Category

Mental health

child bouncing

Stay active all winter

By | children's health, Health, Mental health, play, Playing, Uncategorized

We’re all aware that regular physical activity is important and has many health benefits. But even some very active children have a difficult time keeping exercise going during the winter months. The weather is probably horrible, it gets dark earlier, and a ‘duvet day’ can be very appealing!
However, whatever the weather, it’s important to keep little ones active and help them stay that way by developing an exercise habit from before they even start school. The NHS recommends that to maintain a basic level of health, children aged five to 18 need to do:

• At least 60 minutes of physical activity every day – this should range from moderate activity, such as cycling and playground activities, to vigorous activity, such as running and tennis.
• On three days a week, these activities should involve exercises for strong muscles, such as push-ups, and exercises for strong bones, such as jumping and running.

This sounds a lot but can be made more manageable by combining structured activity classes with fun exercises at home, and building fitness into your everyday routine. It can then help promote healthy weight management and reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.

Get outside
Just because it’s cold outside does not mean you have to stay inside! The key is to wrap everyone up in layers and to keep moving. Moving around outside and getting your heart rate up will help keep you warm as well. Walk to school or part of the way, once a week, go to the park, or play outside with friends. Children’s farms still have plenty going on in the winter and there is lots of space to run around in. Most of them now have vast outdoor play areas and you can warm up with a hot chocolate in the café afterwards.

Choose another indoor location
Especially in the winter months, getting out of the house will help prevent children getting cabin fever, and can mean they will sleep better at night. Try choosing a location that also incorporates physical activity with lots of fun such as a leisure pool, soft play centre, ice rink or indoor climbing.

Enrol children into a new class
If you want to get your children involved in something fun and consistent, enrol them in a regular class. It’s a great way to try something new, be active, and meet new people – for them and you. Trying new activities is a great way to figure out what children might like. There are lots of classes for preschool children upwards. Classes for preschoolers are all about having
fun while being active. Classes are age-appropriate, and babies can start at many of them from six months, and so by the time they reach school age exercise has become a healthy habit for them, and their social skills will also be enhanced.

Build exercise into your routine
Everyday activities can count as exercise too, as long as your children are getting their heart rates up. Things like walking the dog, biking to the shops, or going to the park on the way home from school all help. Incorporating these activities into your children’s daily routines will help them develop a healthy lifestyle that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. An hour a day is the target, but these activities can be accumulated throughout the day not necessarily all at once.

Limit screen time
We are all aware that even very young children are spending increasing amounts of time in front of a screen, which includes television, videogames, computers and phones. Whilst children are at primary school you are almost completely in charge of what they eat and what they watch, so don’t let them get used to spending hours in front of a screen every day. If screen time isn’t allowed to become a habit whilst they are young, you will have far less problems getting them off screens as they become older.

In order for children to find exercise fun, they need lots of variety. And when they find exercise enjoyable, they are much more likely to stick with it over an extended period of time. Avoid the boredom factor by offering as many different options for activity as possible. Plus, trying new physical activities together as a family will not only benefit your children’s health, but can help fight the winter ‘blues’ too. So, get up, get moving, and stay active this winter!

Why recognising the early signs of mental health issues in children is crucial

By | children's health, Health, Mental health, Relationships, Uncategorized

Children and young people’s mental health has never been so high on the public agenda. Figures released recently show that 5% of children aged five to 10 have conduct disorder; this increases to 7% as young people approach secondary school years (Green et al.) and referrals to child mental health units from UK primary schools for pupils aged 11 and under have risen by nearly 50% in three years.
In May this year, former Prime Minister Theresa May announced a funding package to provide teachers and care workers with training on how to spot the signs of mental health issues. The wide-ranging package of measures make sure staff have the confidence and skills they need to identify mental health issues in young people before they become critical.

However, concerns have already been raised about the lack of mental health services available to young people once issues have been identified. Shadow Health Secretary Barbara Keeley said: “Once again we hear warm words from the Prime Minister on mental health, but the reality is that mental health services are stretched to breaking point and people with mental health problems aren’t getting the support they need.”

The most common mental health problem affecting children are conduct disorders (severe and persistent behavioural problems). Severe and persistent behavioural problems starting before secondary school years which go unsupported can have a long-term impact on children’s mental health and life chances.

