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2020 Hindsight

‘I never thought of you as someone who does DIY,’ was my Dad’s reaction to the news that I’d managed to fix our washing machine. Inspired by the YouTube videos of eSpares.co.uk, I successfully replaced the carbon brushes in our Bosch washer; I keep the worn-out coils in a souvenir box like baby’s first kiss-curls. My Dad was right, I’d never imagined myself that I would be able to repair any kind of domestic appliance, but unable to get a professional round during the Covid crisis, it was time to roll up my sleeves and have a crack at it.

My sleeves were already rolled up from a few weeks of handwashing laundry in our bathtub; at one point I even considered investing in a mangle to squeeze more water out of the dripping wet clothes and towels. Covid lockdown was becoming a stark reality-check on the basics of living together as a family. From laundry and cleaning, constant cooking and washing up, to face-masked grocery shopping, all while trying to keep the kids on track with school, and the ball rolling with work. And I am one of the lucky ones, with a job that I can do from home … on the eye-tiring screen of my laptop, and with a WiFi connection that regularly crashes.

Instability has been a theme for me during Covid, not just for the internet, but psychologically in terms of mental strain, and physically for the health and safety of my family. Before the start of lockdown I was terrified that one of my children was going to catch the virus, and I lay awake at 3am thinking through how I could nurse him, while avoiding contaminating the whole family. The next day, once the children were finally off school, I fed them oranges in the hope of boosting their immune systems, to stand more of a chance of fighting Corona if they got it. As a loving father, I have always tried to shield my children from danger.

Setting boundaries is an important part of parenting, and kids can feel more secure when they have a boundary to kick against. During Covid I also set boundaries for myself, on when I am going to be online with work, when I am present with the family, and frankly when I need time to disconnect on my own. When everyone is on top of each other and going stir crazy, it’s inevitable that tensions will flare up, so communication has been vital, trying to recognise and express our needs to each other. If I have video calls for work, I chalk the times on the IKEA blackboard in our kitchen, alongside our “Family Member of the Day” award (we vote on a winner, and they get a song from Alexa and choose what we watch on Netflix).

A major part of my mental perseveration during Covid, beyond social media distancing, has been walking in our local Luxembourg forests. Taking time each morning to get outdoors, in amazing weather, has been an effective way to clear my head and keep things in balance. It is definitely something that I will try to keep as we emerge into a new normal. There are many things about flexible working and engaging with my family that I’d like to continue, although working from home is certainly going to be less stressful once the kids are back at school. I have mixed feelings about going back to the office, top of mind is booking a holiday! For this Father’s Day, I will be content with the simple pleasure of an empty laundry basket.

By Brian Ballantyne

Author of Confessions of a Working Father

Teach Children to be an Ally

Thank you Gwen Jones, our talented member of the ‘Educating Matters’ team for her passionate article on a vital topic.

Gwen delivers a host of popular talks on tolerance such as Raising Children in a Multicultural World, Unconscious Gender Bias, SEN and LGBTQ+

As an American expat living in the UK, I am looking at my country right now and feeling a myriad of emotions.  I am angry that a man’s life was taken so callously. I feel fear for my family and friends living in the larger cities in the USA.  I feel frustrated with those privileged people that are blindsided by the response from people who are fed up with trying to protest peacefully only to be ignored.  I feel sympathy for a younger generation of adults who believe you have to break the system in order to fix it.  I feel a visceral  disappointment and betrayal by the lack of good leadership from the White House.  Most importantly, I feel a responsibility to educate my children.

As a cis-gendered white woman, I acknowledge my privilege.  I know the power of my tears.  When I am emotive, it is respected, endearing and often a tool to get what I want or get my point across.  I have the privilege to emote.  Growing up in Mississippi as the daughter of a civil right’s activist gave me the most unique perspective.  I saw how much harder it was for my black friends to get credit, how much harder they had to work to be seen as competitive.  My father was always sure we were aware of our privilege so that we could use it to do our best to balance the scales rather than stack them against others.  I have the privilege of being raised by educated and socially aware parents.  From an early age, I knew that my privilege allowed me to have a voice to speak up against injustice.  I understood diversity was something to be acknowledged and celebrated.  I learned that it was a responsibility, it was a value to be an ally to ally.

