How books help children manage their mental health
A recent report by the BBC highlighted some fears over growing mental health issues amongst children due to missing out on lessons and the lack of socialising throughout the pandemic. We thought we would ask Claire, who is an educational advisor and passionate about mental health, to share her thoughts.
As we progress towards winter; a time of colder weather, darker mornings and earlier nights, and we continue to live with coronavirus and its impact on how we are feeling, more of my thoughts are turning to mental health and how we can support our children to weather the storm.
I believe any child’s book has the potential to support a child to manage their emotions
I have long been an advocate for the importance of teaching children about strategies to manage their mental health. No amount of schooling is going to suitably equip children to get the best out of life if they are unable to manage difficult situations and the strong emotions they can stir up: 'Managing Feelings and Behaviour' is a strand of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile for a reason. Challenging behaviour can be a strong outwardly sign of inner turmoil, and we can't expect our children to behave as we would want them to if we don't show them how to ride the storm when they are feeling overwhelmed. It's also important to remember that what is overwhelming to a child may not seem like a big deal to us: but if they are deeply upset by something, then it's very important to them and we need to help them through it.
There are a numerous books out there about mental health that have been developed for children. Whilst I acknowledge the usefulness of these, I believe that any child's book has the potential to support a child to manage their emotions.
Books can help your child recognise how they are feeling
The reason I believe this is that increasing amounts of research points to mindfulness as being an important tool in promoting good mental health: being present in the moment, paying attention to your own body, feelings and environment.
Once you have talked to your child about how they are feeling, stopping what they are doing (or thinking) and going to get a book can be a useful interruption to the constant flow of thoughts when these are becoming overwhelming. The same can apply to stopping to make a cup of tea, but going to get a book is an especially good strategy for the little people in our lives. This could look like snuggling under a blanket with the book, and maybe even sipping from a warm mug of hot chocolate. Focussing on the warmth and softness of the blanket is an ideal place to start, and the cosiness of the room you are in: how lovely it is to be sheltered from the cold and snuggled inside your home. Then, move onto the book itself: feeling the smoothness of the cover and looking at the colourful picture on the front.
As a child, I know I used to even enjoy the smell that new books have. Why not encourage your child to thoroughly enjoy the full experience of reading a book: not just the useful distraction of what happens as the story unfolds (in the case of fiction books) but the pleasure of the experience itself of reading the book in that moment.
Getting out a book to manage negative emotions is a useful part of their tool box
Of course, if the child is extremely upset then it will take more than this to help your child to become regulated again, but if he or she is just beginning to feel anxious, upset or distressed, then this might just do the trick. Once you have supported your child to recognise how they are feeling and that getting a book is a good way to manage it, eventually this will become second nature. It will form a useful part of their tool box of coping mechanisms as they go through life's ups and downs. And as an extra bonus, it will also help them become better at reading. Win win, right?