Updated: Feb 9
It's Children's Mental Health Week, so I find myself writing on here about some of my favourite clients - children! I feel it's really important that we discuss children and their mental health. Whilst things are changing nowadays, our awareness is ever growing and though there are massive improvements to the support young people are given, we, as a society are quite clearly facing a rise in the challenges to the mental health of our young. There are lots of factors which I talk of in this blog and hopefully you'll find lots of what you read here useful.
🧠 The visual above, is just a sample of a fraction of your young person’s mind. We want the best for them in this time but we need to be aware that our children are also busy dealing with 💩 in amongst the unicorns 🦄 and rainbows 🌈
🧠 They are learning at an early age to juggle pressures that are very real for them. 'Good' stuff happens and sometimes 'bad' stuff happens but all the time they are mindful of the bigger picture, though it may oftentimes seem they care very little for it, and are quite centred on 'self'.
🧠 Younger children are developing their linguistic capability to articulate their experiences, but their feelings are so much more rooted in their direct experience - they refer to sensation. They are far more in tune with their 'sense' than many of us as adults. When language grows, thought and thinking does too, and as that ability grows, so does our ability to make 'stories' out of our experience, rather than be with the experience itself. As we grow the ’story of the events‘ helps the brain to store and retrieve. An example that might help to explain the difference- It's like describing the rain is not the same as directly experiencing the rain.
🧠 When children begin to express that something is not feeling right - they may talk of tummy aches, feeling sad etc... - their physical experience. As adults we have a temptation to do one of two things:
(i) Instantly label it and share that label to the child which helps us more than it helps them, to work out what's going on for them. For example, we may ask
'Are you feeling anxious?' The child may respond with 'What does that mean?' and we then go on to give them chapter and verse on what we might think that means for them, based on our own experience. In that moment, we've passed on our own experience to our child, and whilst we do it with good intention, it gives the child language to elaborate on the direct experience, but it's your language, not theirs. I always find it interesting when I ask a child 'What's going on for you?' and they reply- 'I'm anxious'...I immediately know that someone planted that 'word' in their timeline, because it's quite a grown up word when you think about it. The direct experience is being felt totally in their body and they act accordingly. We sometimes inadvertently help to build the infrastructure that creates the story that they go on telling to themselves, which then will trigger the body response, and then you get into a chicken and egg situation.
or (ii) As adults we sometimes erroneously think that the ‘worries’, concerns and preoccupations of younger generations can’t be ‘that bad’ and are dismissive, reasoning that they just need to ‘grow up’. Actually all those things that matter/bother them that trigger certain responses, will shape their decisions and choices that they make in their tomorrow, if they go ignored and unacknowledged. It's not that we must overdo with attention either.
It's a delicate balance, that as parents/guardians is sometimes hard to strike! I know - believe me!
🧠 Children in this day in age have so much to contend with ordinarily- they’re growing up in a digitalised, ever ‘switched on’ and socially ‘influenced’ world. Connections and friendships, and understanding those boundaries and parameters are so much harder. The pandemic has just added another layer of complexity to an already challenging process of ‘growing up’.
Instead, they are now dealing with real ‘disconnect’ 💔 and disruption in those human relationships that they were trying to work out.
🧠 In amongst all this, they are trying to understand themselves with no reference to anything currently other than what they are exposed to.
🧠Whilst being assigned to ‘home life’, their world has suddenly got smaller overnight, which can either present a sense of safety or a sense of claustrophobia- wherever on the sliding scale it can feel intense. Imagine that there is nobody else to reflect with other than your parents who are of a completely different generation, or if you have them, your siblings who may/may not be cognitively on your wavelength. Whilst some children are happy to at least keep communicating, others may 'turn off' feeling those at home just don't understand them, it's just easier to talk less. It's a challenge for us as adults, and for children/adolescents it's no different.
🧠 Sometimes they may want to ‘escape’ the discomfort as lots of us adults do - but choosing that ‘escapism’ requires a ‘wisdom’ they may not yet have understood to value. Social media and chat groups, whilst keeping people connected, can be a minefield for young adolescents, unless they themselves cultivate strict boundaries about the way they use them as tools to socialise. Negative impacts, are reinforcing those tendencies for comparison, and then fuelling negative self talk.
🧠How do they begin to make sense of themselves for themselves? How as parents/guardians can you help them?
(i)Share with them that as a parent you don’t have all the answers and sometimes aren’t always best placed to help them with everything even though you’re totally ‘with them’ 💯
(ii) Introduce them to resources that may help, groups and organisations that help people with mental health e.g. www.place2be.org.uk or www.youngminds.org.uk
(iii) If they need to talk to someone impartial who can teach them some techniques and give them coaching to resource and empower themselves- I’m here, and pride myself on assisting that parent, child dynamic.
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The important thing to note about me is: I’m not their parent, friend, family or educator...so that already puts me in a different space to most in their life. ♥️🙏🏽