How to talk to your child about mental health

All children will have picked up on the disruption caused by COVID-19, whether they have had to stop going to school, or are just enjoying having mum and dad at home full time. But they will also have picked up, consciously or unconsciously, on the stress and strain that everyone in society is feeling. It’s particularly important therefore that we give children space to express how they might be feeling, and also the tools to understand and manage their mental health.

The building blocks to good mental health start very young, so the earlier we can encourage open conversation around feelings and emotions, the better – but for many parents and teachers, it’s hard to know where to start.

That’s why, at the beginning of this year, we launched a brand-new list of children’s titles called Upside Down Books. This new imprint aims to offer young readers comforting, nurturing, playful and humorous books that also spark thought and conversation around their feelings and emotions. Each book published features a note to parents from Clinical Psychologist, Lauren Callaghan, who ensures that every title is developmentally accurate and appropriate.

Lauren says, ‘At Upside Down, we have the opportunity to help children achieve better mental health by identifying their feelings and emotions, while embracing values that are consistent with mental wellbeing.’

With a range of titles that cover topics such as mindfulness, emotions, grief, anxiety and even boredom, the list of books publishing in 2020 will offer plenty of choice for parents looking to help their children explore and learn about their own mental health.

Children as young as two can benefit from learning about emotions, which is where books such as ABC of Feelings, by Bonnie Lui, can be helpful. The picture book for children aged two to five (£6.99) depicts a different emotion for each letter of the alphabet, and the easy-to-read explanation of what it means to feel that way will allow children to develop the vocabulary they need to vocalise how they are feeling. Being able to describe how you feel is something that even adults can struggle to do, so it’s essential that we include this sort of education from a young age. This way, children will grow up with the tools to explore how they are feeling and, hopefully, cope with those emotions better.

Another useful book on the list is the beautifully illustrated Breathe Like a Bear, by Kira Willey and Anni Betts (£9.99). Aimed at children aged four to eight, Breathe Like a Bear teaches children simple mindfulness techniques in a fun and engaging way. For example, readers are encouraged to practice deep breathing by pretending to blow out a candle, or to take a restful minute to imagine being a cloud in the sky. By taking basic mindfulness principles and putting them into simple, child friendly activities, this book gives children the tools they need to cope with overwhelming situations (and parents a technique to try when they’re struggling to get their children to calm down!).

But it’s not just younger children that can benefit from working on their mental wellbeing. We all know that the teenage years can be overwhelming, and emotions can run high. It’s important to give teens a safe outlet for all these feelings, which is why having a diary or journal can be incredibly helpful.

My Feelings Journal and My Mindful Journal (£9.99 each) give teens the space to explore how they are feeling, and include prompts and tips to help them open up and get to the bottom of their emotions. In doing so, they will be able to speak more openly with friends, parents or teachers if they are struggling with their mental health, as they will have had the opportunity to identify how they are feeling on their own.

However old your children are, it’s never a bad time to start talking about mental health and wellbeing. Whether you choose to do this by sharing stories, talking face to face, or even over text message, a little can go a long way when it comes to preparing them for the future.

Our top tips for boosting your child’s mental wellbeing:

  • Try to establish a bedtime routine to help with good sleep. Sleep has an enormous impact on mental wellbeing, and this starts in childhood. Building in time for a bedtime story will give you some quality time with your children and help them wind down before bed.
  • Make time to check in with your child each day about how they’re feeling. If you encourage them to think about their mental state regularly, they’ll learn to take notice if they feel something is wrong.
  • Help your children to build the vocabulary they need to talk about how they are feeling so that they can talk things through when they are struggling,. Books such as ABC of Feelings by Bonnie Lui can be helpful.
  • Make time for outdoor play (even if this is just going for a walk around the neighbourhood to spot rainbows in windows!). Exercise and fresh air are proven to improve mental health, and have benefits to physical health as well (plus time away from their screens is always a bonus!).

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