Child Mental Health Week is in its 7th year. Initiated by Place2Be, a Mental Health Charity in the UK, many schools, organisations and families have begun to take on the campaign to spread awareness about Child Mental Health.
The theme for this year is ‘Self Expression’: finding ways to share ideas, thoughts, feelings through creativity.
The campaign is a great reminder to think about your child’s mental health and ask them how they are doing. It’s not always easy to know how to go about this. Creative outlets can support those conversations or can be a way of expressing feelings without talking about them.
This February, if you can think of ways to encourage creativity in your children, you will be supporting their mental health.
Why Does Child Mental Health Matter?
“Children and adolescents acquire cognitive and social-emotional skills that shape their future mental health and are important for assuming adult roles in society.”World Health Organisation
Childhood is a critical time for brain development. During our early years, we form a sense of identity, we begin to recognise and understand emotions and we learn the skills needed to self-regulate or manage our emotions.
If children experience challenges in the early years or are not given adequate support or exposure to loving relationships they may be at risk of having poor mental health later in life. The more adverse childhood experiences (ACES) someone has, the more they are at risk. This doesn’t mean mental health problems are inevitable, humans are resilient by nature and protective factors such as strong relationships, early intervention, and good social and emotional literacy can lower the risk.
We tend to think of mental health as an adult concern but many children struggle and need extra support. Bullying, bereavement, illness and relocations are all common challenges that children may face in their early years.
Since the start of the pandemic, many countries have reported a significant rise in child mental health problems, with anxiety and depression rates in children are on the rise. UNICEF has commented on the issue and urged families to tune into the needs of their children:
“This is a universal crisis and for some children, the impact will be lifelong”UNICEF, 2020
Here are a couple of sobering statistics:
It is estimated that between 10 – 20% of children and adolescents may experience a mental health concern but treatment and early intervention are often in short supply.
Half of all mental health concerns start by the time a child is 14 years of age.
Across the world, suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19-year-olds.
The best thing about self-expression is that it is so individual, you can’t get it wrong! Any art, dancing, crafts, writing or sport you engage in can be your form of creative self-expression.
To get children started, they may need some guidance on how to start. Here are a few ideas by age on how you can bring out creativity in your child.
Creative Play Ideas
Tiny tots may seem too young to be creative but they express themselves through play. Set up uninterrupted, open ended play opportunities for them and sit back and watch how they engage and observe what they like doing. A good example of this could be simple building blocks. Some children want to build, others make straight lines, some prefer to throw or scatter them! These are all forms of self-expression that are age appropriate.
Dancing to music is a lovely activity at any age but our toddlers can really let go and be wild when they hear a song they like! You can begin to introduce art to your toddler. Not a nice neat craft, but a space where they can explore the materials, make marks and experiment. My children always loved drawing on themselves…..luckily children wash well!
A whole new world of creativity appears when children reach school age. Reading, writing, musical instruments, dancing, singing, new hobbies and talents suddenly expand your child’s world. Ask them how they feel when they do an activity, not simply whether they like or don’t like it. This month, ask your child to draw or paint their happiest memory and see what they come up with.
Some teenagers can find it difficult to express their emotions as they navigate social interactions, identity formation and shifting moods. Pay attention to what your teenager enjoys doing and try and suggest ways to extend their interests into something creative. Photography, art, journaling and vlogging can all be great ways to encourage self-expression.
Books can be a great way to examine emotions with children. There’s a good selection available in Gaborone at the Honeycomb Hub and Exclusive Books. Any story can be used as a talking point with children. Find some great locally published books here.
Place2Be, a UK based charity has some good online resources for parents and teachers:
The Centre for the Developing Child at Harvard have released a series of guides to support Early Childhood Development through COVID-19, you can access them here.
For concerns about your child’s mental health, these websites have some good information but always consult with your doctor if you are worried. To know more about mental health, here’s a great article.