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Summer Term 2021
How parents can talk to children about our mental health
Beginning a conversation with family members about our mental health can seem daunting, as the fear of being misunderstood or misrepresented can leave us to prefer silence. Additionally, parents may wish to conceal their mental health issues from their children as it may be viewed as not being ‘age appropriate', or parental vulnerability may seem alien to the family dynamic. However, children are most likely aware that a problem is occurring, and if parents are to lead by example, opening up about their mental health will make it easier, in turn, for their children to do so in the future. Helen Spiers, head of counselling at Mable Therapy, enlightens us as to how a parent can begin to approach that discussion with their children.
Awareness around mental health has grown massively in the last decade. Most people now know the importance of opening up and talking about difficult feelings, but it’s not always that easy. Despite growing acceptance, there’s many who stay silent, worried about the stigma of talking openly about their mental health. This can be particularly difficult for parents wanting to discuss their mental health with their children. While it’s important to be honest, it can be difficult for us to know how much to share without worrying or burdening our children. So how can parents navigate this tricky terrain and discuss mental health in a way that removes the taboo?
- See also: 'How to support yourself and your child through mental illness'
- See also: 'The value of role models to good mental health'
Removing the stigma
When it comes to educating people about mental health, there’s a long way to go. Portrayals in the media are often unhelpful, tabloids will sometimes bask in the ‘unravelling’ of celebrities, while screen characters are often seen being locked away for their own protection or acting in wild and unpredictable ways.
Closer to home, there can be just as many misconceptions. Those suffering with their mental health risk the reaction of ignorant or unsympathetic loved ones, while some may even encounter GPs or teachers that talk about mental health as if there’s a choice. Statements about ‘pulling your socks up’, ‘looking on the bright side’ and ‘what have you got to be sad about?’ are sadly still being heard across the UK, leaving those on the receiving end feeling isolated and invalidated.
For children and young people the tide seems to be turning. Tireless campaigns and improved education mean that they’re more likely to see mental health issues as less taboo, and something that can be overcome. However in my work as a counsellor I know there are still many students who won’t come and see me because they fear being bullied if their peers find out. Insults such as ‘mental’ are still thrown around in playgrounds while issues such as eating disorders and self-harm in young people are often labelled as ‘fashionable’ or something done for attention.
For both adults and children, talking about mental health can feel like a huge risk, with many deciding it’s easier to keep it under wraps. However, if we can talk to our children about their emotional wellbeing, we have the chance to strengthen our relationship, build the child’s empathy and understanding, and promote positive attitudes towards mental health.
- See also: 'How can we safeguard children and young people’s mental health post-pandemic?'
- See also: 'What teenagers have to say about their relationship with mental health and nature'
Talking to children about mental health
1. Be honest
It’s important to be as honest as possible, using straightforward language and avoiding euphemisms. However, it’s still important that this is done in an age-appropriate way. It can be useful to use physical health as a comparison: ‘sometimes we might have a broken leg or a poorly tummy and we need help with this, well that’s the same with mental illness…’ It’s also helpful to talk to our children about what they might have noticed: ‘you may have noticed lately that I’ve been very tired and seemed sad…’ . We can then reassure them this is nothing to worry about, they’re just signs that we need a bit of help with our mental health.
2. Prepare in advance
It can be really helpful to plan what to say in advance, either by practising with someone, or writing it down and reading it out loud. By doing so, we’ll be more confident about what we want to say and it will feel less difficult to say the words out loud. It’s important we’re prepared to discuss the practicalities of the issue, including if the child needs to help in any way. If they’re going to need to get themselves ready for school or give us some quiet time when we’re having a tough day, they need to know when this will be needed and how we’ll communicate it with them.
3. Reassure them
Children are inherently egocentric and believe the world revolves around them. This means that when things go wrong, they’ll assume it’s their fault and will find a way to make that narrative fit. As parents, we need to let our children know that it’s not their fault and there’s nothing they could have done differently. They will probably need to hear this lots of times for it to sink in, so keep the lines of communication open and don’t let it become a taboo subject.
4. Let them be children
While it’s important to be open and honest about mental health, it’s important that we’re maintaining our role as parents. As a counsellor, I work with lots of young people who have become a confidante or support network to a parent, who will turn to them when they’re having a bad day. If we need to have a good cry or really offload then an adult family member or friend is the better choice, or if not, calling the samaritans may be the answer. Children who feel responsible for their parents’ mental wellbeing are much more at risk of struggling themselves.
