in turn relaxes them. And it’s cool!

3 Change children’s clothes daily and after they’ve been playing outside and ask them to wash their face and hair after periods spent outdoors. Pollen sticks to clothing, skin and hair so symptoms can continue even when they get indoors. Washing or showering will remove any pollen remaining on the skin and hair.

4 Vacuum the house regularly (especially your child’s bedroom carpet, bed and fabrics) to remove pollen particles.

5 Wash their bedding frequently. Pollen grains come indoors borne on the air and stick to bedding, so frequent washing will help. Covering the bed with a sheet which is carefully folded and stored away from the bed during the night, before they get into bed, and turning pillows just before they get in, can also help reduce symptoms.

6 Close windows and doors to prevent pollen blowing into your home.

7 Tie your child’s hair up and encourage them to wear a hat or cap when outside to prevent pollen particles being caught in their hair.

8 Ensure your child has plenty to drink and encourage them to eat lots of fruit and vegetables to stay healthy and support their immune system.

9 Take your child to the GP, to get a proper diagnosis. If the symptoms occur only in high summer on hot, sunny days, it’s almost certainly hay fever. But it could be any of a number of other allergies and treatment might differ for each.

10 Make HayMax Kids part of your child’s daytime and bedtime routine. Apply this organic drug-free allergen barrier balm immediately after washing/showering first thing in the morning and before going to bed. Pop a pot in your daytime bag and leave a pot by their bed so it can be re-applied as needed. In independent studies [1], HayMax has been shown to trap over a third of the pollen before it gets into the body: less pollen, less reaction. And as it’s drug-free, HayMax is suitable for pregnant and breast-feeding women as well as children.

And of course the same applies to parents with hay fever too. Apply your HayMax regularly, change your clothes, wash or shower when returning home, wear wraparound sunglasses, wash your bedding frequently and stay indoors during peak pollen times.

[1] Chief Investigator: Professor Roy Kennedy, Principal Investigator: Louise Robertson, Researcher: Dr Mary Lewis, National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, 1st February 2012.
super-mum

Why parenting with anxiety makes you a ‘super-parent’

By | children's health, Education, Mental health
The last couple of years have been tough for everyone. The COVID pandemic has left many adults and children feeling uncertain, stressed and anxious at times. Several pieces of research have highlighted the heavy burden this period has put on parents of young children. If you are a parent or carer you may have found things overwhelming at times. You are not alone in those feelings. Almost every mum and dad across the country will have done so at some point.

At the Parenting with Anxiety Team we specialise in supporting families. We hope that the following will provide some useful information and reassurance. But also remember that you are the expert on your family.

Parents with anxiety are ‘super-parents’
From our work with parents we know that almost all of them go to massive efforts to do what is best for their children and that they are doing this while managing their own anxiety. Think of Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards in high heels. It is not easy!

We know that all parents can think they are not doing a good enough job, so it was great to hear a mother we work with describe anxious parents as ‘super-parents’. And they are! Super at managing their anxiety at the same time as juggling the demands of parenthood. If you are in this situation, take a moment to recognise that you are super too.

You are just one part of what makes your child who they are
If you find yourself experiencing anxiety, you may worry about the impact it has on your children. You may notice that they express some anxious feelings of their own. If that is the case remember that a huge number of different factors contribute to making your child the amazing individual he or she is. It is not all down to you. It is also worth remembering that when your child is anxious your understanding of your own anxiety can give you special insight into what they are going through.

Your child’s anxieties are not your own
When you feel anxious, your child’s worries can be overwhelming. It can be useful to remember that all children worry at times and it is perfectly normal. Sometimes you might be tempted to step in and fix things for them, so they don’t have the same experiences you did.

School experiences can be a point when we transplant the feelings we have about our experiences onto our children. But their experiences are different and the things which worry us may not affect them in the same way. Similarly, when your child is worried about something you do not have to share those feelings. If you can step back a little from their worries you will be better able to help them cope with them. This is not always easy and don’t beat yourself up if you do find yourself sharing their fears.

If you are worried, encourage your child to talk, and listen
Just by noticing that something is going on for your child you have already shown real sensitivity. The next thing to do is support them to share what they are feeling. You do not necessarily have to solve things – you might not be able to and that is OK. If worries are coming up at bedtime focus on soothing them and try and have a gentle conversation about it at another time. Sometimes it can help to have a chat while you are both more relaxed, for example in the car, while playing or walking back from the shops.

