How to help an anxious child in your class

In my last blog I discussed signs and symptoms of an anxious child, which may help you to spot children in your class who were struggling. 

Being able to identify the issue is only a small part of helping the child while they are at school though. In this blog I intend to show you how easy it is to make school a calm and supportive environment. This is important for all children, but especially those struggling with anxiety.

The most important thing you can do for an anxious child

The single most important thing you can do to help an anxious child is to be as consistent as you can. I appreciate that we all have bad days and teachers are only human (although that is a revelation to most of our students, isn’t it?). The more calm and consistent you can be, the calmer your students will feel. They need to know what to expect from you, and more importantly, what you expect from them.

Routine is also a huge help when tackling anxiety. When we know what is going to happen, how and where there is a deep, instinctive security associated with that.  

In schools there will always be changes to routine because there is a celebration, a visitor or something unexpected has occured. As much as possible though, keep to a routine, especially on a morning and around certain key events. That way the children know that when x happens you expect y. It allows them to feel in control and there is no doubt for them that if they follow that structure you will be happy and they will achieve the desired result.

Celebrate failures. This is a challenge for many of us. We all want to succeed. To be the best we can be. But if we only ever do things we know we will succeed at we limit our potential. There will always be times when we have to stretch our comfort zone and try something new. By showing the children that you don’t get everything right all the time, that you make mistakes and that’s ok. Better than ok, it’s great. It means you were brave, you tried something new and challenging and that is how we learn and grow. 

Sara Blakely, CEO and founder of SPANX, says her father used to ask her and her brother every week at the dinner table; “what did you fail at today?” and if they had something to share he would celebrate it.

If you haven’t watched it before this is a great video about the importance of failing. It is only 4 mins but is a real eye opener if you have always been worried about failing – as so many of us are. 

Unnecessary pressure

Unnecessary pressure can be a real issue in schools. I appreciate that we are all trying to get the best out of the children in our class. We want them to succeed, to be the best they can be. Putting pressure on an anxious child though is going to have the opposite effect. It may only be a throw away comment but it can impact a child for years. I heard recently about a child who had had a prolongued period off school with anxiety. They struggled to return but did, and not just that, did brilliantly in their mocks. They then fell ill and emailed their teachers to get the work they had missed. 90% of their teachers were great and either gave a small amout to catch up, or told them not to worry. One teacher though responded by saying “It’s good to see you are finally taking your studies seriously!”. This child was a high achiever and it was the pressure to succeed and to be the very best that was causing their anxiety. This one comment put them back several steps.

Yes, test results are important, exam results matter, but they are not the end of the world, and certainly not worth sacrificing the mental health of any of your students. Exams can always be retaken.

Be mindful of how much pressure you are placing on your class. Comments such as “last year’s class did brilliantly, but I know that you are going to do even better” may be motivating for some children, but paralysing For an anxious child.

If a child is struggling, the quickest way to calm them down is to ask them to do some breathing exercises (there are lots on my social media accounts and in my free downloads).

Time out 

Allow them to step away from the task, maybe go sit and read quietly for a few minutes. Give them a mental health break. Why not have a soft toy who is a special calming friend who they can talk to and cuddle when they are feeling anxious (You could add a few drops of lavender essential oil every week so that when they have a cuddle it helps calm them down even more?).

Many children will feel calmer if they move around. Why not have dance breaks during stressful times, such as the build up to tests? Giving the children 2-3 minutes to dance, and inevitably laugh too, will calm their physical body and provide a fun distraction. 

Children are unique

Most importantly remember that they are individuals. They may not respond the same way another child you have taught did, and that’s ok. Talk to them. They may not understand how they are feeling, depending on their age, but they might know exactly what will make them feel better.  Make sure you use positive language and nurture their self confidence and self esteem as much as possible. The more confident a child, the more able they feel to cope with stress. 

No two people are the same. We all react differently, we all respond to events differently. Some children love tests because they like a challenge. Others become a nervous wreck at the mention of the word. Some children will enjoy doing some exercise to calm down, but others will just want to sit quietly.  

Watch how they respond. If a child is really struggling, tailor the way you respond to suit them rather than the whole class. An estimated 1 in 8 children under 19 having a diagnosable mental health condition in the UK. This is not something we can ignore. You may have 4 or more children in your class who are really struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues. Remember those are just the children who are severe enough to get a diagnosis. Many more will feel anxious before an exam or during a stressful period either at home or school. 