As I sit with my children watching the news and answering questions, I realise that passing this value on to the next generation cannot be passive.  It is mindful and active.  It involves checking their own privilege so that they can try to  understand what it is to walk around in someone else’s skin, even though they will never truly be able to understand.  It involves teaching them that their story line is valuable, but it is also unique to them and their experience.  I realise that there are rules to living a life as an ally with integrity, do what you know is right regardless of popular opinion or social pressure.    So, here is the beginning of a list that has permission to grow and develop.

An Ally Is Consistent

Keyboard warriors are great for soundbites.  You choose your words carefully so that you can put your best face forward.  For me, writing is the face I wear with my hair done and my make-up on.  The face that really matters is what happens when I close the laptop.  What happens when I am in a room and someone makes an ignorant comment?  What jokes am I willing to laugh at despite being made to feel uncomfortable?  What does my face look like when the makeup comes off and my words and choices flow freely without a filter? 

Children need to learn to be firm in their convictions, even in the face of poor leadership.  If an adult, older child or influential group member is doing or saying something that feels discriminatory, a child needs to know that they do not have to cosign this.  Parents must teach children to respectfully, appropriately and confidently challenge people in charge who are either blindly or blatantly using discriminatory words and practices. 

An Ally Acknowledges Their Privilege

I have never been followed at a grocery store.  I have never been afraid of a police officer.  I am able and willing to ask for help from strangers.  If I see a lost child, I am comfortable walking up to him to help him find his mother.  I feel safe and comfortable when I need to challenge authority.  I have a long history that I am able to trace within my ancestry, none of which involves being a slave.  I can hold my partner’s hand in public without fear of attack.  I can stand as an ally to those oppressed without having experienced that same oppression.  All of this is a manifestation of my privilege.

Many people of privilege are challenged when their privilege is pointed out.  They feel that they are being asked to feel guilty or that the work that they put in is somehow invalidated.  “I work hard for what I have!” is a common response.  Noone is challenging the work ethic of privileged people.  However, privileged people need to ask themselves why they were able to be in a position to work that hard.  People have been passed over for jobs because they “just weren’t the right fit”.  Was this code for the unconscious bias of not being white enough or male enough or wealthy enough?  This is not true of every time.  It may be true at any time.

Privilege can be used or abused.  My privilege as a heterosexual woman has allowed me the opportunity to stand up for LGBTQA+ rights in a way that does not threaten my employment, my place in my family or my physical safety.  I can use my privilege as someone who is not dismissed or hated to stand up for those that are.  I can also abuse my privilege by stepping on other people to find my way up.  I can dismiss another’s experience because it makes me feel bad.  I can expect the rules to not apply to me in the same way.  Children need to be taught that their privilege exists.  They also need to be taught that with that privilege comes the responsibility of checking it and correcting the harm it may have directly or indirectly caused others.

An Ally Learns to Be Comfortable in Discomfort

As a white woman, I have, to no one’s surprise, often found myself in a room without any racial diversity.  It is in this space, amongst friends, family and colleagues, this is the space where an ally is challenged.  Are you willing to tell your aunt or mother in law that she is being offensive?  Are you willing to tell your friends that you don’t want to hear those jokes or those descriptive slang terms?  When people get called out, there is a feeling of discomfort that is palpable.  As an ally, a child needs to learn to sit in this discomfort and stand their ground.  They need to learn that the discomfort comes from the process of having unconscious bias challenged and not from standing up for what is right. 

I’ll never forget the first time I was able to bear witness to my child challenging authority.  He was doing home education in a live streamed setting and the PSHE subject was Autism.  He is an Autistic person and has learned to advocate for his place as a neuro-divergent individual.  The teacher was talking about the list of Autistic traits and then made the comment, “It sounds like we are all a little autistic!”  It was a throw away comment made to make autism feel more relatable to neuro-typical children.  Drake raised his hand and said, “Miss, I know that you didn’t intend to offend, but you did.  You are making Autism sound like a character flaw.  My divergence is not a flaw.  It is how I am made and see the world.  It is not a weakness.  It is not an over sensitivity.  It is a way of being.”  I was so proud on so many levels.  He did not shout, hate or call names.  He did not accuse her of intended harm.  He simply checked her bias.  There was an audible and very present pause.  It felt uncomfortable.  Then, the teacher apologised and thanked him for his feedback.  Now, will it always look like a learning moment?  No.  However, it will always be a learning moment.