5. Be proactive
We never know when mental health issues will arise, so it’s important to talk about it even if it doesn’t feel necessary. Helping children to understand that mental health is a spectrum and we’re all likely to struggle at times, will help to normalise any issues and make them more likely to ask for help. In recent years celebrities such as pop stars Jesy Nelson and Yungblud, and footballers Danny Rose and Aaron Lennon have opened up about their own mental health struggles. Talking about their stories can be a great way to get the conversation started and let children know that mental health difficulties can happen to anyone.
Talking about our mental health can be hard and if we’re already low, it can feel easier to sweep it under the carpet and pretend everything is okay. However, children are incredibly observant and are likely to have picked up that something is wrong, even if we think we’re masking it well. By opening up, we’re hopefully removing a lot of confusion and worry. And who knows, maybe by educating the next generation about mental health, we’ll finally be able to stop the stigma.
Spring Term 2021
Fake news and disinformation online
What’s the problem?
Fake news is false or misleading information presented as genuine news.
Fake news and disinformation have been linked to radicalisation by extremists and attempts to skew people’s world views. Extremist narratives relating to coronavirus include:
- Antisemitic conspiracy theories blaming Jewish people for the spread of the virus or suggesting it’s a ‘Jewish plot’
- Claims that British Muslims have flouted social distancing rules
- Anti-Chinese hatred
- Isis-inspired narratives about how coronavirus is a divine punishment for the ‘sinful behaviours’ of the west
- Extreme right-wing conspiracies that society is collapsing and far-right groups can accelerate its end
Reading information like this can upset or worry your child unnecessarily. Fake news also helps create a culture of fear and uncertainty, with children trusting reputable news outlets less as a result of fake news.
How can I help my child spot fake news online?
Tell them to ask themselves:
- What’s the source? Is it a reputable news source, and are mainstream news outlets reporting it too?
- When was it published? Check the date an article was published, as sometimes old stories are shared on social media. This could be an accident, or it might be to make it look like something happened recently
- Have you seen anything similar elsewhere? What happens if you search for it on Google or check it using a fact-checking website like Full Fact?
- Do the pictures look real? Images might have been edited. They might also be unrelated images that have been used with the story
- Why might this have been created? Could someone be trying to provoke a specific reaction, change your beliefs, or get you to click a link?
Encourage them to read beyond the headline too. Many people share stories having just read the headline, then discover the actual story is quite different.
Point them to the government’s SHARE checklist (https://sharechecklist.gov.uk/) and advice from Childline (https://bit.ly/3oYfsgd) too.
What signs of radicalisation should I be alert to?
It’s worth knowing what signs to be alert to, just in case. If you do see these signs, it doesn’t necessarily mean your child is being radicalised – it could be nothing at all, or it could be a sign that something else is wrong.
- Becoming more isolated from friends and family
- Not being willing or able to talk about their views
- Becoming more angry
- Talking as if from a script
- A sudden disrespectful attitude towards others
- Being more secretive, especially about their internet use
If you’re worried about your child, contact the Safeguarding Lead - Mr Casey.
Autumn Term 2020
10 tips to stay safe online
Not sure what advice to give your child?
1. You should only talk to people you know and trust in real life – anyone can pretend to be a child online
2. If you do talk to people you don’t know, don’t give away personal information – like what street you live on or where you go to school, or share your location with them. Say no to any requests they send you for images or videos of yourself, and stop talking to them
3. Set your profiles to private, to limit what others can see
4. Be ‘share aware’ – think carefully about what you share and with who. Once it’s out there, you’ve got no control over what the other person does with it. Remember, it’s illegal to take, share or view sexual images of under-18s, full stop
5. Be mindful of your digital footprint. What you post online now could come back to bite you later, like when applying for jobs, college or university
6. If you see something upsetting, or someone bullies you, tell an adult you trust
7. Be aware that people will try to make their lives look more exciting online. There’s a lot people can do with photo editing to make their photos look better. So don’t assume everything you see is a true to life representation
8. Watch out for hoaxes and scams, like messages you’re meant to forward on or that ask you for payment details or your password
9. Take any content that glamorises gang lifestyles with a very large pinch of salt – it’s not as glamorous as it looks. Be wary of schemes promising easy cash for receiving and transferring money too, they’re almost definitely criminal activity
10. Watch out for loot boxes or other parts of games where you pay money to take a chance on getting a reward – you can get sucked into spending lots of money on them
Don’t feel confident starting a conversation with your child about what they’re up to online? Read this advice from the NSPCC: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/onlinesafety/talking-child-online-safety
Summer Term 2020
HOW DISTRESSED AM I?
Stress is a natural part of life, and something we all experience from time to time.
It can be helpful to think of stress as a set of circumstances which cause us to react mentally and physically.
If we ignore the source of the stress and are chronically reacting, we can become unwell over the longer term.
People often use the terms ‘stress’ and ‘pressure’ interchangeably but there are some significant differences.
