Current world events, such as war, conflict, rising inflation and the cost-of-living crisis can exacerbate the pressures and concerns our children are already facing as they grow up. So how do we best serve and support our children’s mental health and wellbeing in these challenging times?
Change is a fact of life. However, sometimes it can be overwhelming, and alarming and we can feel out of control. For children, the impact can be amplified and lead to anxiety as they approach and experience hormonal changes, moving school, peer pressure and bullying and possible family difficulties.
As a society, we are facing additional challenges not seen before in many of our lifetimes, locally and on a world stage. We must provide support and coping mechanisms for those dependent on us in society. Dealing with adversity and change is a fundamental skill reliant on positive feelings of self-worth and self-confidence, anchored on a foundation of stability and belonging. The need for strong support is particularly evident in lower-income communities.
In the summer of 2021, The Children’s Society Good Childhood Report 2021 reported that 25% of children and young people were worried about having somewhere to live, 33% about having enough money, and 31% about finding a job in future. Regarding wider society and its future, children and young people were most likely to be worried about the environment (40%) and the potential for new illnesses or pandemics (42%).
Research by the UK Government’s Department for Education into Children and young people’s wellbeing suggests that “Pupils with higher happiness ratings and lower anxiousness ratings found it easier to concentrate in class, were less concerned about catching up on their learning and were happier to be back at school than those with lower happiness and higher anxiousness scores.”
Here are five suggestions on how we can support our children and give them a foundation to face challenges today, and in the future.
- Listen, Empathise, Acknowledge, Perspective (LEAP)
Children need to know they have trusted adults they can talk to, who will not judge them when they are vulnerable and tell of their concerns. The act of listening is an art, and it is important that adults empathise with the concerns of children, and acknowledge them, even if it is not aligned with your point of view. Children need to feel heard, or they may recline internally if hurt. After listening, empathising and acknowledging, it can be helpful to offer a level of perspective. Share a relevant experience or story that shows a similar challenge (such as transitioning to a new school) that was overcome, and the important lesson learned that made the struggle worth it. There is a time and a season for everything. Provide hope and communicate what unexpected changes outside of your control have happened in your life and how that has been positive, and at times an exciting experience to be embraced. Offer some guidance on a way forward to put some stability and structure into their lives, such as…
- Integrate Consistent Exercise and Healthy Habits
Exercise provides many physical benefits, however, it is equally beneficial for our mental health. Find ways to weave exercise into your child’s daily routine, in addition to what is offered in school. Start small and build up to 60 mins of movement each day. Have fun and do not be stubborn if your child does not want to follow your love of football, for example. Exercise does not have to be expensive, Running, and playing in the park, all provide major benefits physically, and mentally. Remind your child it is about comparing where they are today against themselves yesterday, following their progress over time, not others. It is good to have goals and offer healthy incentives if they are met, however not let comparison become the thief of joy. Providing an incentive for consistently exercising over a period can be helpful using a tracker, such as the Cheetah Club Running Club tracker. It is also important to ensure good nutrition and sleep habits are followed.
- Encourage Creative Expression
Children who express themselves creatively, whether that be through writing, drawing, music or other art forms will be in a better position to self-regulate their emotions, share their feelings, get much-needed feedback, and increased confidence and joy from the experience, if managed appropriately. The act of sharing something we have created with others can benefit ourselves and the recipient. I strongly believe that everyone has value to share, a message to convey that someone, somewhere needs to hear, see, touch or taste. This can help distract them onto a meaningful and purposeful pursuit and be at peace that while they cannot control events outside of their control, they can find beauty and fulfilment by using and cultivating the talents and skills that are of interest to them to serve their audience. For me, the outlet has been writing books.
- Be a Role Model
Just as for children, the current economic, geopolitical and global health and climate landscape can cause similar anxieties in ourselves. Taking good care of ourselves, being consistent in our exercise, health and sleeping habits, as well as providing, and where necessary, seeking the support of others where we need it, will be noticed by any children in your care. Children don’t do as you say, they typically do as you do. Showing how we can have fun without spending a lot of money, or while having a healthy lifestyle and being a positive contributor to society, will plant seeds that will nurture over time in our offspring, particularly if they are consistent and sustained practices. Just1Bag 2020 provides a great route to sharing positive experiences with your children while having a positive impact on the environment. Our historical way of living, fed on consumption, will most likely change as the environmental impact is starkly laid out in front of us, and as such children need to be ingraining healthy habits now to ensure a positive outlook for the future. The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has some great self-care resources for parents and carers.
- Seek Help Where Necessary
The suggestions above are not professional advice, however, are prompts to introduce and encourage children in the right direction. Please do seek professional support if you have any concerns about a child’s mental health or wellbeing, or if you need support yourself.
The UK Children’s Commissioner has stated that “NHS surveys show that before the pandemic, in 2017, 1 in 9 children had a probable mental health disorder. That has now jumped to 1 in 6.”
The charity Young Minds has a guide to support available that can steer you in the right direction. You are and your child is not alone and there is hope and optimism for the future with the right support.