So here’s a massive topic. And what on earth do I know about it? Well, I’m no expert, as we all know. I’m a subscriber to the half-arsed way of parenting that means I can get away with doing as little as possible but still have a continuously positive impact on my children. I want them to think I’m fun mum whilst also barely moving my mum bum off the sofa if at all possible!
But what about dealing with mental health and children then? Or parenting and our mental health? There is no ‘half-arsed’ way of dealing with mental health issues. It’s a serious topic and it is rightly getting more and more attention. We’ve all spent generations pretending this stuff doesn’t exist when in reality it is impacting on every single one of our lives every single day.
So let’s start with the little ones in our life. How can we support them first and foremost. They are the future. They can change how the world views mental health more than anyone on the planet, and how we approach it when we aren’t feeling well. Here are my five tips:
- Say “it’s OK to cry” - if you child cried out of sadness, frustration, embarrassment or anger just say “it’s OK to cry” and comfort them with a cuddle if they want one. Teach them that we often feel better if we demonstrate that emotion outwardly and there’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t try to immediately get them to stop.
- Chat - Once they’ve calmed down, it can even be a few hours later, find five minutes to talk to them about the incident. How did they feel? How do they feel now? Is there anything we can do to make it better? Take them seriously.
- Don’t hide your emotions from them - If you are frustrated, angry, or sad don’t feel you always have to hide this from your children. We teach our children best when we are honest with them. If you are feeling sad, explain to your child that you are, and say why you’re sad in an appropriate way to help them understand we all experience these emotions. It’s part of being human.
- Stop - We all use screen and activities to keep our kids busy so we can crack on. Of course we do. But if they’re in the mood to chat, put down the broom, mute the telly and just chat. Alternatively set aside a specific time of day to have a little natter. If they know you are always there to listen they are more inclined to tell you something that’s bothering them. Five minutes is enough.
- Look after yourself - The best thing you can do for your child is to look after yourself as best you can. The happier you are the better it is for you’re whole family. So take time out, do things for you, meet friends and talk. Be to yourself what you are to your kids. Kind, patient and your biggest fan!
Five tips for little ones who are shy, or anxious or struggle with confidence in certain situations:
- What is their favourite thing? Focus on that. If they love drawing, build time around doing that every day. Invest in arts and craft materials and really foster that passion. Use their passion to support them if at all possible. Ewan loved vehicles when little so I always had a train or car in my bag. If he felt unsure I’d pull it out and we would use the car to ‘drive’ into the scenario or use it as an ‘ice-breaker’ to make a little friend. If they have a favourite toy, take it out with you and get your child to ‘introduce’ where you are to the toy.
- Repeat repeat repeat. Some kids like to know what is coming next in the day. This calms them down hugely and takes away a lot of uncertainty or stress. This can either be verbally “we are going to brush our teeth, get dressed, put our coat on and then go out to the supermarket” for example. Or visually. There are lots of visual timetables online or you can make your own. Stick it somewhere your child can access it and do it together regularly so they feel in control.
- Chat - same as before. I recommend I Can Cards for having a little prompt for a regular chat. Talk about what they are good at, and tell stories of times they were successful. Validate their feelings of insecurity by empathising i.e. “that must not have felt very nice”. Ask them to tell you things that are tricky and you tell them things you find difficult in return. Come up with a strategy together of things that might help; counting to ten, taking deep breaths, asking for help etc. Make a special cosy corner just for these chats if you like.
- Praise the effort not just the outcome - lots of children worry they are going to fail. By celebrating effort and focusing on that, regardless of the outcome, children learn that trying is the crucial thing, and failure isn’t the end. Say things like “I really loved how you didn’t give up on that’ or ‘I really like it when you try new things’ regularly. Tell them your mistakes when appropriate. Explain how you overcome them.
- Not everyone is an extrovert - the world is made up of all sorts of different people and that is a wonderful thing! If your little one is quiet and prefers to be on their own try not to see it as a negative thing. Some people are just that way and isn’t that grand? How awful would the world be if everyone was loud? A mixture is wonderful, let them be who they are, and don’t let strangers or relatives shame them by telling them shyness is something to feel bad about.
And finally what about us? Parents? Busy people with our own mental health to contend with. Well, there are much cleverer and more informed people than me on the internet giving out all sorts of wonderful advice. and if you’re really struggling please see your GP or call the Samaritans who are always there to listen. But here’s a little something I do, which you may have seen on my social media pages, that helps my mental health.
Triangles. Five Minute Mum triangles. Sometimes when I feel like I am being pulled in three directions I triangle it. I put three of the things I feel I need to do into a mental triangle. For example, one afternoon it was ‘support Ewan with his homework’ ‘cuddle a grumpy Florence’ ‘cook a healthy dinner from scratch’ - I could not do all three. I could only choose two. I only have two arms. I am only one person. Parenting can pull you in different directions so frequently, you can feel torn in two, or three or more. So drop one ball.
That day I cuddled Flo for a while, I helped Ewan do his homework and then we all ate takeaway for dinner. Another day the triangle might have been different, or a different ball might have been dropped. Ewan’s homework might have been left, but we ate a homemade meal together. Sometimes Flo has to whinge at my feet while I cook that dinner, and we crack on with the homework. You cannot do it all. Don’t expect yourself to be able to. Don’t beat yourself up for it when you can’t. Make a triangle.
I regularly share the triangles on my social media pages to show that everyone feels the same. I do this because I really hope it helps people feel like the load they feel isn’t just on their shoulders. It really helps me to know others feel the same way, and are dropping balls too. I also love how the most frequent corner left is the one that involves cleaning or tidying, because as well all know, with small children at home its like trying to building a pyramid of cards on a three legged table table. Feckin pointless.
So for what it’s worth on #worldmentalhealthday these are my thoughts on the matter. I hope you might find them useful. As I said at the beginning, I’m no expert. I’m a five minute mum, but my only hope is you might think ‘so am I’ and that makes things just a little easier.
The Samaritans are free to call on 116 123 anytime.
Below are a few nice books for children on their emotions…