Mental health issues are no longer things which are rare and often dealt with outside school. All staff need to have a good understanding of the impact this can have on children in school. There must be consistency across the whole school environment.

 

For more help and advice on this subject:

Young Minds

Barnardos

NHS

 

 

How to spot anxiety in students

Anxiety in students is probably the biggest issue in our classrooms at the moment. 

With 1 in 3 of our teenagers diagnosed with anxiety disorders and 7% of 3-17 year olds struggling with anxiety this is not something we can ignore.

 That means that if you teach primary aged children (3-11yrs) statistically our of a class of 30 you will have at least 2 children in your class with anxiety. If you teach secondary (11-18yrs) that increases to 10 in every class of 30!

Just take a moment to let that sink in.

Do you know which of the children in your class might be struggling?

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that as a teacher you are already juggling so many observations and responsibilities that the last thing you need is to be adding mental health officer or counsellor to your job description. 

Here’s the problem though.

We can’t learn when we are feeling anxious.

 If we don’t identify the students who are feeling anxious we may be sabotaging those all important results as well as letting down our vulnerable young people. 

Why is anxiety on the rise?

There are many reasons, I’m going to list the biggest in my opinion:  

  • Greater access to information
  • Inability to escape from peers due to social media and mobiles
  • Too much screen time
  • Not enough time outside
  • Academic pressures
  • Diet
  • Sleep deprivation 

I’m not going to go into these in detail but rest assured all these factors increase anxiety levels dramatically in most people and a combination of all of them is truly toxic.

There is precious little, as teachers, that we can do about these causes of anxiety. What we need to do is to spot the signs, and of course give our students strategies to reduce their stress levels and anxiety.

What are the signs of anxiety? 

  • Feeling sick and light headed
  • Sweating
  • Needing the toilet more frequently than usual
  • Crying
  • Sore or upset stomach 
  • Blushing
  • Headaches and tense muscles
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of appetite or over eating
  • Trembling
  • Trouble sleeping

I know what you’re thinking. Most of these symptoms are either impossible or difficult to spot as a teacher. When you then factor in the fact that many children become incredibly skilled at hiding their symptoms, because having people knowing that they are struggling may add to their anxiety, it becomes almost impossible.

Many children develop elaborate coping mechanisms, for example “acting”. A child may create an elaborate character who is a competent student who is confident and calm and act that way at school so as not to draw attention to themselves. 

Often a child will make themselves “invisible” so that they aren’t called on to speak or demonstrate anything in class. 

Ultimately our mind is very accomplished at protecting us from anything that is threatening or scary. It keeps us safe. 

We could be crying inside with every muscle in our body so tight it feels like it might snap but we can often still paint on a smile and convince the world that we are fine. 

How can we spot those students who may be struggling with anxiety? 

Keep an eye out for students who are resistant to being seen. Those who really don’t want to read aloud, shy away from any tasks that involve being seen or scrutinised. 

Be aware of the perfectionists. Those children who always want to re-start work because something didn’t quite go as planned. Who are never happy with their finished work (if they ever finish).

Look out for the children who appear to be daydreaming a lot. They may be daydreaming (which can be an escape mechanism) but they may also be feeling lightheaded with the pressure of all the learning going on.

Spot the very physically tense children if you can. The ones who clench their jaw or who have very tight, high shoulders.

Notice patterns in behaviour: those who ask to go to the toilet more often than average, the ones who complain of a headache or stomach ache a lot. 

The children who are always tired, despite seemingly having sensible bedtime routines.

None of these are exclusively symptoms of anxiety, but they may be, and if those same children are then underperforming in tests or bursting into tears unexpectedly or over reacting to seemingly small situations, you may do well to check on them.

Most young people won’t tell you that they are feeling anxious or scared. They will communicate their need for help in other ways; they may act out, ask you to play with them, tell you their tummy/head hurts, they are tired. They may constantly ask for help understanding things. This can be a combination of struggling to focus due to the anxiety, tiredness and wanting to let you know that they are struggling.

I appreciate that this is a lot to look out for and a lot to take in. So I am going to break this blog into two parts, the next part will be giving you more advice and giving practical ways to help your students who may be struggling with anxiety.

