1st – 7th Feb is Children’s Mental Health Week. To commemorate and highlight this important week, I would like to walk with you. Together, we can discover why our children’s mental health matters. We will learn why it is so important to promote and maintain their mental health awareness throughout their lives.
Is your child’s mental health an area you think about often?
One in eight children in the UK have a mental health disorder.
I did not realize how delicate children’s mental health is at the beginning of their life. Now it seems obvious to me. My son is 11 now; I have watched his personality develop and his moods go up and down depending on mine at the time. I have seen anxiety when in certain situations, also behavior swings and watched his mental health grow and overall flourish. Certain huge life-events such as the passing of his two year old sister stuttered this growth and made it falter. Yet, due to the loving presence of his family, his ego picked itself up over time and continued flourishing.
Children’s mental health awareness
ADHD, Anxiety, Depression….
Caring for our mental health applies to children as much as it does adults. We could, in fact say that the state of an adults mental health stems from their childhood. The earlier good mental health is practiced, the less likely the child will suffer from these debilitating types of problems.
The most common mental disorders recorded in children are now ADHD, anxiety and behavior disorders. 17.4% of US children are yearly diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder, aged 2 – 8. This is a huge and rather damming statistic.
Children’s mental health statistics
Behavior problems are most common in the age group 6-11 whereas depression and anxiety increase as they get older.
Another sad statistic is this: in this US age group 5-16, 10% of children have been diagnosed with a mental problem. 70% of this age group who suffer from poor mental health have not had suitable intervention at an early age. A very simplistic question would be: Why the hell not? Unfortunately the answer is complicated and rooted in culture, background and attitudes towards mental health overall.
Children’s mental health matters!
Lets look at this from the very beginning. A child is born into a family. These people that will play a huge part in shaping personality, beliefs and mental health. If the adults in the family have mental health issues, then these will impact on the child’s development. While a child is still young and dependent, they have a very fragile ego that needs nurturing in order for it to develop correctly. If their family situation is complicated, this can result in areas not fulfilling their potential which can lead to disorders. We need to remember that children’s mental health matters as much as their physical.
Being a parent is a hard job at the best of times. Whilst the joys of parenting are widely talked about, the huge responsibility of teaching a child about life, shaping them for society and how to interact with their peers and adults is not mentioned much. It can be a daunting perspective for adults that have a good support network and mental health. Imagine how tricky it could be for those that don’t.
How would we define good mental health?
I believe when mental health is mentioned, most of us imagine problems. Which goes to show what a stigma this part of our health now has. However, we all have mental health and a vast majority actually possess good mental health. But what form does this take and how would we recognise it? Below, I have given us what are the key characteristics of ‘good mental health’.
- Being able to cope with life
- Making the most of your potential
- Having a valid and fulfilling part in your community, family and friendship
These points are just as valid for children as they are adults. Their world is smaller than ours and they rely heavily on the adults in their lives. They do still need to fulfil these areas in order to have good mental health. But as there is still a stigma attached to poor mental health, issues in children are often overlooked or put down to them ‘just being children’.
A child does not always have the capacity to fully express him or herself or even recognize what they are feeling themselves. My 11 year old son is often one such example. Whenever I ask him how he feels, the answer is always ‘good’. He does now, recognise this in himself and sometimes corrects it. This is him understanding, expressing and managing both positive and negative emotions. It is not only when they are very young that they do not understand how or why they are experiencing certain emotions. To recognise these emotions in yourself and what has caused them takes a certain level of maturity. When they are young, it is up to their parents to teach about emotions, respect, interaction etc. This is often done by example and realizing how much our children’s mental heath matters.
Loosing my daughter was an extremely turbulent time for my family. As a mother, I was devastated but I had to be aware of my son’s mental health as well as mine. I was constantly aware of the intense emotions that swirled in all of us. Somehow I managed to grieve but be a parent to my living child at the same time. I know from my grief that I did not do it perfectly but my son and I have a strong relationship. I constantly talked to him; we got through a very tough period of change and uncertainty and he developed an ability to cope with stressful situations.
