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Children will thrive when parents thrive first #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek

Celia Dean, Clinical Psychologist at Kids Matter, reminds us this #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek (1-7Feb) that whilst it is essential to acknowledge the well-being of children, they are not raised in isolation: children will do well when those who are caring for them to well first.

This week we’re marking Children’s Mental Health, which feels timely. With more than a month to go until returning to school is a possibility, pausing to think about children’s well-being seems sensible, if not essential. We know that children are having to face very different worlds right now, all the things they took for granted have been up-ended and they are spending more time than ever at home with their families. Never has there been a period in living history that parents and children have spent so much extended time together.

A year or so ago we might have thought this was a dream come true – to spend quality time together without the pressure of dashing out the door to try and make the school bell with the constant nagging of “hurry up or we’ll be late”. I bet, however, in your wildest of imaginings, you didn’t foresee that this new era would mean, in addition to all the demands of parenting, you’d also be a teacher, mentor, sports coach, BFF and occasionally counsellor. We have certainly had to adapt whether we’ve wanted to or not. So, although I applaud Child Mental Health week, I also feel we really need a Parent Mental Health Week. We want the best for our children but if we are stressed out, anxious or depressed this will impact family life and therefore our children.

So how do we, as parents, look after our own mental health in the midst of this pandemic? Turning to the science of positive psychology we see that there are various aspects of our life that can build our well-being and we know that if we boost our well-being it is likely to build our resilience, And during these extraordinary times is more important than ever.

Martin Seligman outlines 5 core elements of well-being and uses the acronym PERMA to describe them. He suggests that these five elements are the recipe to living a fulfilling, happy and meaningful life. So what are the magic ingredients?

Positive emotions – I think we can agree we all need more of these in our life right now! But it’s more than just happiness. There are so many positive emotions to enrich our lives, such as awe, contentment, pride, compassion, optimism, hope, gratitude to name just a few. We can build these into our every day life by simple things such as listening to uplifting music when you have a break from home schooling, or finding things to be grateful for at the end of each day, why not make this a family activity? Or we could bake for an elderly neighbour who has been shielding for the best part of a year?

Engagement refers to that feeling of getting lost in an activity – when we’re so absorbed in it we lose track of time. This is different to passively watching a movie because it’s about actively doing something that we enjoy with a bit of challenge. It could it be learning something new with our child such as trying a new recipe together or going for a walk with the intention of noticing all the signs of spring in our neighbourhood.

Relationships are more important than ever right now! We are social creatures and the connections we have with others really make a huge difference to how we feel. It helps remind us we’re not doing this alone even though our social opportunities are seriously restricted right now. When we feel low it can be even harder to reach out to others but it’s more important than ever. Could we reach out to an old friend we’ve not been in touch with for a while and have a chat, we might just make their day too! Or is there some way we could help out in our community and meet new people in our neighbourhood in the process?

Meaning is all about feeling that what we do is valuable and worthwhile, finding our purpose. For some of us this might be championing a political cause or it could be our spiritual belief that energises and motivates us. But how about whilst we try and parent? Can bringing up our children to have similar values to our own, build meaning into our role? Would it help us to think about those everyday interactions with our children being opportunities to teach them our values in life? What if we were able to help someone else out in their hour of need, wouldn’t that give our day more purpose?

Accomplishment (the final element) refers to that feeling of achievement when we have worked towards and reached a goal. The concept of ‘grit’ is so pertinent now, we are having to dig deep and find ways of surviving lockdown until things begin to open up again in society. It’s surprising how small wins can really make a difference to how we feel the day has gone. They don’t need to be big or knock out achievements, just little things that we do each day that give us that sense of accomplishment. Such as sorting out the clothes your kids have grown out of and donating them or cleaning out a cupboard that you know is a mess, maybe the kids can even join in and help. So what could we do today that would be one thing that would make us feel we’d achieved something positive today.

Boosting our wellbeing has never been more important and PERMA is a great way to remind us of all the aspects of our life that can help us do this. What is particularly interesting from PERMA and the positive psychology literature is that many things that increase our well-being relate to our connection with other people. In particular, kindness to others, which is so intrinsically linked to our own well-being.

That is why at Kids Matter we’re supporting the campaign to do a #LittleGoodDeed for a young family. There are so many families right now really struggling to keep their heads above water, juggling the many aspects of family life with young children. So if you’re interested in your own well- being whether you are a parent, grandparent, neighbour, or friend, think about doing a little good deed for someone else and you might get the surprising benefit of boosting your own wellbeing in the process!

Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at info@kidsmatter.org.uk

#LittleGoodDeed is a campaign supported by many of the nation’s most loved children’s charities. We want to encourage people to do a #LittleGoodDeed for a parent or carer having a tricky time – to reach out, check in and ask what they need. And we will celebrate those good deed doers that are making a difference in small ways, every day. Find out more at Littlegooddeed.org.uk

PERMA Image Credit: Optimistic Spark

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