Other blogs you may find interesting:

Anxiety in Teenagers 

Academic Anxiety

 

You can COUNT on Mindfulness

When we are asked to introduce new things into the classroom there is often an assumption that it is going to mean lots of preparation, lots of work and generally big stress! 

This really doesn’t have to be the case with wellbeing and in particular mindfulness. There are so many very simple techniques and minor adjustments you can make that will have a huge impact on your wellbeing and that of your students. 

One of the simplest techniques you can use is counting. This is particularly brilliant if you teach young children who are newly confident when counting because it reinforces their maths learning too. You can also differentiate the activity so that you count in 2s, 5s, 10s etc to make it more complicated for older children.  

How do we count for mindfulness?

It’s really very simple.

Simply explain to the children that you are going to start counting (it can be in 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s, forwards, backwards, etc whatever is relevant to your class) but tell them you are going to continue to count quietly in your heads after the first 3 numbers. They can close their eyes, use their fingers, whatever they need. You give them a target number to get to and once they reach that number ask them to silently raise their hand. Tell them you want to see if you can all get to the number at the same time. 

You can practise this many time with different target numbers, using times tables etc.

You can even use the alphabet, songs or nursery rhymes. The important thing is that they are focused solely on the one task in hand. They can’t be thinking about other things, messing with their friend or their shoe, because if they do they won’t be able to reach the target at the right time.  

I told you it was simple didn’t I?

 

If you want to discover many other simple wellbeing strategies why not check out my FREE Resources page.

Meditation – It’s not what you think!

Meditation is a word that wasn’t used much when I was growing up but over the last few years it has grown in popularity to an extraordinary degree. 

For years if anyone mentioned meditation we pictured someone sitting in the lotus position with their hands in a mudra, while chanting “Ommmmm”. This stereotype is I’m sure what many people imagine when someone suggests that they meditate.  

Fortunately for me you don’t have to conform to this image, although you can if you wish to of course. My legs are long and my feet are big and my joints are damaged by my acromegaly so twisting myself into the lotus position is impossible, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t meditate every single day. I meditate while I’m waiting to collect my son from school, while I do the housework and as I go to sleep most nights.

So what is meditation?

What does meditation mean?

Well, it isn’t quite as limited as many believe. Here is the definition according to the online Oxford dictionary:
verb
  1. focus one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.
    “I set aside time every day to write and meditate”
    • think deeply about (something).
      “he went off to meditate on the new idea”
    • plan mentally; consider.
      “they had suffered severely, and they began to meditate retreat”
      (Oxford Online Dictionary)

Personally I use two types of meditation:

  • focusing my mind on an issue or subject and either studying or letting my mind find a solution
  • trying to empty my mind as much as possible and just relax

I find both incredibly useful one for finding answers and both for calming my mind. I’m sure others would say that either there is only one form of meditation or there are countless, and both are probably right. Whichever method I am using the result is my brain is calm and my body feels restored. 

I don’t tend to chant or make any noise at all while I am meditating. However, I do use singing as meditation, and always have since I was very young. It is one of my favourite ways of calming my body and clearing my mind. Does that count as a different method? For me it is focusing on one thing and letting my mind find a solution. It is very different to sitting in silence with a problem I need resolving though so maybe it is?   

I also use work and manual tasks such as gardening, baking, decorating, cleaning the car as meditation. Whether it is creating something like a worksheet, digging up weeds, stirring a batter or kneading a dough, painting a wall or polishing the car it is possible to focus so completely on the task in hand that you lose yourself in the moment… meditation.   

I focus on the task in hand and I forget everything else for a few minutes, or even hours. This is meditation.   

Often when I am writing I find the solutions to problems I have been having the same way I would when I sit in silent meditation, so writing works for me as meditation too.  

Reading a book can be meditative. You focus whole heartedly on the task in hand and escape into another world. It is incredibly calming and relaxing too. 

Painting or creating of any form can be meditation. Whether you create using clay or wool or wood you can turn it into a meditative practice. 

Walking is a very popular form of meditation. Many people walk labyrinths or just walk mindfully in nature as a form a meditation.  

Dance and yoga can be meditative, going for a run can be meditative.  

Meditation is so often about how you do something rather than what you are doing.  

So the next time someone recommends that you try meditation to help you with your stress, anxiety or depression, don’t dismiss it because you can’t sit still and chant.   