Early years and education providers have a responsibility to provide staff with the training and support required to recognise early signs of mental health problems at this young age. Equipping staff with the skills to recognise warning signs and behaviours could lead to a child gaining the support they need to maintain mental wellbeing.

It’s a subject very close to the heart of Ann Poolton, Head of CPD Courses at BB Training, and her team. “We are very passionate about this issue. Not only can early identification save children from stressful situations, but it ensures staff are better placed to support young people in their care. We continue to offer best practice advise and training on this subject both internally and externally, as we understand the importance of promoting good mental health for children and staff alike.”

The funding now available should be used by employers to provide the necessary training required to give teachers the confidence and ability to cope with the rise in mental health issues in children.

Ann concluded: “For people working with young children, it is key that they are able to recognise the early signs of mental health problems and understand how to develop strategies to build resilience in children. The environment they grow up in, and their ability to handle the pressures and stresses of growing up, all play an important role in preventing problems from developing.”

Is your child anxious?

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

Are you finding it hard to get support?
Help is at hand…

 

Half of all lifetime anxiety disorders emerge before the age of twelve with around 15% of children being thought to suffer from an anxiety disorder.
(Anxiety UK)

A certain amount of this emotion is considered to be normal in everyday life but once it begins to impact upon a child in a negative and persistent way it becomes a problem. Sometimes it revolves around a child’s social life and friendship issues. It may be more about fear of failing academically. It could include uncertainty about the future, fear of the dark, problems sleeping and school avoidance. However it presents itself, there are some very useful cognitive behavioural techniques that may be used to help the child think in a different way about their problems.

Guided Parent Delivered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (GPD-CBT) is a new evidence based service designed to support parents struggling to get help with their child’s anxiety. The programme which is being offered through the charity, Anxiety UK, has been designed to help increase parents’ confidence and empower them to support their child.

The positive impact that a parent can have in helping their child to overcome their problems should not be underestimated. This is emphasised throughout the sessions. There are a number of advantages to working solely with parents or guardians instead of with the child, not least the fact that parents are considered to be the experts on their own children.

CBT has been extensively researched.
It is a solution focused time limited form of treatment and one which is most often recommended by the NHS to patients needing support for a number of mental health problems.

The therapist registered with Anxiety UK to deliver these sessions, will work collaboratively with parents, providing them with strategies they can use at home to help their child, between the age of seven and 12, overcome anxiety.

Four one hour sessions are conducted with the parents face-to-face, by phone or web cam and two 15 minute sessions take place over the phone or via web cam. The support package includes a copy of ‘Helping your Child with Fears and Worries: A self-help guide for parents’ by Professor Cathy Cresswell and Lucy Willetts.

Annabel Marriott is registered as an Anxiety UK GPD CBT practitioner.
For further information or to arrange an informal chat about Guided Parent Delivered CBT, Toolkit for Anxiety workshops or self-help groups, please email Annabel at: annabel@toolkitforanxiety.com
www.toolkitforanxiety.com

mum's mental health

It’s OK, not to be OK

By | Education, family, Health, Mental health, Relationships, Safety, Uncategorized

Mental health in pregnancy, birth and beyond

Eight months into being a mother, it hit me. Depression, together with its best friend, anxiety, came for an unplanned visit and as I write this months later, things are still very difficult, with the depression and the anxiety coming and going as they please, but I’m OK. I’m OK, not to be OK.

The most beautiful soul I have ever met, graced my husband and I with his presence in May of 2018 and what an amazing first year it has been. The cuddles; the late night/crack of dawn feeds; minimal sleep; bath time; nappy changes; weaning; playtime; teething; nappy changes; learning to crawl, walk and speak – and did I mention nappy changes?

How many blessings to have in one year. I have to pinch myself sometimes to check this isn’t just a wonderful dream. It is in fact reality, my reality, that this little boy is my baby boy and my absolute life’s purpose. How lucky am I? This most magical first year of being a mother, as amazing as it has been, has also brought many mental health challenges my way. I am not only learning to be a mother, but I am now also learning to accept and love the new me.

