The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

health

Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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Self-help exercises to help older children manage worry and anxiety

managing anxietyAge range:

Ages 9+

Description:

An engaging, self-help guide based on cognitive behavioural therapy that teaches young people mindfulness techniques to alleviate their worry and anxiety.  Strategies include ways to shift your attention away from your worry, not to fall into a debate with it, and learning to accept rather than fight your anxiety when it is present.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from bestselling author Dawn Huebner’s new book, Outsmarting Worry: An Older Kid’s Guide to Managing Anxiety.  Written in language immediately accessible to children, it teaches young people, and the adults who care about them, specific skills that make it easier to face and overcome their worries and fears. 

Why healthcare practitioners must learn to self-care

Sarah Parry is a senior lecturer in Clinical and Counselling Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her new book, ‘Effective Self-Care in Clinical Practice,’ explores how compassion can enable clinical practitioners to foster hope and resilience for themselves and their clients. We talked to Sarah about her motivations behind the book and why it’s so important for healthcare practitioners to learn how to effectively self-care. 

Effective Self-Care and Resilience in Clinical Practice is a collection of essays from different practitioners, that explore the need for compassion in therapeutic work. Where did the idea for the book originate from?

Developing a personal compassionate framework for self-care has been an on-going endeavour of mine for some years. When I started working in healthcare settings that could, at times, present multiple challenges to my own well-being, I became increasingly curious as to how to overcome these emotional hurdles. I am also a great believer in the power of stories, both in terms of helping us see through the eyes of another, as well as giving us a mirror to hold up to our own experiences, helping us develop a deeper knowledge of ourselves. My motivation for this book came from my own experiences of struggling with competing demands and a realisation that working harder and harder isn’t always the answer. I wanted to understand more about how people developed effective self-care strategies based on compassionate teachings and practices, to enhance their own well-being, resilience and ability to maintain a hopeful outlook. Consequently, I started talking to colleagues who I knew managed their self-care well, as well as people I didn’t know at all at that stage but whose writings inspired me and encouraged me to think about how well I was looking after myself.

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Creative coping strategies to help young people manage stress, anxiety and other big feelings

Age range:

Ages 8 – 14

Description:

A colouring book and journal filled with uplifting quotes and poems that encourages children experiencing stress, anxiety and other big feelings to manage their emotions. With a range of activities that introduce mindfulness and encourage relaxation, the workbook is designed to prepare young people for future difficult situations.

Click here to download the resource

This extract is taken from Pooky Knightsmith’s The Health Coping Colouring Book and Journal, which is designed to help young people manage difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions such as anger and anxiety.

How to help children manage anxiety and embrace their imperfections

Rochel Lieberman, author of Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day, an empowering story that teaches children how to embrace their mistakes and practice resilience, discusses how parents and professionals can use her book to help children who struggle with anxiety and perfectionism.

When I crafted the characters and the story line of Pearla and Her Unpredictably Perfect Day, I visualized creating a tool that can be easily used both at home and at school. My goal as an author was influenced by my perspective as an Executive Speech Coach, where I spend most of my time working with and on behalf of children. In that capacity, I have educated children, their teachers, therapists, principals, and leaders. Above all else, I’ve gone through this journey as a mom, working alongside educators, helping them bring out the best in their own pupils. Thus, I wrote this book with the following vision: for parents, a book that is simple and can be used flexibly in the fine balancing act that is required of parenthood; for schools, a guide for conversations between children and their teachers or therapists.

I have always viewed books as magical instruments, with the power to transcend reality while simultaneously reinforcing our daily experiences. About fifteen years ago, as a college student, I vividly recall riding a New York City bus alongside a mom and her adorable little boy. Like a real New Yorker, she had a great designer bag—yet with an odd rectangular object poking out of the side. My curiosity was short lived, as her son quickly became bored of looking out the window, prompting her to empty some of the treasures from her bag. Amidst the emerging apple sauce and fruit snacks, the large rectangular shape materialized as a children’s book, which allowed her to entertain and delight her son for the remainder of the bus ride. This mom recognized that alongside a cellphone, keys, and snacks, there was a treasure in carrying a children’s book.

Any adult who has ventured into the land of storytelling with a child knows how widespread the benefits can be. Stories let readers connect with characters, like Pearla, who are having similar challenges, but in a nonthreatening way. They open the door to on-the-spot questions and sometimes even deeper conversations about the way life works, even when it’s not working out well. My hope for parents is that by reading this book together with the child in your life, you can reflect on the story and learn to recognize the triggers that caused Pearla distress, such as Pearla’s desire for perfection, and also learn from her healthy ability to strategize in times of stress. Then, you can have a purposeful conversation to relate these ideas, as applicable, to your own child’s obstacles.

For example, if your child struggles with anxiety from a need to perform perfect work, you can engage in a conversation about making mistakes in general and the thoughts and feelings associated with doing so. With Pearla’s fun storyline, my goal is that you can explore these normally sensitive topics in a casual mode, rather than in a “teaching” mode. To facilitate these conversations, I have included suggested questions in the back of the book. Some examples include questions for recognizing perfectionist tendencies (What do you like to have “perfect”?) and questions that allow the child to reframe their thinking about a perceived negative event (When does Pearla start to see that her cookies and cupcakes are perfect just the way they are?)  Keep in mind that these questions can be used as guides to formulate your own question, so that you can speak in a manner that is true to your own communicative style.

