Category

Mental health

lonely child at christmas

Coping at Christmas

By | Christmas, Mental health, Relationships
by Edmond Chan
Childline Supervisor
image by Ross Bolger

For many children and families, Christmas can be the most magical and exciting time of the year. But for many others Christmas can also be a more difficult and challenging time. This Christmas, Childline is preparing to help thousands of children and young people, both day and night, as many struggle to cope with loneliness during the festive period. There are many reasons why children may feel lonely at Christmas – some may be struggling with their mental health whilst others may be in homes that are not safe.

What is loneliness?
Children and young people don’t need to be physically alone or cut off to feel lonely. They might be surrounded by other people but still feel like they’re on their own. Maybe they’re struggling to make friends or have low self-esteem. Loneliness can make young people feel down. It’s natural for children to feel lonely at times.

Reasons why children and young people can feel lonely at Christmas can include:
• Feeling misunderstood and ‘invisible’, while those closest to them struggle to understand their feelings.
• Ever-growing influence of social media in their lives leading them to compare themselves negatively to others.
• Struggling to fit into new surroundings after moving house or changing school.
• Losing someone close to them after a death or broken relationship.
• Bullying.
• Experiencing abuse or neglect.
• Don’t get on with their family.
• Have an illness or disability.

As a result of their low mood young people will often spend a lot of time in their bedrooms or online, which can exacerbate their loneliness. In the worst cases some may feel so desperate that they self-harm to cope with their negative feelings, or may even contemplate ending their own life.

One 15-year-old girl who contacted Childline last Christmas said: “I feel sad all the time and keep thinking about suicide. I just don’t want to be here and cry all the time. I have so many bad thoughts and I am glad Christmas day is over as I feel like I should be happy and have to put on a fake smile for my family. It’s really hard to deal with life.”

What signs should parents look out for if they think their child may be struggling this Christmas?
Symptoms and signs can change from person to person but typical things to look out for include angry outbursts at themselves or others, becoming withdrawn from friends and family, irritability as well as problems eating or sleeping.

If you’re worried your child might be experiencing loneliness and unsure what to do, we have some advice to help support you both:
• Start a conversation when no-one will interrupt, perhaps during a bike ride or car journey.
• Try to stay calm if your child tells you something alarming as it may stop them from confiding in you again.
• If your child isn’t ready to talk straight away try again in a few days’ time.
• Listening is important and shows your child you value what they’re telling you.

The first step is always to talk to your child. Ensure it’s in a safe environment and talk to them about how they’re feeling.

A child should never feel so isolated and helpless that they see no way out. We all have a part to play in helping a young person before they reach crisis point. It is vital that children and young people know they always have someone to talk to and they never have to suffer alone, which is why Childline is always here for them.

Childline’s advice for children and young people who are suffering loneliness is:
• Take a break if your family is starting to annoy or upset you.
• Don’t compare your Christmas to other people’s, or what’s said on social media. Every Christmas is different.
• Tell someone you trust how you feel.
• Track how you feel in a mood journal.
• Think about positive things.
• Don’t be hard on yourself – it can take time to feel better.
• Visit the loneliness and isolation page on the Childline website for more advice.
• Call Childline free and in confidence on 0800 1111 or visit www.childline.org to chat to a counsellor online.

Christmas is the time of year where we think about children, and most of them are happy, excited and loved. But for some children, Christmas can be the hardest time of the year. Childline will continue to be there for all children who feel they have nowhere else to turn – this Christmas and beyond.

Children can call Childline at any time on 0800 1111,
visit www.childline.org.uk or download the ‘For Me’ app.

Any adult concerned about the welfare of a child or young person can call the NSPCC helpline for free 24/7 on 0808 800 5000.

Just £4 pays for Childline to answer a call this Christmas from a child in need of support, to donate visit www.nspcc.org.uk

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

dancing tutu

Dance is good for the soul

By | dance & Art, fun for children, Mental health
by Lynda Forster
Dance Art Studio

Exactly what benefits can dance classes offer kids? The list is endless and not just about learning a few steps to perform… Apart from the physical elements of helping to keep them fit and active, dance is also proven to benefit their mental health and social skills which is something we should all be focusing on more during these times.

Children always leave a dance class happy and relaxed even if they’ve had an ‘off’ day or they’ve been feeling a little reluctant to join in at the beginning of the lesson. Whilst engaged in the lesson, the movements produce endorphins which channels their negative energy into a positive calm and those feelings of stress and anxiety will soon disappear, so not only are they staying physically healthy they are staying mentally healthy in a fun way, learning a new skill.

It takes time and lots of patience to master new steps. When children listen to music and learn a dance to its rhythms – it stimulates their brain which improves their cognitive abilities. Children are constantly reminded about when they were babies they fell over many times until they could walk properly, they kept practising until they could and this seems to resonate with them. These are coping mechanisms which are valuable life skills.

Feeling healthier both physically and mentally will push them towards great things in the future. Working in a consistent lesson setting will also help your child’s self-esteem grow as they dance and share ideas with their friends and peers. An atmosphere of trust and support is necessary for a dance group – that feeling of support, community and camaraderie is also beneficial towards their mental wellbeing when outside of their normal comfort zones.