For seven out of my nine months of pregnancy, I was frankly scared of everything and anything going wrong. I made a decision that for my last two months of pregnancy, to work on just trying to worry less and enjoy this pregnant chapter of my life. This was much easier said than done but I really did have an amazing last two months of pregnancy where instead of fearing for this baby and what ‘could go wrong’, I looked forward to his daily kicks and hiccups and enjoyed this beautiful baby growing inside of me. I didn’t unfortunately wave a magic wand, I had to work very hard on ‘me’. I spoke openly about my fears, hopes and dreams; I attended Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT); I took early maternity leave to focus on me and my baby, as well as attending the mental health midwifery clinic attached to my local hospital. This internal work I was doing, together with the support of my incredible husband, family and friends, all helped me get to where I wanted and where I needed to be, in the preparation for my little man’s arrival.

I am a big believer in therapy and I hope that anyone struggling with poor mental health, gets help. It can be free, you can self-refer, you can choose to do it face-to-face, over the phone or online. So, if you are needing some help or just a nudge in the right direction, or know someone who is struggling, please speak up. You can reach out to your GP for a list of local therapies available or simply go online to see which type of therapy is right for you, whether it be CBT, counselling or other types of therapy. For employers, please check out Mental Health First Aid England, where they are helping drive mental health awareness in the workplace.

After being flagged as ‘high risk’ for mental health during my pregnancy, I thought I was going to experience baby blues (which can come in around day three when there is a hormone shift) but I didn’t, no baby blues. I thought I was going to experience postnatal depression but I didn’t. I don’t think. What did occur was I was back at work in January of 2019 and it happened. Depression. I found myself missing my baby so much whilst at work and felt like I was completely missing out on everything. My husband was daddy day care at the time and what a great job he was doing. This wasn’t a case of my baby not being well looked after, I was experiencing a sort of separation anxiety from my baby boy. But I just had to keep working long days and ‘deal with it’.

Whilst still struggling months later, I finally quit my job in order to enjoy time with my little man but also to work on myself. Self-love, self-care and mental health improvements, including daily meditation, yoga and therapy. Some days are good, others bad, others really bad – but I remain honest with myself and others. It really is OK, not to be OK. You are not a failure or ‘damaged goods’ which is how I would often label myself. You are real, showing your true colours and just going through a difficult time. You are exactly who you are meant to be for now and that is OK. All I know is that we have to truly accept ourselves and support others in whatever way we can. We need to remain an open and honest society, and most importantly please, be kind to one another.

At TheBabyChapter, we are dedicated to improving the quality of antenatal classes, ensuring soon-to-be parents are well supported and know all the information needed to make the right decision for you and your baby, in this new chapter, TheBabyChapter
www.thebabychapter.co.uk

Why imagination is the most valuable type of thinking

By | children's health, Education, Health, Mental health
by Neel Burton
psychiatrist and author of Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking

Einstein held that imagination is more important than knowledge: “I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Until very recently, most human societies did not mark a strict divide between imagination and belief, or fiction and reality, with each one informing and enriching the other. In fact, it could be argued that, in many important respects, the fiction primed over the reality – and even that this has been, and no doubt still is, one of the hallmarks of homo sapiens.

The uses of imagination are many, more than I can enumerate. Most children begin to develop pretend play at around fifteen months of age. What are children doing when they pretend play? And why are they so absorbed in works of imagination? When I was seven years old, I would devour book after book and plead with my parents for those not already in the bookcase. By playing out scenarios and extending themselves beyond their limited experience, children seek to make sense of the world and find

their place within it. This meaning-making is full of emotion – joy, excitement, awe – which finds an echo in every subsequent act of creation.

Whenever we look at an object such as the Mona Lisa, we see much more than just the frame and the brushstrokes. In fact, we barely see the brushstrokes at all. In imagination as in our dreams, we ascribe form, pattern, and significance to things, and then reflect them back onto those things. Without this work of interpreting and assimilating, the world would be no more than an endless stream of sense impressions, as it might sometimes seem to those who lack imagination, with no hope of escape or reprieve. More than that, by imagination we are able to complete the world, or our world, by conjuring up the missing parts, and even to inhabit entirely other worlds such as Middle-earth or the Seven Kingdoms.

