Children’s Mental Health Week

Children’s Mental Health week runs from 3-9 February 2020. The aim of the week is to focus on the importance of looking after our emotional well being from childhood. This year the theme is FIND YOUR BRAVE. The organisers, Place2Be, explain:

Bravery comes in all shapes and sizes and is different for everyone. Bravery can be about sharing worries and asking for help, trying something new or pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. Finding your Brave can build your confidence, self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself. 

‘Life often throws challenges our way. Bravery isn’t about coping alone or holding things in. It’s about finding positive ways to deal with things that might be difficult, overcoming physical and mental challenges and looking after yourself. 

We all have times when we need to Find our Brave.’ 

Place2Be offers an extensive range of resources, from checking that you are a mentally healthy school, tips on starting a conversation around a child’s wellbeing, to whole class activities, as well ideas to use to participate in and publicise the week.

The well being and mental health of young people has been in the headlines over the past few years, with the government declaring children’s mental health a priority with additional funding and a new compulsory health education that is intended to teach children how to look after their mental wellbeing and recognise when friends are struggling.  

Consultant clinical psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, the Chief Executive of mental health charity stem4 says “Schools face huge challenges in dealing with mental health issues in their students, and teachers are on the front line. They witness first-hand the devastating impact of pressures such as exam anxiety, bullying, and family problems. The consequences of these problems are serious, often life-threatening, and teachers are desperate to help …Yet at a time when the need for preventative, early intervention and specialist services are soaring, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to provide the help their pupils need. There’s an urgent need for better support mechanisms in schools, as well as decent funding for the range of mental health services children and young people need.” (The Guardian, June 2018).

The Centre for Mental Health fact sheet identifies that one young person in every ten experiences a mental health problem, whilst Place2Be identifies it as three children in every primary school class. It is clearly an issue for all of us in Education. Yet many of the risk factors lie beyond the scope of the classroom: long-term physical illness; bereavement; having a parent who has had mental health problems, problems with alcohol or has been in trouble with the law; family break up; abuse; poverty and homelessness; caring responsibilities (Mental Health Foundation). 

  • So what can you do, as a teacher, to promote well being and positive mental health?
  • Is there a role that children’s literature can play?

In September 2018 the National Literacy Trust published a report based on a survey of 49,047 UK school children aged 8-18. The report shows a link between mental wellbeing and reading and writing enjoyment and attitudes. Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust says:

“Children and young people today face a multitude of pressures at school, at home and in their social lives. It is imperative that we do everything we can to enable our children to develop the resilience they need to cope with life’s challenges – and our latest research shows that the joys of reading and writing can be hugely beneficial. Not only does a love of reading and writing enable children to flourish at school, but we now also know it can play a vital role in supporting children to lead happy and healthy lives.”

As a response to the report, the National Literacy Trust have worked with Place2Be to develop a series of free wellbeing-inspired teaching resources including assemblies and booklists under the banner Words for Life

Books can be a great starting point for a discussion around well being and mindfulness with even the youngest children. For example, The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright, is a beautifully illustrated rhyming story. It follows a small dinosaur whose worries threaten to overwhelm his enjoyment of the day. The ‘what ifs’ crowd out the joy of the ‘here and now’. Fortunately, The Worrysaurus, has a practical strategy to help him let go of his fears, but what would you do?

Here at Just Imagine, we have researched a selection of titles across all primary phases, to help you prepare for ‘Find your Brave’ and beyond in our Bravery pack. The books explore being courageous, developing resilience, having a growth mindset, taking risks and the role of friendship.

For example, you can discover how Laszlo stopped being afraid of the dark; why Molly was brave; that Ruby discovered how much talking to someone else can help as well as reading of the true life story of Malala Yousafzai who survived being shot in the head to keep fighting for all girls to receive an education.  Whilst the books are powerful in themselves they can also provide an effective vehicle for small group work and whole class discussion.

In addition, we have our Ha Ha Boing book club. The benefits of humour as a mechanism for coping with anxiety are well documented. Helpguide list that laughter relaxes the whole body; boosts the immune system; triggers the release of endorphins; protects the heart by improving blood vessel function; burns calories, diffuses anger and may even help you live longer.  It can stop distressing emotions; helps you relax; shifts perspective; give you common ground. They suggest:

“Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humor and laughter, as you might with exercising, and build from there. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of your life, finding it naturally in everything.”

The Ha Ha Boing book club enables children to do just that. Its collection including Funny Fiction, Poetry and Jokes and High Interest Books has something for everyone. The emphasis of the Ha Ha Boing book club is fun and engagement. Children will take part in read aloud activities such as readers’ theatre, poetry slam, joke telling, games and art based activities. Enticing children who are not yet hooked into the joys of reading can be a challenge. Reading for Pleasure impacts on children’s reading attainment and on their academic achievements more widely. As children move into the junior years, there is often a drop-off in reading at home, which may open up a gap for some children. Others might need an extra injection of enthusiasm and some thoughtful nurturing to help them overcome the hurdle. It is vital to provide a safety net to catch them at this crucial stage. Ha Ha Boing has a high interest, no-pressure approach.  Ha Ha Boing therefore not only encourages those who don’t read to increase their engagement with books but it also gives them a laugh at the same time. Both are beneficial to well being.