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We have all seen some alarming headlines in the news recently about poor mental health in children and young people. Some healthcare professionals have described this as a ‘crisis’ and an ‘epidemic’, causing understandable concern among parents and those who work with children.
Although the scale of the problem seems enormous, there are simple, well-evidenced actions we can all take to help boost and protect young people’s mental well-being. With Mental Health Awareness Week coming up, this is an ideal time to share information about the Five Ways to Well-being.
The Five Ways are a set of evidence-based actions established by the New Economics Foundation in 2008 and has since been thoroughly researched and tested by organisations such as healthcare trusts, charities and schools.
They are: Connect, Be active, Take notice, Keep learning, and Give
Although the Five Ways were not developed exclusively for children, extensive research by the Children’s Society showed that with a little flexibility they work well for young people too and can have a hugely positive effect on mental well-being.
Here are some suggestions for parents, teachers, nursery workers, healthcare professionals and anyone working with children.
Share time with your young person. Talk to them about things that matter to them, whatever their age. Encourage them to talk in person rather than over text or via social media. Have meals together, reduce time spent watching TV or using mobile phones – this goes for adults as well as children.
We know exercise has a positive effect on mood and general health but it doesn’t have to mean spending hours in the gym. Going for a walk, riding a bike, playing in the garden, skipping are all effective ways of staying active. Encourage your young person to take up a group sport – these bring social benefits and help them learn new skills.
Young people’s surroundings have a huge impact on their well-being. Taking time to stop and notice things around them is the most important of all the Five Ways. Spend time ‘in the moment’ by practising mindfulness. Go out for a country walk, or a trip to the beach, or visit a part of town you don’t know very well. Listen to their thoughts and ideas.
Young people gain confidence and a sense of achievement from acquiring new skills outside of school. Passing on your own skills such as cookery, sewing, knitting or photography is a great way to spend time together. Encourage them to develop their own interests and help them find the resources they need.
Young people can focus on giving kindness rather than anything material. For example they could give their time to help others at school, perhaps by playing with someone new or helping at a school club. Older children can volunteer outside school if they have time and younger ones can help out more with chores at home.
Poor mental health in children is not inevitable, or a problem that can never be solved. By following some of this simple advice we can all make a real difference to the children and young people we care about.
TEACH specialises in providing essential health education and training to all staff in schools, colleges, early years and child care settings.
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