WHY IT MATTERS
The Mental Health Foundation states that 1 in 10 children and young people will experience a mental health problem. This includes depression and anxiety as well as conduct disorder, which will manifest as a direct response to whatever is happening in that child or young person’s life.
The emotional wellbeing of children and young people is equally important as their physical wellbeing. This is because “good” mental health enables children and young people to cope with the various challenges that life throws at them – whether that be starting a new school, a breakdown of relationship or moving to a new house. This will then better equip them for the future, and prepare them for adulthood.
Furthermore, supporting positive emotional health and wellbeing is important because 45% of all ChildLine counselling related to emotional health and wellbeing (NSPCC). This includes self-harm and suicidal thoughts and feelings, emphasising the significance of improving the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
KEEPING CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE MENTALLY WELL
There are various things that we can do to help keep the children and young people in our lives mentally well. This includes:
- Giving them a balanced diet and helping them to do regular exercise – i.e. keeping them in good physical health.
- Giving them time and freedom to play and be creative.
- Taking part in local activities.
- Being part of a supportive family.
The above will help children and young people to be interested in different things. E.g. through regular exercise, they may want to try different sports and new opportunities, and by giving them a balanced, varied diet, they may take up an interest in trying out different recipes.
Having the freedom to play and be creative means they will be able to enjoy themselves, and may lead to other opportunities, such as recognising that they are good at something, e.g. art, music, reading – whatever it may be.
A lot of the above will involve praising and encouraging children and young people.
Firstly, you may want to encourage them to try something new, such as a new food or new game. Even if they don’t like what they have tried, you can still then praise them for giving it a go. You can then go back to encouraging them to try new things, but this time, ask them to come up with suggestions. That way they will feel more engaged and take more ownership.
Providing children and young people with love and support is an important component of their life. This is because when children and young people have a warm and open relationship with their parents/carers, they are more likely to share any troubles and/or concerns with them. When this happens, it is vital that parents/carers effectively listen to them, without judgement, and always take their feelings seriously. This means not dismissing their feelings as otherwise, this can cause children and young people to shut down and will make it less likely that they will speak up in the future due to the fear of being dismissed again. This could be detrimental if the trouble/concern has manifested into a bigger problem. When a child/young person comes to you to discuss a problem, remember to give them whatever they may need – it might just be a hug and reassurance that everything will be okay, they may just want you to listen and for them to get it off their chest, or they may want practical help.
Although negative feelings will usually pass, there are certain risk factors that mean some children and young people will be more likely to experience problems than others will. These risk factors are explored by the Mental Health Foundation and include:
- Having a long-term physical illness
- Having a parent/carer who has/had mental health problems
- Experiencing the death of someone close to them
- Having parents who separate or divorce
- Acting as a carer for a relative and taking on adult responsibilities
In addition, Coronavirus and the pandemic have caused one of the biggest risks society currently faces to mental health. This has resulted in school and college closure, as well as job losses amongst parents/carers. This has caused stress, loneliness and isolation for children and young people, and for their parents and carers. Parents/carers have therefore faced difficulties in keeping children and young people healthy and occupied, and have had to focus more on reducing the anxiety, sadness and depression that children and young people face.
As stated above, negative feelings will usually pass but sadly, for some children and young people, they won’t. However, there are various organisations out there that can help support children and young people whenever they’re experiencing poor mental health. This includes:
- Contact a Family
- Family Lives
- CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
- PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide)
- Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC)
Getting support as early as possible is vital for children and young people – they don’t need to be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. There is no shame in speaking up as any one of us can experience poor mental health at some point in our lives.
Equally important as accessing the necessary help and support is using different activities to encourage positive mental health.
Activities that you can try with children and young people to maintain positive mental health during the Coronavirus pandemic include:
- Baking – making a range of simple cakes and treats. Try Kids’ Cake Recipes
- Dancing – put on your dancing shoes, ask your child to put on their favourite song and have a good dance along (perhaps whilst you’re waiting for the cakes to cook!)
- Yoga and meditation – there are lots of beginner videos on YouTube that you can access. Try Yoga for Teens or Rainbow Yoga for All Ages
- Creativity – try out different crafts such as painting, colouring or making different things.
- Music – share your music with one another and why you enjoy it. Perhaps you can even come up with your own family/household playlist with everyone’s favourite songs.
- Cooking – making different meals together, or perhaps even just making snacks for watching a film, or preparing an indoor picnic. Try Kids’ Cooking Recipes and Kids’ Picnic Ideas
Other ways you can support positive mental health generally is through building positive habits, encouraging interests and listening.
Thank you for reading.