Children’s Mental Health Week: Expert advice on getting it right

  • Children’s Mental Health Week: Expert advice on getting it right

Children’s Mental Health Week, taking place 1st-7th February.

Hope Education collate over 20 unique tips from psychology and education to bring about better children’s mental health

Leading UK educational supplier, Hope Education, has teamed up with experts including clinical psychologists, psychoanalysts, youth mental health first aid trainers, parenting authors, edtech innovators and teachers to share their wisdom in supporting children‘s mental health in time for Children’s Mental Health Week, taking place 1st-7th February.

With many children learning remotely and with limited access to their usual support networks of friends and relatives, raising awareness during Children’s Mental Health Week has never been so important.

Hope Education are doing their bit by collating tips and advice from over 20 experts in a variety of fields related to education and mental health. 

Prompt and initiate discussion

Each week, we have ‘how are you?’ time when I ask each child how their week has been. It is an opportunity for them to share things they are finding frustrating and (just as importantly!) things they are looking forward to (even if it is just a tv programme or a call with a grandparent).
Suzy Duxbury (Principal of Dramatis Community Drama School)

Watch or read or observe situations with the child and ask them their thoughts on the situation. A prompt can offer an opportunity for the child to feel safe to express emotions and thoughts.
Dr. Tamar Blank (Licensed psychologist in New York & New Jersey)

One aspect of children’s mental health and wellbeing that is generally overlooked is the development of a sense of humour. Humour and mental health (wellbeing) is not a new idea, but mostly overlooked. Visualise favourite humorous moments. Invite the child to visualise and share funny moments.
Steven M. Sultanoff, PhD (Clinical Psychologist)

Validate and acknowledge emotional responses

Validate and acknowledge their emotions and struggles. Share any relevant and relatable experiences. Perhaps use an example of a famous person who has similarly struggled or explain that you have also had moments in your life when you felt low in mood and therefore you can somehow understand how feeling very low in mood feels like.
Dr Maite Ferrin (Consultant Psychiatrist at Re:Cognition Health)

Listen to your child. Communication is a two-way process and by listening, without judgement, you are making them feel valued. It is important to find the time when they want to share their feelings with you.
Diane Hull (Retired teacher and author)

Empathise and truly listen to what is being said

Empathy in difficult moments can open the door to what is going on underneath outbursts. Usually, sadness or fear is hidden beneath anger. When we empathise and listen deeply, we have a chance to truly connect with our kids. Only when we recognise our emotions, can we work through them. By strengthening our own Emotional Intelligence, we’re better able to help our loved ones manage difficult emotions in a healthy way.
Jessica Speer (Author - BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships)

How an adult reacts the first time a young person discloses important information about how they’re feeling can affect whether or not the young person goes on to disclose information in the future. If an adult gets cross or invalidates their feelings, a young person is likely to bottle up what they’re feeling rather than speaking out in the future.
Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg (Consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist - Priory Wellbeing Centre Oxford)

Explore new ways for children to express themselves

The key to mental health and wellness in children is their ability to express themselves. However, we mistakenly assume that this simply means helping them find words for their feelings, like anger, sadness, disappointment or frustration. What we miss is bigger, and this is to help them find an entire narrative for what they feel. When children are helped to appreciate and understand not only their own feelings but also their own stories, they can feel comfortable in their own skin.
Dr. Claudia Luiz (Psychoanalyst)

Use emotion flash cards - These are an excellent teaching aid for different emotions. The use of pictures, showing facial expressions associated to various emotions can make it easier for children to recognise when they are experiencing these feelings/emotions (especially when they can’t find the words to describe them) and also when others are showing them too.
Natalie Hardie (Youth mental health first aid trainer – NH Neuro Training)

Give children outlets to express their anger and anxiety. Protest art, notes on sticky paper and use of feeling thermometers are helpful. The point is to get feeling out, not keep inside and festering.
Karen Gross (Children’s author and educator)

Write. Not in school style, but in a free flowing, unconsidered way. Perhaps pick a special book with the child that can be a diary or journal, a space to put pen to paper for doodling, telling stories and writing down thoughts. If you’d rather have something more structured, then there are plenty of journals out there that support children with prompts and feelings check-ins.
Kelly Gallafant (Emotional wellbeing expert, Nurture Meadow)

Observe: yourself and your child

Be observant - children express themselves all the time - just not always with words; so it is crucial to observe their interactions, play time, creativity, triggers and times of silence.
Natalie Hardie (NH Neuro Training)

They (children) absorb so much from us, our knowledge, our energy and our stress. Sometimes they can reflect it back by becoming stressed and anxious themselves. So, for them, I think we should take a deep breath and let go of ‘perfect’, or even ‘good’. And instead just try to get by and enjoy the little things that we can do, together.
Sophie Nomicos (Founder – Mas and Pas Parenting Network)

Chris Mahady, Hope Education Managing Director, comments, ‘We’re living through unprecedented times and protecting our children from not only the virus, but the emotional impact of the current crisis. Hope Education are proud to support Children’s Mental Health Week and share these tips and strategies which are both useful and easy to implement.’

You can find more advice and tips from a variety of experts on the Hope Education blog.

Pie Corbett