If imagination lets us feel at home in the world, it also enables us to get things done in the world. Science advances by hypothesis, which is a function of imagination, and philosophy makes frequent use of thought experiments such as the brain in the vat, the trolley problem, and Plato’s Republic. More than that, imagination enables us to form associations and connections, and thereby to apply our knowledge to real life situations. It opens up alternatives and possibilities and guides our decision-making by playing them out in our mind. So many of our failures are in fact failures of the imagination.

Imagination is the highest form of thought, and almost divine in its reach. With enough imagination, we could identify and solve all of our problems. With enough imagination, we would never have to work again – or, at least, not for money. With enough imagination, we could win over, or defeat, anyone we wanted to. But our imagination is so poor that we haven’t even imagined what it would be like to have that much imagination.

I’m lucky to have received a decent education, but one thing it certainly didn’t do for me is cultivate my imagination. In fact, medical school in particular did everything it could to destroy it. In recent years, I’ve been trying to recover the bright and vivid imagination that I left behind in primary school. For that, I’ve been doing just three things, all of them very simple – or, at least, very simple to explain:
• Being more aware of the importance of imagination.
• Making time for sleep and idleness.
• Taking inspiration from the natural world.

Our schools and universities privilege knowing over thinking, and equate thinking with reasoning, and reasoning with logic. This has done, and continues to do, untold harm. Instead of digging ourselves in deeper, we need to make more time and space for thinking. And we need to rehabilitate alternative forms of cognition, such as emotion and imagination, that can support, supplement, or supplant reason and return
us to wholeness.

Neel Burton is a leading psychiatrist and author of Hypersanity: Thinking Beyond Thinking priced £12.99.
To find out more visit www.neelburton.com

The gender clutter gap

By | Education, Health, Mental health

In a recent survey to understand the effects of clutter on mental health, it was found that women are more affected by clutter in the home with four in five (79%) admitting that clutter makes them feel stressed, compared to just 59% of men.
It’s no surprise that we are feeling the effects of clutter building up at home with almost three-quarters (74%) wishing they had more storage space at home. Furthermore, over two-thirds (69%) of respondents agreed they could spend less time tidying their homes if they had a declutter – considering the 20% differentiation between stress levels, some might say that cleaning and tidying is still seen, by many, as ‘women’s work’.

However, we are taking action with our clutter, but only usually brought on by significant changes in life, with the main reasons people would choose to have a declutter being moving house (60%), decorating (54%) and downsizing (44%). Around a third said they would consider a declutter to relieve stress (37%) and improve their mental health (31%).

Though the KonMari Method of decluttering, created by Marie Kondo, has increased in popularity, Caboodle’s survey shows that people are still reluctant to declutter – ironically because of what they might throw away.

Though we know that clutter often causes us stress, more than half are not willing to declutter as they worry they might throw away something that they would need again (50%) or that they’d get rid of something that they have an emotional attachment to (55%).

Commenting on the emotional decluttering effects of a clear-out, Leone Ashby from Cluttercation, one of Caboodle’s decluttering experts, said: “Decluttering is a cathartic experience and brings peace and zen into your home. The initial fantastic feeling when you see your treasured room, wardrobe or pantry transformed is euphoric.
However, there is an art to decluttering that ensures this feeling prolongs without any regret for items you could have used in the future or you had great attachment to but may not have a need for today”.

Introducing the ‘Caboodle’ Method
– keep, save, throw
Marie Kondo’s method of decluttering encourages us to “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy”.

The Caboodle Method is all about how and, if so, when items bring a benefit to you and your life.

There are three key steps:
Keep items that you need and use now, consider if you have an emotional attachment to them, do they inspire you or do they bring a benefit to your life right now?

Save items that you cherish, inspire you and bring a benefit to your life but you don’t need right now by storing in a safe and organised place outside the home making more space!

Throw away (or donate to charity) items that you haven’t used or considered for six months and have no emotional attachment to.

Why save?
It avoids that feeling of regret and is a more sustainable option. Saving these items outside the home will save on space but the items are at your fingertips whenever you need them again.

Examples of items include:
• Winter wardrobe in the summer and vice versa.
• Children’s toys and clothing – for your next child/a friend.
• Holiday items you only use once a year.