Whatever works for you, the important thing is to take time to really concentrate on the task in hand. Switch off from your planning, step away from your worries, turn off technology and just be present doing whatever you are doing. 

The reason, I believe, that meditation has become so popular over the last few years is because our lives have become so busy. we see it as a badge of honour if we are juggling more than someone else. The busier we are the more important we must be. We never stop and just pay attention to what is happening here and now.  As a result we are exhausting our brains and we never give our minds time to rest and recharge so our mental health struggles. 

Taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate in some form is life changing. Obviously the longer you can manage the better.  

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb 

Other blogs that may interest you: 

Saana Meditation Cushions

“Colouring in” as meditation

 

 

 

 

Saana Meditation Cushions

I love to meditate. 

I have meditated all my life. Admittedly I didn’t always know that that was what I was doing. With hindsight it has always been a huge part of my mental self care. 

Imagine my joy when an amazing new company, Saana Cushions, contacted me and asked if I would like to try their new meditation cushions.  

I am fortunate that I often get products sent for me to review, but I am very selective about what I actually share with you. 

Saana Cushions tick every box for me!

First things first, these cushions are comfy to use. Let’s be honest that is the most important thing, if you aren’t comfortable you are not going to be able to really settle to meditate.

 

The cushions come in 3 different sizes so you can order according to your needs.

I love that Saana Cushions are ethically made with recycled and natural materials. Sarah sources all her fabrics in charity shops and uses things like upcycled theatre curtains to create her beautiful cushions. They are filled with organic buckwheat hulls which are sourced in the UK. 

More importantly for you though, they are easily washed. Let’s be honest if you are going to have cushions in your classroom they need to be easy to clean. The buckwheat hulls are contained in an inner bag so that the cover can be washed easily.  

Quality product and friendly service

Having used my cushion for a couple of weeks now I cannot recommend them enough. Not only are they beautiful but they are so tactile and because they come in a cotton storage bag they are easy to stow away when you aren’t using them. 

Whether you are wanting to introduce a regular meditation practice to your class or you meditate occasionally but you are looking for flexible seating options or new seating for your reading corner, these cushions are perfect. 

I am a big believer in supporting start ups and helping small businesses as much as I can. There are thousands of people at the moment trying to support themselves and their families by creating a business built around their passion and this is a wonderful example of just that. Sarah is a talented seamstress and a genuine and compassionate person. She is just one person creating a really bespoke, beautiful product and for an incredible price too.

If you want to know more about Saana Cushions or order some for your school or family please check out their website and let Sarah know that you discovered her beautiful products via my website. It’s always good to know where recommendations have come from.

I should add that I am not getting any commission for referrals, I was sent a cushion to try but don’t benefit from sharing this review nor will I get any financial reward for promoting this wonderful new business. I never promise anyone that I will write a review of their product when they send it to me. If I don’t like something, or I feel it doesn’t fit with my beliefs I won’t write a negative review, I will simply not review the item at all. So you know that when I do review something it is because I genuinely love it.

 

Relevant blogs:

“Colouring in” as Meditation

Why is being present so important anyway?

 

Children in Need


I love Children! 

There’s no hiding it. I loved children when I was no more than a large child myself. At 14 years old while my friends were raving at the school disco I was looking after the teachers’ children in the foyer. (I know, I sound so sad, but I was a teenager in the time that good taste and good music forgot, I could not do acid house!). I also love Children in Need. When it comes to charities, I have always prioritised children’s charities. I have sponsored children and done all I can to help our most vulnerable and precious citizens.

A couple of years ago I thought it would be lovely to create a mindfulness lesson plan to help our children to live in the present. To help them to notice and appreciate the world around them. If we are not careful, on days like Children in Need where we intentionally shift the focus away from the upset and heartbreak of the people we are raising money to help, it is easy for the message to get lost in the fun. 

Mindfulness is proven to help improve concentration and behaviour, even test results, as well as reducing anxiety and stress. What a wonderful gift to our children on such a magical day. 

The lesson walks the children through an imaginary morning for Pudsey Bear on the day of the big BBC Charity fundraiser programme. As he goes through his morning the children explore very simple mindfulness techniques.

 

The lesson comes in the form of a simple to follow script. All you need is a little time, a little space and your fabulous voice to help your class to stay calm and focused.

