Positive mental health tools - for Children's Mental health Week


 

I wrote, ‘What’s going on inside my head?’ as a tool to help parents/carers and teachers start conversations with children about looking after mental health. Like physical health, mental health also needs continuous maintenance. I always feel that positive mental health has no quick-fix, magic wand solutions and working at it requires good habits in the same way as physical health does.

And that is what this book gives you: a starter kit for the tools needed to look after mental health to kick-start the development of positive habits. I took a while to consider the key components of what can contribute to a healthy mind and included them in this book. (It’s written in a child-friendly way of course.)

The main messages include:

Self esteem tips

  • Try hard not to compare yourself to others – sometimes you will come out 'better', but the times you come out worse can stick in your mind and make you feel bad for longer.
  • Celebrate the things you are good at but also learn to accept the things you are less naturally talented at.
  • Show self-compassion. Accept the way you are – someone will love you just as you are!

Physical fitness

  • Getting enough sleep is important for resilience.
  • All the things that are good for us physically also happen to be good for keeping our minds healthy too: exercise, a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, relaxing etc

Happiness

  • Nobody can expect to feel joy all the time (even if adverts and social media could lead us to think this was the case).
  • Long term happiness (that which is not an immediate emotion) comes from things such as: friends and family, finding things we love to do, making plans, spending time outside (and sometimes having routines).

Emotional literacy

  • Emotions are to be expected as they are a normal part of being human.
  • Learning to identify and manage our emotions resourcefully has huge beneficial impact on our well-being, our relationships and can help us find life less challenging.
  • When we feel uncomfortable or unenjoyable emotions, it is best to learn to focus on what is going on inside you, what triggered the emotion, where you are feeling it and what would help you ‘survive’ the time you are feeling it until another emotion comes along. Healthy emotions are transient.
  • It is a good idea to make a coping plan for times when we are upset. Different things work well for different people but often talking through our upset with someone, having a good cry, shifting our perspective or any activity that calms us are examples of helpful coping plans.

Rumination

  • Rumination can cause us to feel terrible.
  • We need to first recognise that we are doing it, when we are.
  • There are tools we can use to stop rumination. e.g. name our brain and tell it to, ‘stop’ when we catch ourselves going over and over the same worrying thought.

When others do something that causes us to become upset

  • Being upset because of something someone else did, happens to everyone now and then.
  • If we are really upset, it’s better to do something about the situation rather than ignore it.
  • The best thing to do is to explain to the other person how you felt when they did what they did.
  • Sometimes reframing what happened can help e.g. the person said something nasty to you because they were really upset about something else. This can lead to forgiveness. Forgiveness is a sign that we are no longer bothered by what the other person did.

Mindfulness and mediation

  • This is not a quick fix and it certainly needs practice but the results can be great!
  • Mediation and mindfulness can help you ‘get into the moment’ – a place where future worries and past regrets can bother you less.
  • Focusing on our breathing can be a quick way to calm us.

Support networks

  • It’s important to know when you need help and just as important to ask for it.
  • Identifying who your support network is before you need to call upon anyone can make getting help easier.

Relationships

  • Friends and family help us to feel good about ourselves.
  • Relationships can go wrong and sometimes they need a little fixing but it’s worth doing because they are so important for our wellbeing.

Thinking habits

  • Trying to put an optimistic spin on situations can help us a lot. You can find something positive about nearly every situation.
  • Focusing on what we are grateful for can shift our perspective beneficially.
  • Forgive yourself when you make mistakes – we all do!
  • Kindness – e.g. giving someone a compliment can make us feel just as good as the person we have been kind to.

A further note.

I will add that I did consider including a section in this book about mental health and screen-time. As outlined in my post: Mental Health and Social Media, there is a strong likelihood that social media and other screen activities that children engage with cause an ‘agitation’ through incessant dopamine hits that can be detrimental to mental health. I decided not to include this mostly as this book is aimed at young children who are unlikely to be as engaged in the full gamut of screen activities that a teenager would be. However, it is something that I believe is important to teach children and young people about.