Top tips for decluttering:
1. Start decluttering one room at a time, starting in one corner so to not overwhelm you, take items and sort them into the three categories keep, save and throw. Bonus tip: Always leave the room and take a short
break before you finally make your decisions.
2. Always use big crates or bin bags to sort items into piles – it makes the clean up so much easier.
3. Have cleaning products to hand as you declutter so you can clean as you go.
4. Never feel regret. If you can’t disassociate yourself from treasured possessions that you just can’t use at the moment then ‘save’ them by using a storage solution that will keep everything organised.
5. Always check with other members of your family on the key items you are ‘throwing’, to make sure everyone is happy and no one else wants the items.

Caboodle storage is all arranged online at and they will deliver free boxes, then collect and protect your belongings from as little as £1.40 per week.

Hothouse or greenhouse? Surviving or thriving?

By | Education, environment, family, fun for children, Mental health, play, Relationships, Safety
by Tamara Pearson
Senior Teacher (Curriculum), Our Lady of Sion Junior School

One cannot foresee the pressure you put on yourself as a parent when the midwife first hands your newborn to you. Which nappies are best? Will this car seat save my child’s life? What does my pram say about us as parents? These soon turn to comparisons over when children learn to crawl, walk and talk. Once at school age, we cannot help but wonder “where is my child in the class?”, “are they happy?”, “does the school of our choice match the needs of our child(ren)?”

We all want the best for our children. So what do we go for? The ‘hothouse’ or the ‘greenhouse’? Are our children just ‘surviving’ or truly ‘thriving’?

To even begin to answer these questions, we must consider what the true purpose of education and the role of schools is. What are our children learning and why? How are they learning? How is failure perceived? How are children assessed and how is that communicated? Is learning/attainment ‘fixed’ or is there genuine room for growth and development of the mind?

Research shows that childhood anxiety is the highest it has ever been. Circumstances, finances, relationships, expectations, social media, diet and exercise all play their part. What are schools doing to address these challenges? Fostering an authentic mindset in students is crucial; the jobs they will have in the future may not yet exist today.

Much has been made of Growth Mindset in the world of work and education, but, in reality, this is not enough. In order to prepare children for life’s challenges, they need a full toolbox of skills. Having a proactive/positive approach needs to be underpinned by social, emotional, and academic tools in order to fully educate the whole child. It is not about just working hard, it is about working smart.

As professional educators, it is our responsibility to prepare children in moving beyond being passive consumers of information and toward becoming active innovators. We must actively inspire and provide genuine opportunities to develop children’s passions.

At our school, our children are driven by our ethos ‘Consideration Always’. As role models to the school community and beyond, we entrust them to develop and demonstrate the best version of themselves. Children develop when they are given the opportunity to do so. Mary Myatt’s philosophy of ‘high challenge, low threat’ leadsthe way.

Expecting consistent productivity and positivity is not realistic, attainable, or even desirable; we may flit between fixed and growth mindsets. This is okay. The clincher is to remember that whatever setbacks we face, we can reflect/process our thoughts, then jump back in the saddle and continue the ride to our intended destination.

Equipped with a well-developed toolkit of social, emotional, and academic skills, every child can take on inevitable setbacks (and pressures of success) with integrity, resolve and good humour.

Tamara Pearson is a member of the Senior Leadership Team at Our Lady of Sion Junior School in Worthing.
She is also mother to a six year old who attends Sion and is passionate about helping the Juniors embrace every enrichment opportunity available.
She is a UK Parliament Teacher Ambassador and in the last three years has seen Sion Juniors rewrite its Curriculum, assessment approach, create an Intergenerational Project, achieve Beach School status, Eco Schools Silver Award and make meaningful links with the community.
www.sionschool.org.uk

Parenting attitudes

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

Parents in the South East give the most praise, opt for reasoning over shouting and believe kindness is the most important attribute for their children to have, according to the results of an international parenting study.

As many as 94% of parents in the region agree that they regularly praise their youngsters – the highest of anywhere in the UK. Hugs and love are also a favoured method of rewarding good behaviour, with 53% of parents in the region siting affection as their chosen reward.

