This week is Children’s Mental Health Week in the UK – it runs from 1-7 February and is designed to raise awareness of the importance of our children’s psychological and emotional health.
Children’s Mental Health Week was established by Place2Be, a national charity with over 25 years’ experience working with pupils, families and staff in UK schools, providing mental health support through one-to-one and group counselling.
The theme for Children’s Mental Health Week 2021 is ‘Express Yourself’, encouraging children and parents to express ideas, thoughts, emotions, feelings and ideas through a creative outlet.
Our children’s health is a key focus for us here at ProVen Probiotics – both physical health and emotional and psychological wellbeing – and we are particularly concerned about how the current situation with lockdowns and lifestyle restrictions is affecting our children.
To reflect this, we have pulled together some information and ideas on understanding what might affect our children’s mental health and thoughts on how we might support it. We really like the idea of being creative and expressing ourselves (as children and parents or carers), but sometimes even speaking up can be difficult and knowing how to spot the signs and implement some simple support mechanisms can be key.
And remember that children range from one to 18 years of age and different strategies will work for different ages, genders and personalities.
Anxiety and depression is growing in our children
Depression and anxiety have been documented in children as young as three years of age and, in November 2018, NHS Digital released data that showed that one in eight children and young people between ages 5 and 19 had a diagnosable mental health condition.
Whilst the statistics are not yet available for 2020-2021, it is evident that these numbers will have grown dramatically over the past 12 months and that the situation we are in currently is detrimental to the health of our children both physically and mentally.
Their physical health is affected as they are spending the majority of their time indoors and getting them outside to exercise is a challenge, particularly during the winter months. Whilst they are only able to connect with their friends online and schooling is also being delivered via computer, they are often spending much of their day sat in one position in a single room in front of a screen – this particularly applies to our older children, but is also affecting very young children as parents try to juggle work and home-schooling.
What about parents?
All this juggling is also affecting us as parents – we have always provided love, care, nutritional, emotional and practical support for our children and now we are their ‘teachers’ too. We are spending an increasing amount of time in our houses with our children, with limited access to the outside world – and in many cases, no access to a garden and limited indoor space. This can then become a vicious circle, where our mental health struggles impact our children and their challenges.
It is vitally important that we take time for ourselves and give ourselves some slack and space to help us to remain grounded. By looking after our own physical and mental health, we can offer examples of coping mechanisms to our children, helping them repeat these learned behaviours when life gets tough.
What can we do to support ourselves and our children?
- Sleep – good quality sleep is vital to mental health. As adults we need 7-8 hours a day and this increases the younger the child. The specific number of hours required each night will vary by child, but the following is a guideline:
|Toddlers 1-2 years old||11-14 hours|
|Children 3-5 years old||10-13 hours|
|Children 6-12 years old||9-12 hours|
|Teenagers 13-18 years old||8-10 hours|
- Physical activity – we all need to move daily and whilst we are all stuck at home, working this into our schedule is a must. Take regular breaks and work in some exercise for at least 30 minutes every day – both us and our children.
- Eat well – what we eat impacts our mental health and, whilst there are specific foods that support brain health (oily fish, broccoli, blueberries, turmeric, nuts and seeds, fermented foods), eating a healthy balanced diet that includes lots of vegetables with healthy fats and protein will support both physical and mental health. This may not be easy with picky eaters, so aim to include as many healthy foods as possible each day and include supplements if needed. Consider multivitamins, omega 3 oils and friendly bacteria.
- Get outside in nature – spending time outside in green spaces and other natural environments has been shown to support wellbeing. Get all the family together, wrap up warm and get outside as often and for as long as possible.
- Play – having some fun is vitally important to supporting mental health. Play board games or card games, sing, dance, play tag outside, race up and down the road – any form of play is great.
- Take time out – we can all feel under pressure to homeschool, work, cook, clean, stick to the rules, exercise and so on. Taking time out and just doing nothing can help us to relax – and this is really important if we are feeling particularly stressed or if our children are struggling with school work.
- Meditate – practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing and tai chi have been shown to help with both relaxation generally by engaging the parasympathetic nervous system and brain health specifically. Teaching these skills to young children can give them a coping mechanism they can use as they grow up and face further challenges.
- Hug – physical contact is important to human beings and hugging for more than six seconds has been shown to release oxytocin and serotonin, feel-good chemicals released by the body. Whilst we hug our little children often this can become more difficult as they become teens and finding small ways and opportunities to express affection and physical contact may help – even if this involves play fighting and kisses to the top of the head.
- Get a pet – similar to hugging, stroking and caring for a pet may help to reduce stress and change our focus. It may be particularly calming for stressed children who can’t express their feelings. See our blog Why we should all get a pet.
- Laugh – laughter has been shown to reduce the effects of stress and to change levels of dopamine and serotonin (feel good chemicals) in the brain. Watch a funny movie, tell each other jokes, play funny games, tickle your children, act silly, do whatever it takes to laugh every day.
Children’s Mental Health Week information can be found here.
Want to know more?
ProVen Probiotics aim to provide the best support for both you and your health. If you wish to know more about gut health please do not hesitate to call us on 01639 825107 or alternatively, learn more via our blogs or in-depth ProVen research.
ProVen Probiotics, Unit 2 Christchurch Road, Baglan Industrial Park, Port Talbot, SA12 7DJ. Tel: 01639 825107