Mental health conditions in children have become a growing concern in recent years with 1 in 10 children being affected by a mental health condition. The most shocking statistic is that 70% of children and young people with mental health conditions have not received appropriate intervention at an early age.
But there are many things that we can do to help children know more about mental health, in the hope that they will be able to recognise if they need help and support at an earlier stage. It is important to remember, that teaching children about mental health does not mean that they will never be diagnosed with a mental health condition. It simply means that children will be able to understand more in regards to thoughts, feelings and emotions. They will know that talking about their mental health is okay and will recognise the importance of looking out for others. Things like this can make a big difference!
As parents, guardians, caregivers, practitioners and responsible adults; it is important that we engage with children, support them and guide them to the very best of our ability.
Little things can go a very long way, here are some of the things that can help children to maintain mental wellness:
- Good physical health, a balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Freedom to play indoors and outdoors.
- Attending a good school which enables the children to excel in their social and emotional development.
- Having opportunities to learn and succeed.
- Listening to them, no matter what it is that they have to say. It may seem silly to you, but to them, it may seem like the world! So it is important to listen and allow them to express themselves.
- If they are struggling to complete a task, encourage them to keep trying and reassure them that they are doing a good job. Give them clues and hints to help them succeed rather than doing it for them to show them how it is done.
- Asking how they are, letting them know it is okay to talk about how they are feeling. Reading stories that engage with emotion and asking relevant questions so the children can learn what each emotion is and when they may feel a certain way. As well as helping them to recognise emotion changes in others.
- Worksheets that are based around mental health, self-esteem and confidence.
- Talks about how to treat your peers and raising scenarios and the various outcomes.
Young people have reported experiencing stigma in regards to their mental health. Therefore it is important to make sure we listen to and support children in all areas from the very start of their lives. Emotions, thoughts and feelings are important to everyone no matter their age. Children may find it more difficult to understand their emotions and find it hard to explain how they are feeling; it is important that we remember that for them it may not be as easy as it might be for us.
65% said that the stigma came from friends, 50% said from their parents, 45% from boyfriends and girlfriends, and 43% from teachers.
This has stopped some young people from applying for higher education, applying for jobs, some have said that the stigma they have experienced has made them want to give up on life.
This shows how important it is to be kind, caring, supportive and empathetic towards others. You do not have to know anything about mental health in order to be there for a loved one.
Children are vulnerable, they learn a lot from observing the behaviour of others. If you are talking about your feelings and asking others how they are; they will understand that it is perfectly okay for them to do the same. We need to make every individual child feel valued and loved so they know that people care about them and that people will want to listen to them and help them in any which way that they can.
We can use story time to teach children about mental health, the importance of including others in play and conversations and much more. There are lots of worksheets available in regards to mental health, we can use colours to represent mood and let the children create a piece of art based on how they feel at that moment. There are endless ways of incorporating mental health into learning, so why is it not done more often?
It is our job, our responsibility to help children grow into resilient, confident and caring adults.