When it comes to discipline, parents in the South East value reasoning with children more than parents elsewhere in the UK. However, they are also the most likely to resort to using the silent treatment. 15% of those surveyed admitted to using this punishment – almost three times more than the UK average.
Kindness is the attribute that parents in the region believe is the most important for children to have, according to the research. They also value their youngsters being fun more than parents elsewhere in the country.

Insights into the region’s parenting style have been released following international parenting research conducted by My Nametags (www.mynametags.com), a global provider of name tags for children. The company compared the attitudes of thousands of European parents with children aged 16 and under and found that British parents are the strictest in Europe.

When it comes to discipline amongst British parents, over a third admit to being firm with their children – more than other EU countries.

Parents in the UK are also more likely to resort to star charts and bribery to encourage good behaviour. In fact, while a quarter of Brits use star charts as a form of discipline, this is less common overseas. Only 5% of parents in Italy and Portugal use the same approach.

At mealtimes, 48% of British parents expect children to eat ‘grown up’ foods and have good table manners. Over half uphold rigorous bedtime routines, while nearly 60% admit to regularly saying ‘no’ to things to teach their children patience. It seems the British parenting style is most different from those in Italy, where parents are the least strict. In fact, one-third of Italian parents admit to not being firm at all with their youngsters.

While British parents may be the strictest, they allow children to be far more independent from an early age compared to other countries, according to the research. Only 70% offer children help with everyday tasks – 10% less than the rest of Europe.  This might explain why UK residents are among the least likely to still live with their parents after the age of 18.

How to help your child remember things

By | Education, Mental health
by The Arts College, Worthing

We help parents who want to help their child remember information for their tests. We teach parents how to engage their child in their education by showing them a fun way to study. This gives children the confidence to find their own way of learning.

We see many parents who do not understand how stressful going to school can be for a child. Children hear their parents say, “Being a kid and going to school is great! You have no responsibilities – like paying bills.”

The mistakes that most people make are:
1. Assuming school is easy.
2. Thinking that school is not stressful.
3. Thinking that children must “just get on with it.”

Later on in this article, we’re going to show you the three tips and secrets to help you support your child as they build their school learning process. These tips will help them grow in confidence and self-esteem.

This excerpt is a report from The Guardian: “Meanwhile, the Social Market Foundation has published a report arguing that the government should fund after-school family literacy classes in primary schools, to tackle inequality by helping parents take a more active role in their children’s education.”

The report discussed the percentage of each race struggling to focus in school. With art classes being squeezed out, it is no surprise that the decrease of focus is due to ‘creative and active lessons’ dropping considerably. It doesn’t matter the race, colour, or language of the student. We have worked with many children from different ethnic races and backgrounds and have concluded that the cause is that there are not enough tools to support parents or teachers to change their approach to learning creatively.

School is a stressful part of life, in the same way as applying for your first job or renting a home is, even though there isn’t finance involved. The processes that we use to work through solutions, learn, and grow are built in school. We have worked with many children and adults who want to better remember information so that they can perform better in school and in life.

Here are three tips that we recommend:
1 Look at the times that they are learning the best.
We find that children attend school the whole day, come home, eat, and go back to doing their homework. They need at least a full hour of rest from learning to give their brains time to recharge. The activities need to be about play, creativity, and fun, without direction or control.

2 Have an area of study that is attractive.
A desk is very important. Not only does it improve physical health, but it sets a very clear difference between when it is time to focus and when it is time to play. This will help minimise distractions. Have a board in front of them with colourful notes and images – the more attractive it looks to your children, the more they will want to make the effort to learn.

3 Study with images and creativity.
We have had many students come to me saying that they are struggling to remember parts of their lessons. There are creative ways to teach these lessons that will help them remember the information more easily. For example: if they are learning about the body, draw it on a piece of paper stuck to the wall. Colour code it – use colours, stickers, or markers and have fun. The more you use images to learn – whilst writing alongside the images – the quicker the information will be retained in their memory. Every time they walk past the image, their brain takes a ‘photo’ of the image, which naturally pops up with ease when writing their tests/exams.

Bonus tip: Attend art classes or other creative classes.
This helps your child to learn differently because they are solving, exploring, and building with their creativity. This teaches their brain to learn and remember the information the same way.