If you would like to download this special mindfulness lesson plan to share with your class on Children in Need Day just click here. It is only £3.00 and 100% of the profits from the sales go to Children in Need. Because the purpose of this lesson plan is to raise money for charity this lesson plan is not available as part of any of my subscriptions. 

Autumn Wellbeing

The clocks are changing this weekend here in the UK.

For a few days at least the mornings will be slightly lighter but the evenings will draw in quicker too. Your Autumn wellbeing becomes a focus.

Autumn is a challenging time of year. The shorter, greyer, damp days, drain us of joy and leave us missing the sunshine of a few weeks ago. We tend to spend more time indoors and even our diet changes dramatically during the colder months. 

All of these factors can create a lethal cocktail of mental ill health if we’re not careful. This can spiral if we then fall into the self medicating trap of trying to cheer ourselves up with comfort food, sweet treats and alcohol.  

What can we do to maintain our Autumn Wellbeing?

In no particular order, why not try these easy wellbeing tips to help you beat the Autumn blues:

Drink hot drinks

We naturally drink more warm drinks in colder weather but scientists have now proven that drinking a warm drink has the same effect on the body as a hug. It calms your nervous system and reduces anxiety. Maybe the old British stereotype of putting the kettle on in an emergency isn’t as daft as we thought!

Get outside

I am as guilty as anyone of looking out at the drizzly, grey weather and talking myself out of going for a walk, but when I make myself I know I always feel better. My daughter and I have been going for a walk a couple of nights a week, only for about an hour, but we have both noticed how much better we feel, physically and mentally.

Get moving

If you don’t want to go outside at least get moving. Go to the gym or just dance round the kitchen. Anything to get your body moving, the blood pumping and release all those happy chemicals! 

Embrace the Hygge Life

There is a lot of talk about hygge at the moment. In short it is that cosy feeling you get when you are snuggled under warm blankets with a cuppa and the fire on. Embrace this beautiful feeling by lighting candles, snuggle under big soft blankets, grab a good book and a cuppa and spend a few indulgent minutes in this comforting state.

Eat well 

It is easy to slip into comfort eating at this time of year. That’s fine as long as you choose healthy comfort food. Choose casseroles, curries, stews and lots of green vegetables over take aways, fatty and sugary foods.We are what we eat and this is particularly true in the colder months because our body stores more energy.

Read more  

Screen time is known to affect our wellbeing. Switch your screens for a good book and watch how much better you feel. There is nothing better than snuggling under a blanket with a good book either is there.   

Have a long soak   

A warm bath is a great way to relax your muscles and calm yourself down too. Why not add some sea salt and lavender to really cleanse and calm your body and mind?  

Laugh  

Laughing is proven to improve your mental wellbeing so find a good comedy on Netflix and enjoy a really good giggle. 

Spend time with friends and loved ones

There is nothing quite like spending time with people who make you feel calm, happy and loved. So much the better if they also make you laugh or encourage your to dance!

What changes can you make to ensure this Autumn is sparkly and happy? 

Other relevant blogs: 

Life is better when you live in the moment

Mindful Planning

 

Anxiety in Teenagers

Imagine a girl. She could be younger than you, she could be older than you. But it needs to be someone you know. You may not know them well, but you know them.

Imagine the perfect student. A social outsider. She has friends, but doesn’t exactly conform to teenage stereotypes. She reads. She doesn’t go to parties. But that’s okay. People don’t like her any less for it. She’s clever. Passes every exam. She gets her head down, and she works. She puts in the effort she needs to in order to succeed. She smiles. She laughs. As far as the world is concerned, she’s happy.

Imagine you saw her today. Maybe you spotted her in the corridor. Maybe she came to see you, or perhaps you came to see her. She smiled at you. She helped you solve that problem you’ve been having. Maybe she calmed you down; stopped you from crying. All she did was help you, and you feel nothing but gratitude towards her today. She didn’t just appear happy, she made others happy too.

She’s just a happy person. Radiating positivity. Or so it seems.

Imagine the same girl, only behind closed doors. She sits in her room every night and cries. Yes, she’s clever, but sometimes the amount of stress she puts herself under can crush her. A weight on her shoulders. Yes, she’s got friends, but sometimes the amount of people around her can be so overwhelming, she breaks. Another weight on her shoulders. She solves your problems, but she has her own too. The weight of all of this builds and builds until she can’t take it anymore. It pins her to her bed every morning, and she can’t move. The sheer thought of moving outside of her bedroom makes her shake, and cry, and her hope deteriorates. Everything slows to a halt. She stops going to school. She stops eating. She stops moving. She sees no one, and does nothing but cry. It’s hard for her. She says nothing. 