So many wonderful friendships can be formed through this physical art form, the emotional connection of creating movement together and sharing ideas is therapeutic. For younger children this will involve something as simple as galloping in pairs, waiting their turn and then both working together trying to win ‘stars of the lesson’. These could be awarded for the happiest dancing smile, the pointiest toes or the best posture, and for older children there are mimes, choreography tasks to encourage expression and creative thinking. Eventually leading them through to having a dance exam partner throughout their grades, this can be for 10 or more years, so having someone to share the same experiences and love is truly magical for them – many of our past students remain friends in adulthood.

Being a dance student certainly keeps them busy and during their tween and teens years they’ll hopefully prefer spending their spare time rehearsing with their network of dance friends rather than slouching around on their phones looking at negative social media posts and constantly comparing themselves to others – so investing in dance lessons certainly has an endless list of positives. For you, seeing your child develop from a preschool ballet and dance movement class through to a young person able to perform ballet en pointe or tap dance and shine on stage is a wonderful journey.

Recent studies suggest continuing dance and exercise during important academic exams such as GCSE’s can help to re-focus, lay down information in the brain and subsequent recall. Teen brains are wired to seek fun and pleasure, so surely if they stop all their fun creative hobbies during these exam periods they will not have the mindfulness benefits that dance provides – yes exam success is very important but a top grade academic record is of no use if your mental health is suffering. It’s about balance and time management which again is another life skill. Many students have told me that having dance helped get them through these exams.

Dance teachers themselves have often danced since they were young children and have followed their passion, they love what they do and have so much to give back, children feed off this positive energy. Dance teachers are normally very good at reading ‘vibes’ by the way their dancers perform in lessons. Unlike academic teachers, a child will often have the same teacher for a number of years, from tot to teen, so they become a stable person in their life and someone they can confide in during difficult times and who can offer support.

Continuing dance lessons online throughout the lockdowns has certainly been richer for many children and young people and although you can never create the same atmosphere as in person lessons, having that familiar connection and social aspect to look forward to certainly helped keep them physically and mentally motivated and kept their interest alive. It’s also given them a new found confidence as they’ve adjusted to solo learning.

Dance Art Studio is located in the Fiveways and Preston Park area of Brighton offering pre-school ballet and dance for 3-4-year-olds and graded ballet, tap, modern theatre dance and street as well as boys only tap and jazz. Exams and performance opportunities. We also hold holiday workshops. www.danceartstudio.co.uk

dad-and-son-reading

My top five books for little people’s BIG EMOTIONS…

By | Education, Mental health, reading
by Sophy Henn
Children’s author

It was reading picture books to my daughter that made me want to create my own. I was in awe of their power to excite, inform, empower and soothe, to convey quite complex messages and emotions in a way that both my daughter and I could relate to, all whilst keeping us entertained. Picture books can be such a brilliant way to start conversations of all sorts – picky eating, feeling good about yourself or even bad moods.

Being little is awesome, obviously, but it can also be quite tough too. There is just so much new stuff all the time! New situations, new people, new emotions, it’s just relentless. And all of these new situations require new responses, there’s so much to work out and then learn from our mistakes. Exhausting! And don’t get me started on the hormones (who knew they started so early? Well, science apparently) and the rollercoaster they take everyone on. Phew. So it’s no wonder all these feelings can sometimes be a lot.

I remember the first time my daughter had a proper shouty meltdown. When it subsided we all stood there shocked and stunned, but I don’t think any of us were as shocked as her. And that is why I believe that reading about these ‘moments’ and emotions is such a great thing. Watching other characters go through these situations affords everyone some perspective, the chance to have a chat about things in a calm way and maybe even have a chuckle about it all.

So after much wrangling, here are my top five books about those BIG EMOTIONS for little people. Enjoy them as a wonderful story or maybe use them to start a conversation, whatever you do I hope you love them as much as I do.

Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
One of my all time favourites. I adore how Max’s mood transports him to the place he needs to go to in order to exorcise his bad mood. After proving himself the wildest of the wild things, Max realises his wild feeling has now gone and been replaced by not such a nice one – loneliness. So he returns home. Sendak perfectly captures that rollercoaster of emotion a bad mood can take you on. Let the wild rumpus begin!

Barbara Throws a Wobbler
by Nadia Shireen
Nadia Shireen, has made Wobblers a physical presence in her wonderful, brand new picture book. I love how you can see Barbara literally wrestle with her bad mood and watch it shrink before her very eyes, once she alters her behaviour. A valuable message for us all! I think children will really respond to seeing a bad mood as an actual character, helping them realise they own the mood not the other way round. And who doesn’t love the word wobbler?

Grumpy Frog
by Ed Vere
Borne out of frustration with all the intolerant voices that seem to shout so loudly at the moment, Ed Vere created Grumpy Frog, who disputes this label by declaring he is actually very happy, but only so long as everything is going his way. When other ideas, suggestions and even colours impinge on his day, things start to get grumpy. But then Grumpy Frog meets a lovely green crocodile! What could go wrong? A great book to start discussions about compromise and empathy.