We experience stress when the demands of our environment outstrip our actual or perceived ability to deal with them.
Pressure helps us to focus and perform to the best of our ability even if we don’t enjoy the task at hand.
Stress is not an illness – it is a state, however, if stress becomes too excessive and prolonged, mental and physical illness may develop.
No one can avoid stress in life but it’s important to tackle the source of your stress before it becomes overwhelming.
You can do this by practicing self-care, speaking to a friend, family member, colleague, or someone professionally.
Useful resource - TED Talks video: The cure for stress
Spring Term 2020
How to look after your family’s mental health when you’re stuck indoors
With schools closing and many adults working from home, families are going to be cooped up. It’s easy to get cabin fever when children who are used to running around the playground and hanging out with friends are stuck indoors with their parents.
Here are our tips for keeping everyone’s spirits up as much as possible as we self-isolate.
It’s suddenly much harder to move around, but it’s important to stay physically active, not just for your body, but for your mental health, too.
Walking – the current advice is that it’s OK to walk outdoors as long as you stay two metres away from other people. (Going outside doesn’t increase the risk – only being close to other people or touching things they’ve coughed over.) The advice about moving around may change slightly, so keep up to date with the latest guidance from the NHS. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, spend time there, maybe doing some exercise, maybe pulling up some weeds or tidying.
Home-made gym – the NHS website has lots of ideas for exercises that need no more equipment than a chair, a pillow or a sofa.
Yoga – one of the few forms of exercise that requires almost no space. There are hundreds of free online yoga tutorials on YouTube. Yoga with Adrienne is the most popular series. Parent Zone’s resident yogi strongly recommends Cole Chance: her workouts, for beginners to more advanced practitioners, take from 10 minutes upwards and target all parts of the body and different times of day and moods.
Dancing – all you need is some good music. We’ve had mandatory dance breaks at Parent Zone. Take five minutes away from your screens. Get the kids to show you their best moves.
Mental health experts agree that it’s important to maintain a routine in the days of isolation, or everything can blur into sameness. Mark out different parts of the day for different activities. Agree a schedule with your kids, so they know when it’s time to do some gaming, when they need to move about, when they need to make food or be helpful, when they need to sleep.
Related to this:
Eat well and stay hydrated
It’s currently difficult to find certain foods in some supermarkets, but there are already lots of ideas online for meals to make with store-cupboard staples. Eat a balanced diet. Get children involved in planning meals and in helping to prepare them. Make sure everyone drinks lots of water, too.
This is related to exercise – we all tend to sleep better if we’ve been physically active. So try to fit some exercise into every day. Try some evening yoga to calm you down. And now is definitely the time to enforce a no-screens-before-bed rule.
Ration your intake of information
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has some excellent advice, including to avoid looking at the news constantly – limit yourself to a couple of times a day. (A constant stream of updates can be very disorientating.)
Consider where you’re getting your information from. Is it sensationalised? Is it actually helpful? The NHS website, the UK government’s information, and the WHO are all good places to start.
The WHO also recommends sharing good news – if you hear about a successful vaccine trial, for example, or a slowing infection rate.
This is the time to be mindful about your social media use. Are you really concentrating when you pick up your phone? Could you wait another hour before you look?
Be kind to yourself and have fun
The coronavirus pandemic is like nothing we have ever known – but it doesn’t all have to be bad.
Give yourself treats; pamper yourself. If you love box sets, settle yourself in for a couple. (We’re going to be publishing a guide to some of our favourites.) Attack that pile of books you’ve been meaning to read. If you like jigsaw puzzles but you’re usually too busy, use the time you’d normally spend on your commute to amuse yourself.
Play games with your kids that you haven’t played since you were a child. Or take the opportunity to play one of their favourites – maybe you’ll discover a love of Minecraft or Fortnite. We don’t give ourselves permission to play enough, as adults, so now is the perfect time to rediscover play, with your children.
Also make plans with your family for the things you’re going to do when this is all over.
Do something creative
Whether it’s drawing, writing, playing music, knitting, or building a bus out of cardboard boxes, you can lose yourself in creative activity, experiencing a supercharged state of concentration and freedom that’s been described as “flow”. It doesn’t matter how rubbish the end product is (though you probably have to want it to be good) – it’s all about the process.
Learn something new. Use the time you’ve got to learn, perhaps with your children. There will be lots of resources online – both sent by schools and provided by other bodies, such as the BBC. (We’ll be doing a roundup of these too.)
Work with your kids on whatever they’re learning – and don’t forget all the useful life-skills that aren’t covered by the curriculum. Learn to bake bread together; teach them to cook eggs in six different ways. Learn an instrument or a language, or do a project together about something that interests you both.
