- What is Children’s Mental Health Week?
- Why is children’s mental health so important?
- What can I do to support my child’s mental health?
- This year’s theme: Lets Connect
- How to help your kids make more friends
- How can I help my child develop social skills?
- Children’s Mental Health Week in your local library
Children’s Mental Health Week is a good reminder that we should all be aware of our children’s mental wellbeing. Whether it is through helping them make friends, develop social skills or form meaningful relationships, there is plenty that we can do to help them stay happy, healthy and keep on enjoying their childhood.
What is Children’s Mental Health Week?
This year, Children’s Mental Health Week will take place from 6-12 February and the theme is Let’s Connect. The Let’s Connect theme is designed to help people learn about the importance that social connections and relationships have on young people’s mental wellbeing.
Why is children’s mental health so important?
Official government reports have suggested that COVID-19, lockdowns, and school closures have had significant impacts on young people’s mental wellbeing – with a specific increase noted in those aged between 7.5 and 12 years old. This increase includes depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Due to the effect that COVID-19 has had on children’s ability to socialise, many children have missed out on formative experiences which link to early years developmental stages – an issue which is promoted by the Princess of Wales.
Some of the symptoms that your child might be suffering with poor mental health may include:
- Not wanting to play
- Refusing to go to school
- Isolating from family – for example, staying locked up in their room
- Unexplained crying
- Sudden mood changes
- Sleeping problems
- Unexplained physical changes – for example, weight gain or loss
- Not talking or communicating as much as they used to
- Poor performance in school (specifically if there is a sudden drop)
But not to worry! There is lots which can be done to help your child with their social development, help them make friends, and help them build meaningful relationships with the people around them.
What can I do to support my child’s mental health?
Parents can sometimes jump to the conclusion like ‘if my child is unhappy, there must be a specific thing that is bothering them’. Sometimes there is no one thing or reason that is causing a child to suffer from poor mental health – it just happens.
Instead of trying to despair, or find something to blame, we should focus on helping that child as best we can. Sometimes that means we need to seek medical advice. And sometimes that means that we just need to gently encourage them to pick up some healthy habits.
If you do have serious concerns about your child’s mental health, you can take them to see their local GP. But if your child is suffering a mental health emergency, you can contact emergency services on 999 or, if it is not life threatening, call the NHS 111 number.
This year’s theme: Lets Connect
Place2Be announced that this year’s theme for Mental Health Week is Let's Connect. They are encouraging children to connect with others in healthy, rewarding, and meaningful ways.
All humans – the big and the small – have a need for social connections. And when our need for social connections are not met, we can feel sad and lonely. One of the best things that we can do to support young people’s mental health is to encourage them to make friends and connect with others.
The benefits of friendship include:
- Feeling a sense of belonging
- Higher self-esteem
- Social support through difficult time periods
- Role models to look up to and learn from
How to help your kids make more friends
There are many great ways that you can help your kids make more friends.
The most obvious ways to start are by:
- Providing your child with opportunities to meet other children
- Teaching your child to extend invitations
Providing your child with opportunities to meet other children
One thing you can do is explore different options for kids after school. Maybe there is a school club or extracurricular activity that they can get involved with? Being a club or team can give children a sense of purpose but – and it is also a great opportunity to make new friends.
Another way to help your child make friends is to organise play dates. If they have someone they get on with at school, invite them (and perhaps their parents) for a walk in the park or a coffee. Don’t forget that your mental health is important too!
Arranging gatherings with family friends or work colleagues who have similar-aged children can also be a great way for your child to make friends. It can sometimes be nice for a young person to meet someone from a different school.
Don’t forget that local libraries and community spaces often host free events for children and families: from rhyme time to Lego clubs. These spaces can provide great opportunities for meeting friends – both for children and parents alike.
Teaching your child to extend invitations
This doesn’t just mean inviting other kids over for the weekend for play. It would simply be telling your child how to invite someone to sit with them at lunch, or asking if they want to meet up and do homework together.
Some children will be scared to extend invitations, and a little support from home might just give them the courage they need.
Human beings thrive on community – this is just as true for young children as it is for the elderly. That is why we need events like Children’s Mental Health Week to remind us how important mental wellbeing really is.
In Disney’s 1942 film Bambi, the little rabbit Thumper quotes his father saying, ‘if you can’t say something nice. Don’t say nothing at all.’ 🐰
Ignoring Thumper’s dialectic use of a double negative (often considered to be a poor use of grammar in Standard English) the message is important: be kind and don’t say mean things.
This message was true in 1942 and it’s just as true now. Children, perhaps exacerbated by the explosion of social media, can say some pretty negative things. It is important to remind your child that being kind is the best way to make friends.
One way to teach kindness is through teaching empathy. You can teach empathy by:
- Reading stories (or watching films) about empathy and discussing them after – how different characters might have felt and why
- Discussing empathy
- Asking questions that start with ‘how would you feel if…’
- Being a role model
- Providing opportunities for your child to practise empathy
- Making caring for others a priority for you child
Harvard University has this article about cultivating empathy with more handy tips.
How can I help my child develop social skills?
One of the best ways to help a child develop social skills is by helping them make friends: but sometimes this can feel like a catch 22.
Here are some ways to help your child build social skills:
- Turn it into a game and role play
- Guide them through conflict with supportive advice
- Gently encourage them to go out of their comfort zone
- Encourage in-person interactions with their friends – virtual works too these days!
- Teach them the importance of listening
Learning social skills can be harder for some children, and that struggle is normal. Some learning difficulties might make it harder for children to develop social skills, but there is almost always scope for improvement.
Talking about mental health without mentioning mindfulness is like talking about physical health and forgetting to mention exercise.
Mindfulness is incredibly important for a healthy mental state, as it can help us understand and process our emotions.
Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down your thought process and paying attention to the present moment. This can simply be a breathing exercise or part of a group meditation session. Remember that there are plenty of benefits of meditation with kids.
Anyone can practise mindfulness from pretty much any age. Mindfulness can be really beneficial for children and improve their overall mental wellbeing. 🧘
Children’s Mental Health Week in your local library
Libraries are a great space for children for a whole variety of reasons. Not only do they encourage the benefits of reading, they can also have some great events for meeting people in a positive environment.
Many libraries across the UK will have books to teach children about all of the topics discussed in this article: mindfulness; empathy; and friendship. 📚
Some UK libraries have even compiled collections of books in advance of Children’s Mental Health Week.
Most libraries will also have resources on Reading Well from The Reading Agency. An initiative can provide you with resources and direct you towards books about mental health – both for adults and children alike. They also have an entire page dedicated to Reading Well for Teens.
We hope that you found this article useful. Remember, our GoStudent blog experts have written about a range of subjects from dyslexia to bullying in social media – everything you need to know about supporting your child.
We also have some pretty awesome tutors! 🚀