It doesn’t take long for people to notice. Her parents. Her parents, who do nothing but help her, and have all of the resources to do so, notice. They try their best to calm her down, but nothing works. Her friends. They know that she’s not herself anymore. They want to help. Her friends who were far away, they talked her off the ledge. Her friends close to her came to her house, they made sure she was okay. They cared.

But nothing helped. It was as if she was trapped in a box. She knew how to leave. She could get out. But she didn’t want to. The box made her sick. But she couldn’t leave. She hated it. Every second. But she couldn’t leave.

This girl is me. I’m fifteen years old, and I struggle with anxiety. Living in a household where every person is able to help, but nothing works is unbearable. I try so hard. It’s horrible. But things look up. Talking to someone helps. No one is as perfect as they appear to be. Everyone suffers. So check up on that person. Make sure they’re okay. Sometimes that’s all they need.

The author of this incredibly articulate and self aware piece is my daughter, Laura.

 I wasn’t sure whether to post this blog. There are many voices in my head today as I type, all with conflicting opinions. One voice says I need to protect my daughter. One says it’s professional suicide. Another voice says that it’s important to be authentic and share my experiences. Yet another tells me this post will really help many people. I have always been honest about my mental health journey, and it is an ongoing journey, it is not possible for anyone to have sustained and infinite good mental health. 

I have also been honest about my struggles whether that is confidence, anxiety, physical pain… but this is different. This feels like the worst pain I can imagine. I am having to stop myself from feeling like I have let one of my children down in the worst possible way. Remind myself that I can’t make anyone do anything against their will.

I have watched from the sidelines over recent years as my kind, caring, talented, witty, intelligent daughter has slowly descended into an ever increasing state of anxiety.  I have loved, and supported her every way I know how but she’s a teenager and as we all know, teenagers have to learn their own lessons sometimes.   

Laura has always been fiercely independent. She didn’t want help with anything as a toddler and that has never changed. She is capable and works things out for herself you can’t tell her anything, she has to work it out.

She is an incredible young woman. I know I am biased but: 

  • She has amazing friends
  • We have never been called into school
  • She makes her teachers smile when they see her
  • Her teachers have fought over her throughout school every time she has had to make decisions about which subjects to focus on
  • I have never had to ask her to do her spellings, reading, homework of any kind
  • If anyone is ever upset or needs support she is there
  • When she had her first residential at 7 years old she was a little bit worried, but once we arrived at the coach another little girl was crying and Laura immediately began comforting her and completely forgot about her own worries 
  • She uses social media to support other young people and help them with revision techniques 
  • She sings like an angel! 

She is a teacher’s dream, a parent’s dream. Don’t get me wrong she has her moments just like anyone but I couldn’t be more proud of her. 

She cares, deeply, maybe too much.     

Anxiety isn’t a sign of weakness it is a sign of caring too much.  

Unfortunately I have seen it all my life. People who are caring and compassionate and feel a responsibility to make sure everyone else is happy, who then give too much and forget to care for their own needs.  

I spend my life trying to prevent anyone from feeling the way my own daughter is at the moment. 

I teach techniques and strategies and show people the signs to look out for. I know what you should eat, how you should live and exactly what to do to prevent anxiety getting too severe. Thank goodness I do because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to support Laura the last few weeks. Now that she has acknowledged that things have got too much, we have talked about it, and we have talked a lot. School have been amazing and we are slowly coming through of the worst of it. 

No child should ever have to suffer like this. No-one should. Yes school is important but it is never more important than your wellbeing.

 

We have started going for long walks together. We talk about anything and nothing and the idea of her writing this came up last night while we were walking. I thought it might help her to get her thoughts down on paper. She has now decided that she would like to start a blog. Even while she was off school she was posting on her social media accounts being completely honest about how she was feeling and offering to talk to anyone feeling the same way. She has always been a book worm and loved writing so I think it will really help her to have a place to write and empty her thoughts. 

As parents we are only responsible for our children to a point.