An Ally Checks Their Bias…Constantly

Understanding bias requires a growth mindset.  As such, my learning and checking have become a mindful, intentional process.  There was a time in the 80’s when the word “retard” was thrown around as a common insult amongst children.  Then, a time came when society realised that this was insensitive and offensive.  We had 2 choices: become defensive whilst standing our ground and defiantly continue using the word or apologise and change.  Most chose the latter.  This was not the first nor the last time society evolved in favour of inclusion and holding itself to a higher standard.  Think of other terms and phrases that are starting to become unacceptable:  calling a sexually active woman a slut, using gay as a derogatory adjective, the n word, the f word, many other racially or sexually charged slang terms.

There are television shows and music and movies from my past that look different with the eyes of a person from 2020.  Why is this?  Because we are becoming aware of our unconscious bias.  Children need to learn that it is a part of life to have an unconscious bias.  Are we bad people for consuming this media in our pasts?  No.   The trick is to acknowledge it when it becomes conscious.  To be able to review our choices and preferences without judgement  or guilt,  to understand why we think what we think, to know why we make friends with some and not others, to see if we are putting value on anything other than the content of a person’s character.  Then, a true ally takes the most  important step to make a change.

An Ally Accepts Responsibility For Their Education

This is a hard one for many to understand and a hard one for me to explain.  I’ve seen and heard people of privilege in many circumstances ask people of diverse backgrounds (race, gender, nationality, neuro, sexual, religious etc) to explain their perspective.  There is a fine line between having a discussion and asking a person to act as an educator and ambassador for an entire group of people.  It is an abuse of privilege to assume that every black person who is angry about what is going on has some sort of responsibility to the people who are benefitting from their oppression to educate them.

An ally is a consumer of information and perspective.  In order to stand with and speak to the needs of someone, you need to understand what feeds the issues.  Why is the American CIvil War, a war that happened 150 years ago still an influence on politics today?  How does the 400 year history of slavery and oppression feed the narative of today.  Why is The Stonewall Inn a significant place?  Why do people appear to be angry with me when I haven’t done anything?  What does my culture represent to someone else?

Children can be taught from an early age to try to appreciate the diversity of our world.  Books, food and celebrations are a great place to start.  An ally knows that it is also important to look at the ugly bits.  To acknowledge history’s influence on today is what gives power to make the history of tomorrow different.

An Ally Sees Colour and Difference

To say, “I don’t see colour.  We are all the same.” whilst often well intended, is at best naive and condescending.  Colour signifies so much.  My colour is my history, my family, my culture, my experience.  Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu said on Good Morning Britain, “If you don’t see colour, you don’t see me.”.  You do not know exactly what it means to that particular person, but you have an understanding of the way society has treated them.  As a white woman, I do not fear police.  I do not feel my children should fear police.  I have the privilege of telling my son that if he is in danger, he can run to any police officer for help.  If I had a black son, there would be a different narrative.

The key that an ally understands is that seeing colour, noticing and naming difference does not come with a qualification.  It just is.  It is neither to be weaponized or fetishised.  It is simply a piece of information, a descriptor  or an existence.  Children get this a lot easier than many adults.  People are people.  Their history, family, culture are simply part of what feeds their experience of life.  Children can take this further when they begin to understand that their history defines their level of privilege in this world.

An Ally Does Not Seek Credit or Validation

An ally does not need those they are standing up for to give them credit for being a good person.  You stand up for equality because it is the right thing to do.  This is a faux pas I see many people make.  “I’m not one of those people.  Look what I have done to help you.”  Noone needs your CV unless you are applying for a job.  An ally does not act as an ally so that others can know they are a good person.  Other people may or may not notice what you have done or are doing.  Whilst it may feel nice to be acknowledged, this is in no way a driving  force in standing up for equality for all humans.

Our children need to understand that they do not have to prove to anyone that they are being good people.  Likewise, the people that they are standing beside and standing up for owe them nothing.  Being an ally is a life choice, a state of being.  It is a personal value.  The only credit or validation the need to seek for it is internal in knowing they are being true to themselves and their beliefs.

An Ally Knows When the Real Change Happens

Right now, diversity is all over the news.  It’s the hot button, in your face topic of the moment due to riots and protests.  A giant spotlight is being shined on a gaping wound in society.  This is true even outside of the current political climate.  Think of how many rainbow posts you see in Pride month.  Think of how the troops are valued on VE day.  Think of all the puzzle pieces you see during Autism Awareness month.  These are wonderful expressions of solidarity during the time the light is bright on a subject.

