Hold Them Close – Big Feelings
Shockingly, there were 6,188 suicides in the UK in 2015. Men aged between 40-44 had the highest rate of suicides and female suicides were recorded as the highest in a decade in England. Male suicides are around 3 times higher than female in the UK (statistics from Samaritans 2017 report). Horrifyingly, 1 in 10 children have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition (Children’s Society, 2008).
As a mum, the mental health and wellbeing of my little one, terrifies me. It feels like an invisible danger that could take hold of our little ones and steal them away, without us knowing. It’s a disease that we can’t see, we can only feel the impact that it has upon the ones we love. Mental health conditions do not discriminate, they can affect any one of us. Some people may be genetically predisposed or circumstances in life can impact on our mental health, but it is a personal struggle, unique to the individual. However, it doesn’t need to be a journey that someone travels alone – family, friends, health professionals and organisations can all be sources of support. It’s important we act now to help our children to recognise how they are feeling, learn coping mechanisms and know how to access support.
When teaching in the early years, before having my little one, three things were incredibly important to me to develop in my classroom. Firstly, a safe and secure environment where children felt comfortable to share their feelings and confident that they would be heard and listened to. Good modelling by adults within the setting to help children to understand emotions and develop strategies to overcome challenges. Secondly, the language to be able to express themselves – emotional literacy – to be able to recognise and say how they are feeling. Opportunity to role play situations and solutions, play feelings games, experiment with different expressions in a safe environment. Lastly, helping to develop strategies to be able to support children to help themselves when feelings get too big and to ensure children know who they can turn to for support when they feel overwhelmed.
Now a Mum to my almost two year old, my three important beliefs as a teacher are exactly what I do at home. A loving, sharing and caring environment where the language of emotions is used and encouraged and together we develop strategies to help boost our mental health and our ability to cope with challenges faced.
So, as parents, guardians, family and friends what can you do to help support the mental health of the children you love?
- Let your little one know it is OK to show their emotions – yes even the boys! I do think that there is still a divide in what we think is socially acceptable for boys and girls when it comes to emotions – could that have any reflection in the suicide statistics?
- Give your little one the language to express themselves. Use words to describe emotions and feelings for yourself, them and others.
- Narrate to help them understand. I can see that you are angry because x took your toy. I can see you are upset…. etc. This emotions puzzle can help.
- Calm spot – have a quiet spot where they can go to calm down. I don’t mean the ‘naughty spot’. I mean an area with cushions and blankets and soft toys that they can snuggle with and feel safe.
- Relaxing toys – toys that support mindfulness. Toys that help role play such as dolls/ figures and houses.
- Hugs. Hugs. Then some more hugs! One way to have your baby/ little one close is to use a sling or carrier.
- Show your emotions to help them understand. Children know. Hiding emotions teaches them that they should hide theirs. Now I’m not saying if you are really angry that it’s appropriate to shout and throw things – I’m saying that your little one will know you are angry, so letting them know you’re angry and why (if appropriate) and what you’re going to do to help calm yourself down is teaching them how to cope with anger in future and that it’s OK to feel angry. I remember my Mum crying when our beloved, family cat died and telling me that she was upset because he was part of our family. I understood, I was upset and she taught me it was OK to show how I was feeling.
- Certain situations can be helped by exploring them before hand through roleplay, stories and games such as the arrival of a new baby and a hospital visit for example.
Get further support from –
- Samaritans – Call 116 123 – Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) for men – 0800 58 58 58 – they also have a webchat facility
- Papyrus – for people under 35 – Call 0800 068 41 41 – Text 07786209697
- Childline – for children and young people under 19 – Call 0800 1111 – the number doesn’t show up on your phone bill
- The silver Line – for older people – Call 0800 4 70 80 90