As parents, you can use your life experiences or situations other family members have encountered as examples, so your child is reminded that we all make mistakes. You can carry this one step further and talk about the idea that we all expect to make mistakes most every day, and we all have to deal with imperfect situations every day. If you expect to be going to a challenging place, with expected tension or changes of schedule, you can better prepare your child by using words to roleplay the situation and discuss which choices or behaviors are best suited to dealing with the expected encounter. In my experience, these conversations are best done either before or after an event, when the child is not in direct placement of the stressor. Remember, repairs are done after the rainstorm. In the middle of a challenging event, whisper words of encouragement and praise to your child. The longer talks, references to Pearla, and conversational questions can be saved for dry, sunny days.

The character of Pearla arose from my many joyful and zany experiences as a writer, as a mom raising my children, and from my years as a speech language therapist providing services to a wide range of children and adults. Through it all, I observed the growth and powerful learning that clients achieved when they courageously challenged their core beliefs on failure, perfection, and fear of daily challenges. All of us, children, adults, and caregivers alike, are on a journey with many bumps on the surprising road of life. While some of us learn to ride the bumps and face the challenges, others, like Pearla, find it very difficult to handle these imperfections without the help of a caring adult or professional.

A caring therapist, teacher, or allied professional can help children learn to accept impossible-to-avoid changes and challenges in their daily life. Remediating these negative and unhealthy beliefs and feelings is so important, because many times children and adults can carry these painful feelings, along with the ever elusive search for perfection and order, throughout their life’s journey. It is my dream that this book can be used as a tool to foster better social skills by sparking discussions in the classroom or in the safety of a therapist’s office at school or in private practice. The therapist can begin the sessions by attempting to understand the core of the child’s feelings about challenges and beliefs about making mistakes.

Research supports the calming effects of labeling an emotion, as is done in this story (look for the colored phrases in the text). In the privacy of a therapist office, where a child can relate their own story, the therapist can help them label their emotions, using the book as a model. The child and therapist can talk about everyday situations where they may be triggered to experience those emotions. Then, to advance the conversation, the therapist can use the time to problem solve with the child and generate solutions for these everyday experiences.  They can discuss possible scenarios or alternative plans that Pearla may have done that would not have been beneficial, such as screaming, stomping her feet or having a tantrum in front of the customers. This can lead to practical discussions about the consequences for each of the solutions that the child suggested.

In a more structured format, the therapist can probe the child with the following questions from the book’s suggested questions in order to help the child recognize emotions (What part of your body begins to hurt when you feel afraid?), to bring awareness to the words that the child says to himself (What words do you think when you feel afraid?) or to gently elicit support for the child (What thoughts can you think to help you feel less afraid?). These conversations are essential, as research supports that the specific words that you say to yourself  can alter the way you behave. Answers to these questions will slowly open the door to dealing with daily challenges and imperfections. As one client once said to me, “I am good even though I am not perfect.” There is a lot to be learned from the wisdom in those words. Enjoy reading Pearla and Her Unpredictably Perfect Day with the child in your life and let the talking and learning begin.

 

You can learn more, read reviews, or purchase a copy of Pearla and her Unpredictably Perfect Day here. To learn more about the author, visit Rochel Lieberman at www.ariberspeech.com, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

Give children their childhood back… or we’ll be paying for years to come

de-thierry-reev_simple-guide-to_978-1-78592-136-0_colourjpg-webBetsy de Thierry, author of The Simple Guide to Child Trauma, discusses the pressures on children and young people and how societal influences are causing an increase in anxiety and depression.

Some recent data has become available which gives evidence to our experience in the services we are running in the UK.

• 235,000 young people in England were in contact with NHS mental health services at the end of June 2016
• Almost a quarter of a million children and young people are receiving help from NHS mental health services for problems such as anxiety, depression and eating disorders
• 235,189 people aged 18 and under get specialist care, according to data covering 60% of mental health trusts in England (11,849 boys and girls aged five and under among those getting help)
(The Guardian. 3rd October 2016)
• NHS study finds:
   o 12.6% of women aged 16-24 screen positive for PTSD
   o 19.7% self-harm
   o 28.2% have mental health condition 
   o Between 1993 and 2014 there was a 35% rise in adults reporting severe symptoms of common mental disorders.
(The Guardian. 26th October 2016)

Children have never been so stressed and lacking in healthy relational experience. The irony is that parents are hugely stressed too, often with the need to earn enough money to buy their children what they think they need to stop them being bullied (the right brands or electronics). How ironic and sad.

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Six steps to finding balance in busy lives

It is important to know that life imbalance is one of the biggest causes of stress in the western world; consequently understanding why we experience imbalance in our modern lives, and finding strategies to help you overcome it, is very useful! Teena Clouston shares 6 steps to finding balance in busy lives from her new book Challenging Stress, Burnout and Rust-out.