 We are responsible for providing for their basic needs; food, shelter and love. But we are also responsible for making sure they are independent, free thinking creatures who can survive without us. So if you are a teacher who’s child won’t read or do their homework, a police officer who’s child has been in trouble with the law, a dietician who’s child won’t eat anything healthy, or an expert in wellbeing who’s child is struggling with anxiety be kind to yourself. Know that we are not in charge of our children. We can only hope that we have taught them enough for them to make good choices but ultimately those choices are theirs and theirs alone.

Top tips for helping an anxious child

Lots of hugs – just being with your child and allowing them to sit, cry, talk.

Keep talking – they may not want to talk but keep communication open. It may mean texting or sending little notes at first but they will open up and feel comfortable talking eventually.

Don’t judge – it is easy with an adult’s perspective and all the stresses that come with adulthood to see whatever they are worrying about as unimportant. It isn’t to them. 

Care for them – imagine how you would behave if they had flu, treat them with the same level of kindness; let them rest, wrap up in warm blankets, eat what they feel like eating, watch TV all day. 

Be patient – they will get through this but it won’t happen over night. Give them time to find strategies that work for them.

Breathe – breathing is the quickest way to calm down your nervous system so take a few deep breaths together, when you hold them concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and calm and they will mirror that eventually.

 

 

Poverty and Wellbeing

At a time when the gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” is widening year on year. When statistics are manipulated to make us believe we are better off, yet 3.9 million children in the UK are living in poverty there is no denying that something needs to change. 

The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world yet some schools had to open throughout the 6 week holidays this summer to ensure that their students had at least one meal a day. Teachers are providing everything from stationery to food and school shoes for their students, all while struggling to pay their own bills.

It isn’t just in the UK a similar tale can be told in the US, Australia… 

We are watching the situation get worse. The rich get richer and the poor poorer and the majority of the population are helpless to change this trend.

 

How does this affect wellbeing?

Well, you don’t need any fancy qualifications to work out that is a child is hungry they aren’t happy. The problem goes deeper than that though. 

Recent headlines about knife crime in the UK might on the surface seem worrying but let’s stop and think about what is causing these changes. 

Happy citizens don’t feel the need to attack others. Someone who is mentally content doesn’t think that stabbing someone with a knife is a sensible exchage for an iphone or a bike. The people who commit these crimes are desperate. They are hungry, maybe they are just fed up of being the only person in their gang who doesn’t have the trappings of wealth. Let’s be honest, we are taught every day that we will be happier if we own the latest gadget. 

Many of these young people have never had a good role model. The financial crisis hit in this country in 2007, that means that many of our teenagers would have only been toddlers. Difficult times economically always hit the poor much harder than the wealthy. Some young people will never have had a decent meal, will have been raised by parents who are depressed, exhausted, working every hour they can… What about the many more whose parents are addicts? Who have reached such depths in their own mental wellness that they just have to shut the world out using drugs. What about the army of young carers?

If children from happy, affluent homes are struggling with anxiety and depression, what chance do the children from such challenging homes have?

When many young people can see no light at the end of the tunnel, no job prospects, no hope of life every getting any easier, it is easy to see how they can feel desperate and as though no-one cares.

 

Instead of looking at the symptoms and trying to solve the signs we are seeing of mental ill health, we need to start looking at the causes and poverty is definitely a huge factor. There is a direct correlation between times of economic prosperity and better mental health, equally the reverse is true.

Fortunately, the world is waking up to the size of the problem we are facing. We are talking about mental health and the stigma surrounding it is gone.

 

This week saw the launch of an amazing campaign by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex, Every Mind Matters. After the first airing of the advert the website crashed. 

On Saturday night ITV also added their support with their own campaing Britain Get Talking. Which started with a pause during Britain’s Got Talent and then went into a silent ad break to encourage the country to talk to the people they were sitting with. I have heard wonderful stories about how successful this was. 

Talking is so important when you are struggling with anxiety, stress or depression. The old adage “a problem solved is a problem halved” is definitely true. But what if you don’t have someone to talk to? What if you are afraid that you will be judged for opening up? What if the idea of talking to someone about how you are feeling only increases your anxiety?

Mental health is such a complex issue.

Whatever the reason you are struggling, whether it is financial pressures, academic anxiety, illness, an abusive relationship, work place issues… please, please, find someone to talk to. As individuals most of us don’t have the ability to solve poverty, but we do have the ability to open our hearts to others. We can make a cup of tea and sit and listen. whether it is adults or children who are struggling knowing that someone cares and is listening to them, really listening, can make all the difference. 

