08 January 2021

Children's Mental Health Week

Julia Clements and Paula Nagel, Principal Educational Psychologists from Place2Be share with us their plans for Children’s Mental Health Week (1-7 February)

As the new year begins, many of us might be looking forward to a new start – especially as last year presented so many challenges for so many of us. However, as we take stock and look back on 2020, we might find that we have learnt a bit more about ourselves and how we coped through the tough times. Some of us developed new skills (Tik-Tok dances anyone?), or got back in touch with people that really matter to us. Some of us rediscovered hobbies and interests that bring us pleasure. Learning new skills and doing things we enjoy can provide a great boost to our sense of wellbeing, so it’s no surprise that when we express ourselves creatively then we tend to feel good.

Expressing ourselves can sometimes be difficult, for a number of reasons. We may feel we are ‘no good’ at being creative or we may have taken on board messages from society about how we ‘should’ look, think or behave. Some of us find verbal communication and social interaction with others challenging – but there are a million and one ways of expressing our true selves and using speech and language is just one way.

This year, Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week (1-7 February) will be celebrating the many different and creative ways we can express ourselves. We all need to find ways to make sense of our experiences and to share our thoughts, feeling and ideas. When we are able to find enjoyable or imaginative ways to do so, it can help us feel good about ourselves and reinforce the belief that what we think and feel really matters. Given that the past year will have left many of us feeling out of control and helpless, supporting children and young people to express themselves is arguably more important than ever – and especially so for those children and young people who may struggle to do this with words.

Many children referred to Place2Be’s counselling service have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and research tells us that there is a link between SLCN and mental health. Unidentified speech language and communication needs can impact on children’s behaviour and mental health in a number of ways, including on their ability to express their feelings, feel connected to others and understood. This can have a significant impact on how children feel about themselves, like Kaylee who came to see the Place2Be counsellor with her friends one lunchtime.

The Place2Be counsellor listened carefully to Kaylee and two other friends in year three as they came to talk about how they like each other but keep falling out. The counsellor noticed that Kaylee found it more difficult than the other two girls to express herself clearly and that her friends tended to finish her sentences for her or talk over her. The counsellor gave the girls a soft toy to hold and encouraged them to only speak when they held the toy. The children soon realised that they needed to slow down and spend more time listening to each other, before ‘jumping in’. The class teacher has noticed that Kaylee now seems happier with her friends and so has introduced the ‘talking object’ in class, too.

So, as we step into the new year let’s think about how we can support all children, and especially those with SLCN, to share their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and the things that really matter to them. Perhaps this could be building on some of the things that helped them get through the past year? A love of dancing? Baking? Drawing? Fashion? Or perhaps it is helping them find the confidence to try something new. American author and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you”. Helping children to find their own unique ways to express themselves can strengthen mental wellbeing and resilience by giving them a chance to tell their own stories.

For more information and free downloadable resources to help you celebrate Children’s Mental Health Week, visit childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk.

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