Art Psychology is a new area of study – a tool for parents to learn how their children’s brain grows as well as develops emotionally and socially in their home.
The Arts College in Worthing. Call 01903 529 633
www.kidsartsussex.com

Future-proofing body and mind – playing the long game

By | children's health, Education, family, Mental health
by Clare Eddison
The Dharma Primary School

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”
Krishnamurti

“There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning.”
Krishnamurti

Children spend most of their childhood at school, (from nursery, primary, through to secondary and beyond) and all the time they are growing up. As parents and carers, we can ask ourselves: “What skills will our children need for this journey and what will help them become successful and happy in their lives?” In these times, we also ask how we can ensure our children are healthy and protected from risks and threats that we perceive and read about, for instance with regard to the internet and screens. Many well-researched articles focus on the declining mental and physical health of our children – it is part of the zeitgeist. How will our children fare when they are older?

It is also true that all children and young people experience powerful anxiety, confusion, distress and rage at points.
Living in a family, making relationships with peers and making mental connections in order to learn are emotional matters. Experiences of disappointment and frustration, at ordinary levels, are as important as achievement and satisfaction.

We want to keep distressing feelings at manageable levels for our children and for most of the time. At the extreme end, it is thought that, in response to prolonged exposure to deprivation or threat, the neurological development of a child’s brain becomes distorted such that the ‘survival’ mechanisms of the brain and body are more dominant than the ‘learning’ mechanisms. This results in wide-ranging impairments in arousal, cognitive, emotional and social functioning.

Whilst this is not the norm, an awareness of the neurological plasticity can help us as parents and educators. There are many things that we can do to ‘future-proof’ our children and build resilience in the journey of growing up. I use the word ‘future-proof’ in this context to talk about the strategies, habits and dispositions we can nurture so that our children can continue to be successful in their future when, as it will, their situation changes.

Our approach at the school, which is universally applicable, is the systematic, consistent and gentle development of a relationship with one’s own mind and body. What follows are just some ideas: as an example, ‘future-proofing’ the body involves a wide awareness of ‘we are what we eat’. This leads to regular contemplations about how our food got to our plate, how our body uses food and a consideration of how much waste we generate. In turn, children’s awareness of their own agency in the world is expanded and deepened.

Here at school our bodies are future-proofed through dance classes, games, and mindful movements. The body-mind link is fostered by regular consideration of movement and stillness, silence and talking. We can include an attitude of care (‘what happens when my body is injured or hurts?’) and, powerfully, we can model the healthy care of our adult bodies through exemplification (for example, staff cycling in to work).

Future-proofing the minds of children is important to all of us. Again, mealtimes can be used as a fertile arena for the whole area of mindfulness. Put simply, mindfulness of eating is ‘just eating’, rather than thinking about other things or talking or watching TV whilst eating. Mindfulness is becoming interested in what is happening in the present moment, with an attitude of kind curiosity. We can use our senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell to ground us in what is happening right now. Similarly, mindful walking is just walking and mindful breathing is just breathing. Children do develop the habit of switching into a more mindful state and are able to use it in times of stress or worry, to zoom out of the sense of tightness that these emotions create.

Why not try it now? See how it feels.

Future-proofing the mind, inclining it to happiness and kindness is something to be practised and there are beautiful, ancient techniques (for instance, ‘loving kindness’ meditation) that can be adjusted to be age-appropriate for all. As another example, recent research reports that gratitude is key to well-being. Gently but consistently making a sense of gratitude part of our everyday conversation will have long-term benefits.

Finally, I would like emphasise play as a sure-fire method of future-proofing. Yes, play! Even older children need to play much more than we realise. Play is one way children explore, try to make sense of and communicate their emotional life. The ability to play also affects neurological development, improving imagination, digital protection, resilience and wellbeing.

The Dharma Primary School, in Brighton, is a non-selective independent school with a philosophy rooted in Buddhist principles.
This year they celebrate their 25th anniversary. Through the practice of mindfulness, the school aims to cultivate wisdom, reflection and compassion in children and to help them unlock their full potential. The Dharma Primary School is a winner of the Independent Schools Association (ISA) AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE & INNOVATION IN PUPILS’ MENTAL HEALTH & WELLBEING.
For more information please go to:
www.dharmaschool.co.uk.