To find out more about the project at the University of Sussex please visit www.parentingwithanxiety.org.uk

boys-forest

Supporting children’s physical and mental health through outdoor adventure play

By | children's health, environment, fun for children, Mental health
by Melanie Parr
Managing Director, Lymley Wood CIC

The value of outdoor play and outdoor learning, getting out and about, moving their bodies and connecting to nature, is huge.Children experience freedom when they play outside. Outdoor play is a natural way for children of all ages to do physical activity, to exercise and stay fit. It’s good for children’s physical health, it improves brain development, it can boost mental wellbeing and improve sleep quality.

Outdoor play is particularly beneficial during times of anxiety, stress and adversity – it provides a sense of control and independence, it helps children make sense of things they find hard to understand, it supports their coping and resilience and it helps them to understand risk and their own capabilities.

According to the Open University’s OPENspace Research Centre, there is considerable evidence suggesting that time spent outdoors, in nature, increases life expectancy, improves well-being, reduces symptoms of depression and increases a child’s ability to function in school.

In addition to better physical health, teachers report improved concentration, better ability to focus and learn, increased productivity, better behaviour, and the fostering of more positive relationships between adults and children and amongst peer groups, when children are more active and spend more time outside during the day.

Time spent playing outdoors is also thought to help relieve stress and anxiety by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol in the brain. Time to have fun just playing, enjoying life in the outdoors and doing something that makes them feel good! Through this they can feel balanced and refreshed and more ready to learn.

“There is a natural simplicity to nature; it is far more tactile and tangible than the classroom. It’s a leveller; it strengthened my character and set me back on track. That’s why we should focus on wellbeing and encouraging our children to connect with the natural world. I’m not suggesting the abolition of the exam system, but we could certainly cut back to allow more time for children to explore the world around them.” Ben Fogel – broadcaster and writer.

Claims that connecting children with the outdoors is good for their social and emotional development, improved mental health and psychological and emotional wellbeing, are backed with clear evidence. “We now have conclusive evidence that sport and physical activity are clearly linked to mental wellbeing,” says Lisa O’Keefe, Sport England insight director.

One influential study (Psychiatric Times) measuring the effect of regular exercise on children with ADHD strengthens these claims. Ultimately, this study concluded that “moderate-intensity aerobic exercise may be an additional treatment modality for children with ADHD” and can be of benefit to all children generally. Most children at this age are naturally curious, and an outdoor environment really stimulates all their senses and lets their imagination go wild.

Exposure to nature has a soothing effect on all children, and can reduce hyperactivity, especially in those suffering from ADHD. Being outside in natural sunlight allows our bodies to naturally produce vitamin D, which releases the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain. This helps to regulate emotion and mood and is linked with happiness and relief from depression. Lack of sufficient time outdoors puts children at risk of vitamin D deficiency, because the sun is the best source for vitamin D production and it isn’t found in many foods. New research also backs up that exposure to microbes found in woodland soil can actually build immunity and act as an antidepressant.

Outdoor, active, ‘free play’ provides a powerful way of working with children and young people that supports optimal social and emotional development. Free play, getting outside and exploring nature all makes for healthier and happier minds and consequently happier well balanced, resilient children, who are more able to deal with challenges that life may hold.

Oh and let’s remember that playing and exploring outdoors is excellent fun!

Lymley Wood are taking referrals for teenagers onto their Wild Teens programme and offer regular weekly groups for tots and primary aged children. www.lymleywood.co.uk

Sources: www.pentagonplay.co.uk Mental Health Benefits of Exercise in Children, Psychiatric Times, Vol 32 No 1, Volume 32, Issue 1 Mind & Brain/Depression and Happiness – Raw Data “Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz, Discover Magazine, July 2007 Issue

 

Tips for bringing up a compassionate child

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

Compassionate children are ones that naturally grow into kind-hearted adults, as the values instilled in them through their childhood will be carried into their later life.

The key to raising compassionate children is through being conscious of your parenting techniques and the values that they’re teaching them. Here, MindBE Education shares tips for bringing up a compassionate child:

• Use storybooks to frame ideas

When you read a story ask questions about how the characters might be feeling. How would your child feel if they were that character? What might the character have done differently to be kinder? By highlighting these actions and feelings your child will develop a greater sense of empathy and perspective that will carry forward into their own life.