Clouston-ChallengingStress-C2W

So what is burnout and rust-out?

Burnout and rust-out are caused by long-term stress; burnout is marked by exhaustion and rust-out by apathy and disengagement. Which of these we experience and when, is variable, dependent on the unique individual and his or her circumstances. Stress and imbalance can be linked to some specific personality traits and thinking patterns that we can unconsciously adopt to manage the daily grind but which, unwittingly, can maintain our state of imbalance and levels of stress.  For example, people who rush around like busy bees, or those that put up with or make excuses for their busyness and overwork are all using different strategies to deal with life conflicts, pressures and time scarcity, but sadly, are failing to diminish stress. Alternatively those that fight back and overcome these pressures seem to be able to live a far more balanced and healthy life because they dare to challenge the status quo and take time to do things they find meaningful or enjoy doing, irrespective of the pressures of work or general over-busyness.

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Resistance is not futile

 

6 steps to achieve a healthy work-life balance

There are several different ideas shared in the book but if I had to choose 6 they would be:

  • Gain some autonomy over your workload
  • Review and adapt your views and attitudes about work so they become congruent with what you really want in life
  • Share your daily responsibilities with others
  • Do something meaningful everyday
  • Live in the moment
  • Walk in nature

These techniques are not a cure-all in terms of work-life or indeed, more general life balance. That’s because, in reality, they all need you to put in a lot of effort in terms of making changes in how you live your life everyday, and that is not easy. For example, if you are going to use mindfulness techniques to try to focus on the moment or cognitive behavioural strategies to change your thinking or attitudes about life balance, then you have to practice that regularly and put some work in every day. That said, you do need to start somewhere and from small moves big things can grow and consequently, with practice, you can really change your sense of balance, your quality of life and ultimately, your well-being; thus practice may not make perfect, as the saying goes,  but it can make life just a little richer and more satisfying.

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Illustrations by Peter Cronin, ARSMA.

Teena J. Clouston is a Reader in Occupational Therapy and Life Balance at the School of Healthcare Sciences at Cardiff University, UK. Over the last ten years, her research interests have become focused on the meaning and experience of lifestyle balance, and her PhD specifically studied the influences of paid work on finding balance in everyday life. Learn more about Challenging Stress, Burnout and Rust-out here.

Helping children manage their stress, anxiety and anger

Stress gremlin1Kate Collins-Donnelly, author of Starving the Stress Gremlin, Starving the Anxiety Gremlin and Starving the Anger Gremlin, has specially produced these free progress evaluation sheets to get children thinking about what they have learnt about managing their emotions.

There is an evaluation sheet for each workbook – a great way for children to reflect on their progress after they have completed the activities!

Download the FREE evaluation sheets here!

Linda Woodcock on Managing Meltdowns

Linda Woodcock is the co-author author of the title Managing Family Meltdown: The Low Arousal Approach and Autism, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. She is the National Lead on Parent and Family Training for The Studio III Group, an organization specializing in non-aversive behaviour management. Linda also has a son on the autism spectrum with challenging behaviours.

As a parent of a child with autism, what do you think are the main challenges faced by parents with children on the spectrum?

There are so many challenges, first of all coming to terms with the diagnosis, we often spend so much time and energy trying to get news that we really don’t want to hear and then we wish we could put back the clock as when the diagnosis is given our lives change forever. The next stage is wading throught the complexity of what autism is and how it affects our children, (this is a continuous process) We are then expected to become experts in the education, social care and benefits system and so the fight begins. Looking back now I am able to see the positives but in the early years life was just one long rollercoaster ride and all we could do was hold on tight!!

Your new book is based upon the “the low arousal approach” can you please tell us a bit about this approach and how it can help to manage meltdowns?

The low arousal approach is based on three assumptions firstly that most individuals who are distressed are extremely aroused at the time, therefore we should avoid doing anything to make it worse. Secondly, a large proportion of distressed behaviours are usually preceded by demands or requests and we should therefore reduce these as much as possible and finally most communication is non verbal and so we should be aware of the signals we communcate to our children when they (and us) are upset.

Can you tell us about your work with the Studio III group and the work they do?

Studio 3 is a training and clinical service, which was founded 15 years ago by our Director Dr Andy McDonnell, Clincial Psychologist. We offer training to staff and families in Positive Behaviour Management, we also work with individuals who challenge services and offer Psychological assessments and help staff to devise support plans using the low arousal approach. We are based in the UK but work in many other countries including Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Sweden and South Africa.

How do you think the public perception of autism has changed over the last ten years?

The public perception of autism has changed greatly over the last ten years, with more children accessing mainstream education they have become more visible, and autism is no longer percieved to be just about the isolated self absorbed silent child, however I don’t think their general understanding has greatly increased. Any parent will tell you that a large part of their energy is spent on educating the public, teachers, medical professionals and wider family about their child and their needs.

What are you currently reading in your spare time?

Well I have just finished The Time Travellers Wife which was beautiful, but as I am about to start the second year of my Masters degree I will be reading the rather large text book which has just been delivered to my door! Colin Robson, Real World Research. I don’t expect I’ll have time for any light reading this year.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010