With Children’s Mental Health Week (4-10 February) just around the corner, ‘Laura’, one of our Information Service volunteers, reflects on what she plans to do
As a teacher, I have plenty of contact with children. However, I don’t often talk to my pupils about their mental health. This is something that I want to change.
Children’s Mental Health Week seems the ideal opportunity to do just that. Having suffered from anxiety and childhood depression, I have relevant, lived experience of mental ill health. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk about my mental health as a child, as I’m sure it would have helped me.
So how can I help my pupils? Firstly, I will create a safe space for them to share their thoughts, feelings and concerns. I will stipulate some ground rules about how important it is to listen to others and be respectful of what they say. I will also emphasise how difficult it can be for some children to share their feelings. Therefore, it is vital that children take each other seriously and don’t make fun of others.
Secondly, I will start with a simple weather check exercise; I will ask the class to describe their mood by linking it to the weather. Sunny would be happy, overcast would be down etc. This is a great way to get children to open up and talk about how they’re feeling. This will probably naturally lead on to discussions about why different pupils are feeling a certain way.
During these discussions I will ask children to share how certain activities make them feel (eg; ‘I love playing computer games but I don’t like doing my homework’). I will go on to ask children to share their ideas for how to change how they’re feeling (eg; ‘When I’m feeling lonely, I call a friend’).
To finish the session, I will do a mindful meditation activity to help children see the benefits of focusing on their breathing and being calm in the moment. There are plenty of free, child-friendly meditations online. However, I would recommend you listen to them first before doing them with children. Headspace has some good ones, although they’re not free: www.headspace.com/meditation/kids
Once I’ve started talking about mental health with my pupils, I’m sure there will be no stopping them! By introducing the topic, I can integrate activities into lessons all year round. I can start a lesson with a feelings’ check in and end another with a body scan meditation.
Developing pupils’ emotional literacy will have far-reaching benefits. It will help them to be more focused in all their lessons, thus supporting their learning across the curriculum.
We learn more effectively when we’re happy, so establishing a positive learning environment where feelings are discussed freely and time is taken to ensure every child is content will lead to more successful learning outcomes for everyone.
Children talking about their mental health will set them in very good stead for later life. Everyone can do their bit to support this. If you’re a parent or a teacher then you can have a go at doing some of the activities that I have suggested. There are loads more ideas and resources on the Place2Be website: www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/
This children’s mental health charity provides school-based support and in-depth training programmes to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff. If you don’t have direct contact with children then you can always consider donating to the invaluable work that Place2Be is doing: https://donate.place2be.org.uk/
Whatever you do this Children’s Mental Health Week, remember that children sharing their feelings can make a huge difference.