• Use a persona doll or puppet to discuss issues

Sometimes children don’t like to talk about things but will happily engage through a doll or puppet or other forms of play. If your child is facing a situation or there is an issue in the air, talk to your child and discuss how the doll or puppet may be feeling. Discuss how it might make you feel and what strategies the puppet could use to feel better. By talking about issues and situations that come up we can instil the values of kindness and compassion in our child.

• Teach your child to be kind

Modelling kindness yourself is the easiest way to do this. Do you smile, hold the door open or help your neighbours? More than anything a child will pick up on the cues from the adults in their life. If you are kind and compassionate your child most likely will follow your lead. When you do something, you might explain why you tried to help another and how we can be of service to others.

• Create a sense of gratitude in your home

Being grateful is linked to being a compassionate person. When we are grateful, we can feel empathy for others who may not have something we do. We can ease fear and anxiety and focus on the good which leads to a more loving outlook in the world. Try to take turns every night at dinner to say three good things that happened that day or encourage your child to write a gratitude journal each day.

MindBE Education offers teacher and parenting training courses and resources so that they can better teach children to build compassion, courage and confidence. MindBE Education was founded by Dr Helen Maffini. An international educator, author and consultant who has worked around the world, Helen is a certified emotional intelligence trainer, a Neuro-Linguistic Practitioner and a positive psychology leader.

www.mindbe-education.com

nuggets and chips

Five ways to help your children develop a positive relationship with food

By | children's health, family, Food & Eating

If dinnertime has become a battle, try these tips from Denby’s Hayley Baddiley to encourage your children to eat better.

One in five children in the UK consume 78% of their calories from ultra-processed foods, according to research from Imperial College London. Unhealthy eating habits such as these can lead to various health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease. It’s also possible that picky eating could be a symptom of, and may worsen, some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety (Healthline), so it’s important that your children maintain a positive relationship with their food.

As a parent, you’ll know all too well how fussy some children can be when it comes to mealtimes. It’s entirely normal for children to go through a phase of picky eating, and it’s usually nothing to worry about. Luckily, there are a few simple tricks you can try to get them to eat more of the good stuff.

Get children involved in the kitchen

pizza kidsKids love being involved with grown-up tasks, so one of the best ways to encourage a healthy relationship with food is by asking them to help out in the kitchen. Allowing them to handle the ingredients at each stage of cooking a meal helps them become more familiar with the food they’re eating, and is a great way to reduce feelings of anxiety at mealtimes.

There are a whole range of different tasks for your children to do, no matter their age. Little ones can help wash vegetables and measure out ingredients, while older children can help with chopping, peeling, and stirring. Just choose child-friendly recipes and consider making dishes they can put together themselves. For example, you could create your own pizzas or fajitas, and your children can choose whatever toppings of fillings they want.

Grow your own produce

grow vegeisIf you’ve got the outdoor space, why not grow your own fruits and vegetables? Not only is this a fun way to teach your family about where their food comes from, but your little ones are also more likely to eat the food if they’ve grown it themselves. By the time a new ingredient is ready to plate up, your child will already be familiar with the shape and smell – all that will remain is to taste it!

If this will be your first time gardening, then it’s best to start with something small and simple, such as a few lettuces or a tomato plant. But, as you practise and your children become more confident trying new things, you can start to expand your garden to even more varieties of fruit and vegetables. Try growing courgettes, carrots, potatoes or strawberries, depending on what your children like to eat, and what you’d like to encourage them to try.

Make mealtimes fun

Turning mealtimes into a game is another great way to encourage your children to have a healthy relationship with food. Consider creating a rewards chart and give everyone a star for each fruit or vegetable they eat. Why not add an extra element of competition by offering a prize to whoever has the most stars by the end of
the week?

Making mealtimes more of an occasion can also help reduce stress and encourage your little ones to eat better. Prepare healthy snacks for a family picnic or serve up a tasty summer salad outdoors. You could also host weekly themed nights, complete with decorations and a menu to match. This is a great way to encourage children to try something new, while also making it a fun experience for the whole family.

Get creative with presentation

pretty platesSometimes, all it takes it a little creativity to get your little ones to eat their meals, so it’s worth taking some extra time to present their dishes nicely. For example, experimenting with colour and choosing a vibrant array of vegetables served on matching tableware is a great way to make your dishes look more appetising. Add an extra touch of artistic flair by making fun faces out of the ingredients.

