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It’s February, which means it’s time for Children’s Mental Health Week (CMHW) (6 – 12th). The week aims to raise awareness of children’s mental health issues, get people talking, and raise funds to help tackle the problem. It is run by Place2Be, a UK charity that provides counselling and mental health support and training in UK schools. This includes in-school support, expert training and free resources that schools and organisations can access. They also run a Mental Health Champions Foundation programme which is a free course for teachers, trainee teachers and other school-based staff running over 5 weeks and qualifying as a CPD-accredited course.

This year, the theme for CMHW is “Let’s Connect” and the team are trying to encourage people involved with children and young people, to make “meaningful connections for all” for the week and beyond. According to their website:

“Human beings thrive in communities, and this connection is vital for our well-being, and our survival. When we have healthy connections – to family, friends and others – this can support our mental health and our sense of well-being. And when our need for rewarding social connections is not met, we can sometimes feel isolated and lonely – which can have a negative impact on our mental health.”

Over the course of the week, the aim is to help connect people in healthy, rewarding and meaningful ways, something that many children (and adults) may have found difficult over the last few years due to COVID restrictions.

According to the Barnardo’s website, children in England are facing a “mental health crisis”.

They report that:

  • 1 in 6 children have a probable mental health disorder
  • The number of children referred for specialist support increased 134% from 2019/20 to 2020/21
  • This level of demand results in long waits for treatment and children reaching crisis point

So, it has never been more important to engage in the debates and activities surrounding children’s mental health.

Making meaningful connections

As humans, we are hard-wired to connect to others and this connection has been vital for our survival as a species over the years. Loneliness is one of the main emotions connected to poor mental health, as throughout life, we come to rely on the people around us to meet our psychological and sometimes, physical needs. We also know that giving back to others in the form of volunteering working with our local communities, helps give people a better sense of identity, and can benefit people’s well-being. Conversely, if people feel disconnected, it can lead to feelings of not being loved or cared for, poor self-esteem, isolation and loneliness, exacerbating the disconnection. Helping people reconnect to their family, friends and communities is one way to make a positive difference.

How to connect this year

There are many ways to connect to each other and many people you can try and reach out to. We’ve listed a few below to get you started, but you will know your local area best, so feel free to add or adapt the list as necessary to best suit your children, your staff and your local community.

Children in your setting

It may sound strange to suggest that you reach out to the children in the setting as you will hopefully feel that you do this as a matter of course. But this year, why not take an extra special look at the children and make the effort to really get to know them better so that you can tailor your care around individuals rather than groups, or generalisations? Take some extra time to connect with what makes the children tick – what do they really enjoy doing? What are their individual nuances and interests? Do you really know how they cope under pressure? One way to really connect to children and young people who may not have the language or word skills to communicate their emotions and feelings, is to ask them to “show you” how they are feeling, rather than ‘’tell you”. This could be through a drawing, something physical or something artistic. You could run a specialist session, or have some individual check-ins with the students to explore feelings and emotions, or use some social stories to kick off your interactions.

Parents and families

Reaching out to the parents is also important so you could run an awareness workshop to talk about children’s mental health and things to look out for; or you could have a more informal coffee morning or friendship event to not only connect more with your parents but help them connect more easily with each other too.

Intergenerational groups

Data suggests that connecting groups of our youngest children with groups of our oldest generation is beneficial to both, helping them learn from each other, stimulate interest and curiosity and have fun together. So why not connect with a local older citizens group or care home to see if you can arrange a mutually-beneficial visit?

Other nurseries and local schools

Sometimes we can see other local nurseries as a threat to business so we can fail to reach out to others in our situation, and lose out on the benefits of connecting to those who are “in the same boat” metaphorically speaking. Think about connecting to other settings to share ideas and best practice, or just to offer the hand of friendship and talk positively about mental health and connecting to others.

Community groups

Do you have local groups of brownies, cubs, rainbows, messy church groups, dance clubs, wildlife groups or other religious groups that you could consider connecting with? Perhaps you could organise reciprocal visits or some play times? You never know when reaching out to different people whose lives you might touch positively that would not have been done before.

Ways to connect

  • Email newsletters
  • Postcards and letters
  • Social media posts and videos
  • Social media adverts
  • Posters, flyers and in-bag letters home
  • Vlogging and blogging
    Local media such as a local papers and local TV/radio stations
  • Podcast

Resources

The Place2Be website has lots of free resources and activities you can use and some specifically for 4-7-year-olds that could be adapted, or give you ideas for connecting with even younger children.

They also have a Parenting Smart website to help parents with practical tips support children’s mental well-being and a Child Counselling course as well.

If you are worried about the mental health of a child or young person, contact your Designated Safeguarding Lead. They will have access to help and resources such as your local CAMHS/CYPMHS services, Young Minds and the Children’s Mental Health Network.

https://www.childrensmentalhealthweek.org.uk/ 

https://www.barnardos.org.uk/what-we-do/helping-families/mental-health 

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