This year, Place2Be has themed Children’s Mental health week as ‘Express Yourself’. It is extremely important for all of us to express ourselves. For children, it can aid in the footprint of their lives. To be able to recognise how you feel, why and be able to express this is a fundamental part our emotional and mental development. It can massively influence how we interact in the world as both children and adults and in the relationships we form.
By being creative, we are allowing ourselves to share our thoughts and feelings. Through the power of artistic expressions such as dance, writing, poetry, art, photography and music we release our emotional side and essentially let our personality fly. My personal favorites are dance and writing. Through both, I feel released, happy and like I flow. If I am tense, it relaxes me. When my mind is wondering, they focus me. Then, If I am calm, they transport me. I have never felt anything apart from very happy, satisfied and emotionally stable after dancing or writing. They are both part of my being and mental stability.
Children are often too young to be able to recognise and understand the complexities of their mental health and why it matters. Which is why having the arts as an integral part of the school curriculum is important. They are part of how a child can show others and him/herself who he/she really is. After this, hopefully comes acceptance from society and helps in building individual stability.
I intend to take part in this week with my son. We are going to ‘express ourselves’ by choosing our outfits according to our moods that day. Color is important for reflecting our moods. For example, the other day I saw a patch of blue sky and it was warmer than it has been recently. So my mood was better and I wore sparkly shoes which also increased my mood. So we will be examining our moods each day, then having our wardrobe match that.
We are also in lockdown at the moment which can vastly affect children’s mental health. Luckily, both of us have adapted well. As I work in a school, I am still getting interaction with adults and my son is communicating with his friends on his Xbox. I do worry about the longterm effects on him however. Interaction over a screen is not the same thing as face to face contact and cause disruption in social growth. We have so far been fortunate not to experience any loss, changes to our situation or family problems but the situation causes instability for all.
My son is on a screen for a large proportion of the day between Monday and Friday as, like all other children now, school is virtual. This has caused headaches, way too much screen time and too little human interaction. So, to take note of this week, in break time and after school, we will be pursuing art activities. He very much enjoys drawing so we will draw together, not from a video and without instructions. Just whatever enters our mind, with the colors we choose. We will also listen to music and dance. Whatever we feel we need to do to express how we are feeling. Lastly, we will chat in the evenings about our day, what color we are now ‘feeling’ and if we can recognise why/if there is a change.
To also make sure we both take part in this amazing week, we will record our ideas and progress on the Children’s Mental Heath Week Map.
Ideas to stimulate the growth of your child’s positive mental health
Be there to listen
Ask how your child is feeling and share how you feel. If your child does not feel they can open up in the space they are in, maybe go somewhere else.
Be aware of any problems
If your child is starting to act differently, be there to help and support them. Help them by listening to them and try to explain
If your child is troubled, they will feel safe, loved and understood if they feel you are listening and interacting when talking about the issue.
By encouraging children to have interests, you are encouraging social stimulation. This allows your child to express the artistic side of their personality.
Children love and thrive on routine. I have definitely noticed that with my son over the years. A regular bedtime and exercise are important. It lets your child’s body and mind develop well and lets them know what to expect each day.
I now feel satisfied that my son will be ok once this epidemic has ended. That I am keeping an eye on and looking after the healthy growth of his ego and mental health. We are supporting each other and express our feelings and ideas. This ensures that our creative side is expressed as much as the academic learning. By taking part in the activities in this valuable week, I will also be teaching him his mental health matters. Then he can recognise and look after his own and also promote awareness in others.
If your child’s school is participating in this week, do the activities together. Your child will feel included and important. If the school is not, check out Place2Be’s website and also the NHS. There are lots of fantastic ideas and also pinpoint areas for us to look out for. We not only need to support the mental health of the young but also the adults currently ruling the world!
Children’s mental health matters!