You could also encourage children to become more independent when it comes to mealtimes. By plating up each element in serving bowls and urging everyone to help themselves, you can ease the pressure of trying new things. Giving your children their own set of tableware can also help them feel more independent at mealtimes, and they’ll be more likely to engage with the food you serve up.

Hide your fruit and veg

In some cases, it’s the taste and texture of vegetables that can put your little ones off eating them. So, one of the easiest ways to get your children to eat their vegetables is when they don’t know they’re there at all! This is a great way to up your family’s vitamin intake, especially if the children haven’t been swayed by your previous tactics.

Hide vegetables in pasta sauces, pies, and tarts. Disguise puréed carrots in some mashed potato. Make rice from cauliflower. Or use a spiraliser to create pasta from carrots or courgette. If you mix it in with a small portion of normal rice or pasta, your little ones might never know the difference.

Fussy eating in children is very common, but by trying these tips and tricks, you can encourage them to develop a healthier relationship with food, and they’re much more likely to keep up these positive habits as they get older.
Images ©Denby.  www.denbypottery.com

The benefits of yoga for children

By | children's health, family, fun for children
by Iona Naylon
Kids’ Yoga with Iona

The benefits of yoga for children are wide reaching and long lasting. The foundations of physical practise, breathing techniques, meditation and yogic philosophy can be introduced in a fun way from a very young age and can provide solid ground for the healthy, happy development of individuals throughout childhood, into adolescence and beyond. When experienced with a grown-up, yoga can help strengthen emotional bonds and deepen the relationship you have with your little one.

Asana – physical practise
At the most basic level, it’s exercise! Moving your body, making shapes and exploring your physical capacity. Children can have immense fun with the physical aspect of yoga; mimicking things found in nature and exploring how to express feelings and moods with their bodies. From tree pose and dog pose, to happy baby and more. Physical practise can be immensely liberating for children and their grown-ups. Moreover, when poses are practiced together (partner yoga), asana practise not only becomes more fun, but trust is enhanced and loving relationships greatly enriched.

Pranayama – breathing practise
The breath is the backbone of all yogic practise. By teaching children belly breathing from a young age, we can equip them with a vital tool to take charge of their own emotions. Belly breathing, or diaphragmatic breathing, allows our body to tune into its parasympathetic nervous system; our natural rest and digest response (the antithesis of the fight or flight stress response), that allows physical and emotional reactions to calm down. When paired with a visualisation, such as a spiky monster in their tummy that can be breathed into a fluffy kitten, children can really grab hold of and run with this. Pranayama allows children a space to explore feelings they might not be able to articulate, but can take charge of, with self-awareness, by simply putting their hands on their tummy and breathing.

Sankalpa – intention setting
A sankalpa is a positive statement in the present tense. It may not be something that is true right now, but is something that the heart desires. A sankalpa can be very powerful for adults as well as children. Some examples are: I am brave, I am loved, I am good enough, I am strong inside and out, I am calm and peaceful. A sankalpa can be used like a personal mantra to foster those feelings your child really wants to feel, and to squash self-doubt. A sankalpa is a great tool for growing confidence in a shy or anxious child, as well as building long-lasting emotional resilience and inner strength in all children.

Mudra and Mantra – hand seals and chanting
Children love exploring mudra and mantra, and these two make a perfect pair. Making shapes with their hands and singing in a strange language is not only fun, but also quite mystical and wondrous. When sat on their grown-up’s lap, children can feel the vibrations of the mantra resonating in their own body and this can be very comforting; akin to being back in the womb.

Shavasana – lying still
Most children can wrap their feet around their head and touch their toes without any effort. Lying still in shavasana is the most difficult thing any yoga teacher can ask them to do. However, even a minute lying in shavasana at the end of a yoga session is immensely valuable. Shavasana helps the body and mind totally relax. It allows the effects of the yoga practise to settle, and it allows the child time to reconnect with their belly breathing. With slightly older children, it is a good opportunity to introduce more sophisticated yogic practices: rotation of consciousness (relaxing individual body parts), visualisation, pratyahara (sense withdrawal, where you are aware of but not distracted by your senses: sounds, physical feelings etc). I find it immensely interesting to watch children grow used to lying in shavasana. It is a real skill. For some, it strikes a chord quite quickly. For others, it may take some time. But when, as a teacher, I see children week-by-week becoming more comfortable in shavasana, then I know that their yogic practise is really sinking in. And that is the best feeling.

For further details please see www.facebook.com/kidsyogawithiona or email iona.yogaga@gmail.com

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.