Children’s Mental Health Week 2021 – Express Yourself
It is Children's Mental Health Week! Now into its seventh edition, this year's theme is 'Express Yourself,’ encouraging children and adults to find creative ways to share thoughts, feelings and emotions through music, art, and photography.
According to research from the Mental Health Foundation, mental health problems affect around one in ten children and young people. Perhaps more alarmingly, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem, did not receive appropriate interventions at an early age. In further research conducted by the BBC, 50% of those with long-term mental health problems first experience symptoms by age 14. According to the NHS, possible signs can include continuous low mood or sadness, problems sleeping or eating and irritability.
It is important to remember that parents and carers should also look after their mental health. Keep in touch with friends and swap tips to help keep children occupied in lockdown.
Now more than ever, it is important to encourage activities that promote good mental health. COVID has prevented children from attending activity clubs, from physically attending school and seeing friends as usual. They can be stuck indoors for long periods. Creativity can play a key role in a child's social, intellectual, emotional and physical development. It is imperative that a young child feels they are expressing themselves. Here are a few examples to ‘coax the creative’ from a child.
Some children may find it easier to express themselves through drawing and play. For example, by asking a child to draw or even sing what they feel. Some may find it easier to explain a picture. Encouraging a musical interest is also a good idea.
At a young age, participating is more important than winning or being the best. For example, if a child of any age is trying a game for the first time, it is more important that they enjoy the experience, even if rules are adapted for them. By offering praise and encouragement, they are more likely to continue to play in future. It is important to remember that not all activities will work for a child, we all have different interests. For older children, be seen to take an interest in their activities, offer support where you can.
Listening carefully can help children feel more comfortable and confident when expressing themselves. Children react well when being asked to share what they have done and having their opinions acknowledged, especially after an activity they have enjoyed. By recapping an activity, children may also boost their memory and keep positive experiences. Conversely, if a child is quiet for an extended period, it could be that they are bothered by something. It can be difficult for parents to spend unlimited time with their child through the day due to work commitments, but just 30 minutes of uninterrupted quality time each day can make a big difference. For children of all ages, encourage them to share feelings to stop possible issues from festering.
Trying new activities can be a great way to find a new creative outlet. There is an array of online tutorials to learn a new skill or interest, ideal for older children. There is no need for a raft of new equipment to get creative at home. Take the opportunity to get rid of clutter you no longer use. Recycled materials can be a great way for children to get creative and make something. Handprints or Paper Mache are simple if slightly messy activities to try. Older children are more self-sufficient but, again offer support when needed.
Exercise is inexpensive and plays a role in physical and mental wellbeing and boosts brain function. Use different words to describe a walk to a younger child, describe it as an adventure. Point out or photograph interesting wildlife, leaves or trees. Encounter new interests together. Use exercise as a learning opportunity. For an older child suggest walks with friends in a socially distanced manner if possible.