The majority of mental health problems start before the age of 14-years-old. Therefore, children’s mental health is extremely important, yet sadly often overlooked.
The theme for Children’s Mental Health Week this year is, Let’s Connect! This is to raise awareness about how important good social connections are when it comes to mental health. These connection can be with peers, with family or even with school teachers! Having people that you trust and feel comfortable around, means that you are more likely to reach out to them if you have something on your mind or if you need support.
Having people to talk to when you are struggling can have a very positive impact on our mental well-being, decreasing the chance of developing a mental health condition as well as helping with existing conditions.
75% of children and young people with a mental health problem are not getting the help that they need.
Whilst 78% of those who do seek support feel more anxious in social situations.
Many young people do not reach out in times of struggle, this could be for various reasons such as:
Not a lot of knowledge surrounding mental health. Many young people may think that how they are feeling is normal and not recognise that they need support.
Stigma – Yes, we have come a long way when it comes to breaking down the stigma that surrounds mental health, however this is still quite prevalent, especially when it come to the younger generations and the older generations.
Fear – scared of being labelled, scared of being on medications or being put into therapy, scared of telling their parents / loved ones.
Not knowing where to turn for help and support.
Not having sufficient access to support services.
But if children have strong connections, they will always have someone to turn to, someone who can help them or point them in the direction of professional help and external resources.
But how can we help children to form better connections?
From a young age, we need to teach children about friendships.
This may sound silly, but for some people, forming good, solid friendships can be difficult. Some children may think they have a good friend, when in fact it may not be a good relationship (in some cases, it may even be toxic.)
So, sit down with your children and talk to them about what makes a good friend (trust, good listening, supportive, helpful, kindness etc.) It may be a good idea to talk about examples of friendships from TV shows or books that you share together.
You can further help by encouraging connections outside of school, by joining external activities or arranging play dates / dinner dates.
Help your children form some simple questions and/or conversation starters to help them break the ice and form new connections
– Can I sit with you in class today?
– Do you want to play football at break time?
– What do you enjoy when you get home?
Help grow your Childs self-confidence! Show them that their thoughts, opinions and actions are important to you, try to give them your undivided attention when they are talking to you or when they want to show you something. Even if what they are talking about seems small and insignificant to you, it may be extremely important to them in that moment and if you were to brush them off, or not give them your full attention, this can have a negative impact on their self-esteem!
Try to model positive relationships around your child. Children learn a lot through example! If you can show them what a healthy, happy relationship should look like, they are more likely going to mirror that for themselves.
On the other hand, if you are surrounding your child with unhappy, negative relationships that involve a lot of shouting, silent treatments and disrespect, they will grow to believe that that is what they should be looking for in a friendship/relationship too.
Whilst modelling positive relationships – it is also important to let them know that it is normal for friends to sometimes fall out!
In a classroom of 30 children, at least 5 of them are likely to have a mental health condition.
Even adults need connections!
So learning how to form them from a young age, is a skill that will follow them through to adulthood!