Children’s Mental Health Week 5-11th February
Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. Mental Health Foundation
This week marks children’s mental health week. We are always thinking carefully about the physical health of our children; which foods they are eating, how much exercise they are getting, do they have their hat and gloves on to keep them warm? But do we really think about their mental health? Can they suffer from mental health problems too?
I studied Psychology at A-level and then at degree level at university. I have always been fascinated by child development. After university, I trained as a primary school teacher and taught as one for the next 11 years, with the initial intention of becoming an Educational Psychologist. I came across lots of children from all walks of life. What was immediately obvious to me from the very beginning was that of course children can suffer from mental health problems. Some children have utterly horrendous home lives, how could this not have an effect upon their growing minds? I once taught a child who, at the age of 8, was displaying very obvious symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. So much so it really impacted upon their daily life at home and at school.
I understand that we do not want to pigeon hole or label our children unnecessarily, but would it not be more beneficial to help and treat these children before they reach adulthood?
Attitudes towards children’s mental health are now changing, people are starting to wake up to the real problem that we are all facing as a society. I think this is why I feel so driven personally to champion better mental health for all of the family – the mums, the dads and the children. We are all susceptible to suffer from poor mental health at some point in our lives, regardless of our age or gender.
The rising levels of anxiety in my boys
Becoming a mother myself has given me a new appreciation of mental health issues in children. Don’t get me wrong, my two boys are most definitely still little boys. Most of the time they are carefree little boys, playing with their toys and are more than happy tormenting one another! However they do both have very real issues with anxiety – for very different reasons – that we are starting to encounter more often. Another reason I started thinking about mindfulness for my family and why Happy Headspace all came about.
My eldest son
My first born has always been a very caring and sensitive boy. From a very early age you could stare into his big blue eyes and know that there was a very wise soul inside. Life has always had to be very just for him. If someone ever did anything wrong – no matter how big or small – there needed to be a consequence for their actions. I am pleased he has such a clear sense of right or wrong but unfortunately (because of this very black or white attitude) he has found life a little harder to cope with as he has gotten older. His peers (and very often his little brother too!) don’t always toe the line so to speak, and with age they have perhaps become a bit better at hiding their little misdemeanours to the adults around them! This has often left him feeling very distressed and confused about the world.
I have also noticed that he can be a quite afraid of failure at times even at the tender age of 7. I often find him trying to sabotage his homework, or unwilling to have a go, as the little perfectionist within him isn’t happy about the way it looks or the fact that he doesn’t know how to spell a word correctly.
I see a lot of myself in him, unfortunately I think he may have inherited my overly critical nature.
My second son
On the flip side, my second son is the total opposite to my first. I always thought that having two boys would mean they would be carbon copies of each other but that couldn’t be much further from the truth!
My second son loves to be outside and craves a lot of rough and tumble. As he has gotten older my husband and I have started to notice he can crave a lot of sensory input and at times his overall perception of the world could only be described as a little off the chart or perhaps skewed in some way. He can be so perceptive to different sounds, smells, tastes and textures around him, his anxiety levels can go through the roof in a matter of seconds. We have learned the hard way – no noisy hand dryers or public fireworks displays for us!! We have since been advised that he most probably has developmental coordination disorder, something we are now trying to fathom out as a family.
My ultimate aim as a parent
The whole theme of Children’s Mental Health Week is about encouraging our children to be themselves.
“When we have a positive view of ourselves it can help us to cope with life’s challenges, and recognising the different qualities of others can allow us to connect with those around us – which is vital for our own and others’ wellbeing.”
Anxiety is a natural part of life. In evolutionary terms, it forms the most basic of human responses in our fight or flight response to danger. Without it, we wouldn’t have gotten very far as a species but unfortunately nowadays it has become so easy for it to spiral out of control.
As a parent, witnessing these changes in my growing boys, it has highlighted to me that I really do need to equip them with the appropriate tools to deal with these anxieties. They need the skills to grow into happy, well balanced individuals. I am hoping by helping them to become more mindful and aware of their emotions and situations which they find distressing, they will feel more confident to tackle these adversities in the future. Ultimately every parents’ goal for their children I’m sure.
Where to find help
If you are worried about the mental health of a child within your care, have at look at some of these useful links on where to find help;