My No, No, No Day
by Rebecca Patterson
An absolute classic that I have only just discovered. This book takes us on the journey of Bella’s No, No ,No Day. Things start off wrong for no particular reason, and only get worse, right up until bedtime. But then Bella acknowledges her bad day to mummy, and they both hope for a better one tomorrow. A truly relatable story, grounded very much in the everyday but with such a great use of language (ballet is described as ‘too itchy’ – genius!) and such hilarious illustrations it can’t help but make you smile through Bella’s bad mood.

The Best Worst Day Ever
by me!
The idea for this book came from my childhood. When I was little and having a ‘moment’, when things all got ‘a bit much’, I would go for a big, dramatic exit and ‘runaway’. This involved me running to the end of the (not very big at all) garden and hiding behind the shed, convinced everyone would be desperate with worry and truly sorry for making me have a bad mood. I would wait for what felt like hours (probably only about five minutes) and then realise I was bored, probably hungry, felt a bit silly and wanted to go back inside. But after such an exit, such high emotion, it felt like there was rather a hurdle to overcome in order to ingratiate myself back into the house. And this is what happens to my main character Arthur, only his hurdle is a huge, dark forest that has sprung up between him and home during his post running-away pondering. As there is not time to go around it, Arthur must go through it and we follow Arthur’s journey as he meets some characters along the way who help him work through his bad mood, turning a stomp into wiggle, and a huff into a hoot.

I have loved creating this book and my hope it that it is not only enjoyed as a story in it’s own right, but might just gets kids and their grown-ups dancing away the grumps as well!

The Best Worst Day Ever by Sophy Henn is out now published by Simon & Schuster Children’s Books.

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.

Sports is so much more than just sports

By | Education, fun for children, Mental health, Playing, Sport
by Jenny Spires
Brighton Girls

As we emerge from the pandemic, the focus in schools is very much on providing children with as many opportunities to play the sports they have missed out on and rekindle social skills and friendships that may have waned during lockdown.

Sounds fun, right? Well, yes, but it’s so much more than that – encouraging pupils to participate in sport is now known to play a crucial role in building a child’s confidence and emboldening them to be risk-takers, which underpins all that they do now and in later life.

Many studies have shown solid links between sport participation and the development of strong self-esteem and self-belief. An analysis in The Sport Journal, a peer-reviewed title published by the US Sports Academy, showed that taking part in sport before university was directly related to higher self-esteem and these findings are echoed across the world in various research projects that show a relationship between sport and better wellbeing, happiness and lower anxiety levels.

So, let’s break that down. What is it about participation in both individual and team sports that fosters this personal development?

Handling mistakes
No one gets good at a skill or sport without making a lot of mistakes along the way. A child quickly learns that mis-steps and hurdles are a vital part of their journey to becoming a better footballer, tennis player, swimmer, runner, cyclist or anything else – and realises that nothing terrible happens when they make those mistakes. This flowering of a resilient attitude and an acceptance that mistakes don’t equal failure is a hugely important life skill which leads to bolder risk-taking (and potentially greater rewards) in life. Making mistakes and having the self-esteem to know that those mistakes are not a reflection on your ability but simply a necessary experience on your journey is a priceless attribute.

Dealing with stress Children have faced more stress than we could have ever imagined in the last year or so and have had to find ways of coping with it. We know that the demands of playing for a team or striving for personal success in an individual sport require channeling all your thoughts and energies into the moment which frees the mind temporarily from ongoing stress. To develop the ability to switch off daily concerns and focus on your sport teaches the mind that this is possible, that you can control your stress levels and put them aside.

Understanding the link between practise and success
Children sometimes need reminding that success is, of course, related to effort and sports and skill-building are constant reminders of this. As children continue to commit to turning up for team practice, going out in the rain to try and beat their PB or heading off down the skatepark again to perfect that ollie, the realisation solidifies that they and they alone control their chances of success. When they see improvement, they know it was brought about by their own hard work. That knowledge brings confidence in their own ability every time they turn out to play.

This applies to the rest of their lives outside of sport. When you have self-confidence based on hard work, even when you don’t succeed, you can keep morale high. You understand the causal link between your ability to put work in and improve.

Friendships
Unlike a child’s handpicked friendships group, a sports team is made up of all sorts of different characters who your child may not have naturally befriended. Yet, sharing a common goal (to get better and win) unites those children and social skills are forged. This ability to rub along with everyone is a wonderful confidence builder (“if I can do it in sport, I can do it everywhere else in my life too.”)

Winning and losing and a healthy mindset
Great sportsmen and women have learnt how to avoid their self-esteem being dented by losing. It isn’t easy to do this as often confidence takes a knock after below-par performances. But being surrounded by like-minded players and coaches who offer continued support and encouragement really helps and drives players of all ages to improve and keep trying. They learn that losing is only a driver to keep going and strive for better – and what better life lesson could any child learn?

For more information, visit www.brightongirls.gdst.net

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