We must start reversing the current trends. A 48% rise in childhood anxiety and depression over the last 15 years is terrifying.

This has to stop and stop now!

This time of year can be difficult for many people in the northern hemisphere. As the nights draw in and the weather changes we are less likely to spend time outside, less likely to socialise and just the darker, gloomier days can have a huge impact on how upbeat we are feeling. Let’s all make an effort to reach out to others and show them that we care and maybe, just maybe if we all take the time to care for each other we can begin to reverse this trend. Whatever the cause of someone’s anxiety and depression, love and listening are the start of the solution.

I have a dream…

The 25th September is World Dream Day.

This is a new one on me. Every day seems to be some international day now everything from cheese to children is celebrated on a special day of the year.

If I’m honest I can get a little jaded with it all, but when I saw dreams it immediately pricked my interest. When I looked into it more it total inspired me.

I am a big believer in dreaming.

I love my sleep and can never seem to get enough, but that isn’t the sort of dreaming we’re talking about here.

World Dream Day is about Martin Luther King type dreams. The aspirational kind. The kind that inspires action. The type of dreams that can change the world.  

I have always believed that if you want something enough you can almost always make it happen. The most difficult thing is often working out what you want enough to manifest it in your life.

I always wanted to make a difference to children and teachers, I am only at the start of my journey in the scheme of things but I never stop dreaming of what I can do next to make my dreams a reality. Whether it is thinking of new ways to support you or what resources I can create. The thing I struggle with is recognition and as a result if I’m not careful I get so far and then pull back a little so that I’m not too visible. That’s something I’m working on because I know I can’t help more people until I can be brave enough to be seen.

Teaching children the importance of dreaming big is something I am very, very passionate about. Children are capable of totally immersing themselves in the most incredible dreams. 

They have no concept of the hard work and statistical probabilities of their choices and often disregard reality completely. It is so powerful!

If a child wants to be an astronaut that’s what they are going to be. They don’t know how many hours of rigorous training and testing they will have to go through or how statistically improbable it is. Thank goodness! If they did, we would never have any astronauts! 

By believing whole heartedly that they will be an astronaut they start a magical chain of events which might just lead them to fulfil their dream, as long as no-one puts up a barrier to that dream along the way.

When we are told we can’t do something, or something is hard, we start to build a wall between us and our dreams.

We need an incredibly supportive network of friends and family to believe in our dreams and help us to make them a reality. Alternatively, we need to be very stubborn and have lots of self esteem. (One of the many reasons we should always build a child’s self esteem!).

Inevitably at some point in our lives a well meaning family member or teacher will inadvertently say “That’s never going to happen” or “Do you know how few people make it?” when a child says that they want to be a footballer, popstar, actor, brain surgeon… whatever it is. There will always be someone who tries to be “realistic” and “prepare them for real life” by deflating a child’s dreams a little. It is rarely done out of malice and often done in a protective way. It may be that that person had big dreams and someone squashed theirs and they never made them a reality. 

Realistically, most children who want to be astronauts, footballers or popstars don’t end up doing that. More often than not it is because they change their mind along the way though, not because it isn’t possible. The same way most children who want to be nurses, teachers and train drivers don’t end up doing those jobs either. It isn’t our job to squash their dreams though. As adults it is our job to help them believe that they can achieve anything they want to. To encourage them to dream big. The bigger the better!

There have been so many inspirational young people over recent years; Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Jack Andraka to name just a few.

These teenagers have changed the world for millions of people. If they hadn’t dreamed big and been brave we would never have heard of them and nothing would have changed. 

We all change the world, just by existing, but we can choose to make a bigger difference. Whether it is in our own little life, our own community, or for the whole world. Dreams don’t have to be big and bold. Your dream might be to create a litter free environment for the children at your local park. It might be that you want to do a half marathon or climb a mountain. You might want to learn to paint, or dance or play golf. Whatever your dream is, why not take some time this week to work a little towards your dream and support a loved one in their dream too.

Working together on shared dreams and goals is a wonderful way to strengthen relationships and support another on their journey.

Dream big and be bold in your dreams. You will never regret the things you tried to achieve, only the things you weren’t brave enough to attempt.

 

Want to read more about dreams, check out these blogs:

Following your dreams

The importance of following your passion

Goal Mapping for Kids

%d bloggers like this: