It is very exciting to hear that mindfulness is now being taught to 8 year olds as a part of the National Curriculum. It is an attempt to quell the rising tide of anxiety and depressions amongst the nation’s children. The emotional well being of children is equally as important as their physical health and all opportunities for putting mental health on the same footing as physical health must be seized upon and maximised.
A healthy diet, a good night’s sleep and regular exercise are just as important for good mental health as they are for physical health. If mental health is not properly nurtured, it can lead to problems including physical aggression, anxiety, sadness and mood swings.
5 signs that there is a problem with mental health are:
- A change in personality. If someone is acting like a very different person, or not acting or feeling like themself, this is a warning sign.
- Uncharacteristic anxiety, anger, or moodiness.
- Social withdrawal and isolation.
- Lack of self-care or risky behaviours.
- A sense of hopelessness or feeling overwhelmed.
Children have some basic emotional needs that must be fulfilled. These include a need for love and support and an environment in which their confidence and self esteem can grow. They require positive reinforcements from their parent or caregiver. They need positive feedback from us when they have produced a piece of artwork, mastered a new skill or tried something new. As parents, we need to show that we are engaged and interested in their world and that we are interested in them and care about their progress.
They have a need for affection and to know that we are there for them unconditionally regardless of any mistakes they may make. It is wise to avoid negative criticism of them.
A child’s ability to be mentally and emotionally fulfilled begins at home and continues at school. In both settings they need to feel safe and supported. Learning how to cope with stress is an essential and valuable skill that we now see as imperative to teach in schools.
As well as teaching mindfulness, there is now funding for children to learn more about mental health, particularly anxiety and depression.
As well as educating children about understanding their feelings, breathing and relaxation techniques are being taught.
According to the Sunday Times:
In typical mindfulness lessons, children are taught to think of disturbing thoughts as “buses” that will move away. They also learn the 7/11 exercise, breathing in for seven seconds and exhaling for 11 seconds, to reduce anxiety. Relaxation and breathing classes will also be tested.
The pressure has increased on children to improve their grades and educational standards have been raised but it is quite possible that this trend, combined with pressures from social media and online access, is contributing to a demise in the mental health of children.
The problem has been noticed by healthcare professionals where incidents of self harm have increased amongst teenagers.
For mindfulness trials to be truly effective it is important that children are taught the reasons for practising these skills and to ensure that it doesn’t just become another target to be measured.
I am passionate about the education of children with regards to their mental health. I believe that if they learn the skills to maintain good mental health in childhood, they will be well equipped to weather the sometimes turbulent periods of their teenage and adult years.
I believe that learning techniques to ensure that good mental health is maintained can be practised in the same way that we learn our tables or ride a bike. The more we do it, the better we become and the more ingrained and embedded this skill becomes as a part of our psyche.
Techniques such as meditation, effective breathing techniques and knowledge in understanding how to recover from anxiety and depression can see them through the most stressful times in life.
Understanding that serotonin is produced when we partake in physical activity and the importance of exercise in staying mentally and physically healthy is imperative to their survival kit. A positive mindset and learning to interact positively with others is all part of the picture to create a healthy individual.