This is probably the most important thing of all. Human beings are profoundly social and this pandemic is requiring us to stop socialising. Just because we’re not in the same physical space as other people, though, it doesn’t mean we can’t be with them in other ways. Take time to keep in touch.
There’s lots of research to show that people who volunteer are happier than those who don’t. Help people in the community who can’t get out. There are all sorts of neighbourhood schemes springing up.
Celebrate healthcare workers, supermarket workers and all those who are keeping us going. In Spain, whole streets have come out onto their balconies to applaud supermarket workers as they lock up for the night.
If you’re still anxious
Try everything above and if none of that works, do something you can control. Write down what you’re worried about – in a diary, say – and put it away.
Practise meditation (lots of courses online) and deep breathing. Focus on helping others.
Again, the WHO has very helpful advice, including:
Encourage children to express their feelings. If they feel anxious, they should be able to say so.
Provide them with information. Be honest, but be sure to emphasise the positive: they are not likely to die, more people have recovered from the virus than have passed away.
If they are in a high-risk group, keep them socially isolated and assure them that you are doing everything to protect them and that if you follow the rules together, there is no reason for them to be infected.
And of course, remember that children may need extra love and attention. Keep them close!
Autumn Term 2019
Child Exploitation - County Lines
The Government’s Serious Violent Crime Strategy 2018 describes county lines as:
“a term used by police and partner agencies to refer to drug networks (both gangs and organised crime groups) who use children and young people and vulnerable adults to carry out illegal activity on their behalf”.
Whilst gangs dealing drugs is not a new activity the use of children and young people to transport drugs, activity which often involves violence and carrying weapons, is a modern development. Data shows that children as young as 12 work as couriers and unsurprisingly, these are often the most vulnerable children – those in care, or with parents who are absent, offenders themselves and/or drug users.
Vulnerable adults can also be used as part of the network, and risks to them involve ‘cuckooing’, which is a group of offenders taking over their home and using it as a base to run operations from.
The county line itself refers to a telephone line – a particular number or numbers which will be used to order and convey drugs over several counties, sometimes nationwide.
The gangs operating county lines do so very efficiently, using tactics such as coercion, violence, (including sexual violence) intimidation and weapons.
Is this really a problem?
The National Crime Agency say that there is no area in England unaffected by this activity. There is no doubt that this activity is happening in our city, and that our vulnerable children, young people and adults are at risk from it.
We all see violent crime on the news - this has recently included street robberies, house burglaries targeting car keys and serious assaults involving knives. The Police tell us that a large number of these are likely linked to gang and county lines activity and so the impact city is clear to see. Police are working hard to disrupt criminal activity as much as they can, but we all have a duty to look for the signs of county lines and to report what we see. Only by working together can we protect the most vulnerable in our communities
What should I be looking for?
Some common warning signs:
- Returning home late, staying out all night or going missing
- Being found in areas away from home
- Increasing drug use, or being found to have large amounts of drugs on them
- Being secretive about who they are talking to and where they are going
- Unexplained absences from school, college, training or work
- Unexplained money, phone(s), clothes or jewellery
- Increasingly disruptive or aggressive behaviour
- Using sexual, drug-related or violent language you wouldn’t expect them to know
- Coming home with injuries or looking particularly dishevelled
- Having hotel cards or keys to unknown places.
Summer Term 2019
Mental health is an increasingly high-profile topic in society and the media - particularly with exams season.
The Mental Health Foundation offer a series of publications on how to look after your mental health that are available to download for free. These include 'How to overcome fear and anxiety', 'How to sleep better' and 'How to manage and reduce stress'.
You can also visit our Safeguarding page focusing on mental health for further tips and links.
Spring Term 2019
Media attention often focuses on e-safety and electronic devices. The BBC reported an NSPCC call for immediate action on online safety while a similar article reported a study suggesting children don't feel safe online. Online video streaming site YouTube has also apologised recently after disturbing videos appeared in its kids' app. You can find more guidance on e-safety on our Online Safety page.
Alongside safety online, there has been a lot of media attention regarding appropriate screen time for young people. This opinion piece on the Guardian website by Jean Twenge, a Psychology Professor at San Diego university, suggests 90 minutes a day should be the limit. She also offers links to a multitude of academic studies that have explored this topic further. The British Psychological Society, meanwhile, is calling for more evidence on appropriate levels of screen time for young people and offers a range of recommendations for parents and carers. These include:
- Minimise screen use before bedtime - see the following article from The Independent about screen time
- Encourage children to engage in a variety of activities away from screens
- Parents/carers should discuss the different aspects of digital media with their children and encourage positive media use
- Spend time online together to help young children get the most from educational content
Source: British Psychological Society, January 2018
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