Children need to  learn that real change happens when it’s not in your face, when the light is shining somewhere else, when nobody is really noticing.  Change in society happens when the majority of  people within it collectively decide to make a change.  Do racism and sexism and every other ism still exist?  Absolutely.  The change did not happen when a law was signed or a speech was made.  An ally knows that this is simply the beginning of a constant and consistent process.  The change happens in the words we use every day, in the conversations we have at the dinner table, in the car or at the pub.  It happens when we stand our ground and don’t let the little things slide.  The change does not happen in the moment.  Change happens in the ripples that come from the moment.  Change happens when we do what is right even when we think no one’s looking.  An ally knows that the most important part of all  is that change happens.

Allies Matter webinar

What to tell your children about going back to school

Read published article here

Some children may be anxious about the prospect of returning to school. Here’s how you can talk about it:

After a period of several weeks in lockdown where many families have been living, working and schooling together all under one roof with limited exposure to the outside world, it’s understandable that we might all now be feeling anxious at the prospect of transitioning back to the new “normal” when lockdown is eventually lifted.

Many children, including infants and toddlers, will be feeling a heightened sense of awareness, or even anxiety, at the prospect of being separated from their parents when nurseries and schools reopen.

Despite the global crisis and all the change it has brought to our daily lives, one thing has been constant for children throughout, and that’s the presence and support of their parents; their physical presence, rituals and routines, their nurture, love and comfort.

For this reason, it is natural for them to perhaps have become more clingy than normal, more reliant on your support and more used to your constant presence. The prospect of suddenly being taken out of this safe bubble at home can therefore be quite a shock for both children and parents.

For parents of toddlers going back to nursery, it is important to tell yourself that your child will be ok. When babies develop a sense of object permanence, they know that parents still exist when they are out of sight and this can cause separation anxiety. It is developmental, but it does not make it any easier for parents to say goodbye at the door.

Just as adults, children are innately social beings. Remind yourself they will enjoy the interaction of other children and engaging creatively with staff at nursery. Recognise that your worry will naturally be increased due to lockdown and acknowledge that your sense of worry will often be mirrored by your child’s behaviour and responses.

For children who are old enough to understand, talk about the changes that are going to happen through storytelling. Discuss with your children how they might feel going back to school or nursery.

Try to name their feelings so you can validate their thoughts and emotions, recognise they will move and change. Acknowledge that they may feel worried about saying goodbye at the nursery door. Talk about what you do when you feel worried as this too is a supportive strategy. Notice how challenging and courageous they are being.

Always be consistent in your promises about returning, even if it means agreeing to bring the exact snack that was requested when you pick them up later. It helps with emotional containment and a sense they feel listened to.

Most importantly, notice your responses to their anxiety and what it awakens in you. Children are incredibly intuitive and, if you can, model supportive strategies so they will know it is ok to say “see you later”.

Finally, for children and adolescents, the sense of being parted from their friends, which makes up such an important part of their lives, is tremendously challenging. While they may feel angst about returning to school, they will also be grappling with the sense of urgency to be among their friends and peers.

The united individual experiences of lockdown and loss will have impacted hugely on adolescents and, therefore, their need to tell their story will be so important. Parents can rest assured that schools will be aware of the very great emotional needs of their pupils and will no doubt be offering additional support at this time.

Hannah Abrahams is an educational and child psychologist and a valuable member of the Educating Matters speaking team

How can you teach your children to be kind?

This year’s theme for ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ is kindness.

Kindness can be defined as empathy, compassion and being friendly. Studies have shown that generous people perform better. Helping others broadens your learning and helps to form deeper relationships. Darwin recognised that helping others was a part of natural selection as ‘tribes who were always ready to aid one another, would be victorious over most other tribes.’

Parents spend a lot of time telling their children to be kind. However, a recent study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 80% of the 10,000 students surveyed, felt their parents care more about their children’s personal achievements or happiness than whether they are kind human beings.

Is kindness something you can really teach and how can parents instill it in their children? I have a few practical suggestions:

Model kindness

I have said countless times in these blog posts that 80% of parenting is modelling. This is particularly true with regards to kindness. Children learn what it means to be kind by the examples their parents show them. This can be very simple things such as greeting people politely and with enthusiasm, smiling at a waiter (when we get back out in the real world), saying thank you or complementing a friend.  Equally important is the way you engage with your child, responding with love, empathy, compassion and understanding even if you don’t like their behaviour.

Talk about kindness

Actively try to share your own experiences of helping others. Be honest with your children when perhaps you regret moments when you could have done more. Under normal circumstances, a common discussion at the end of a long day may be questioning your child about their achievements, such as: “How did the spelling test go?” “Did you score a goal in football?”  Instead try to gear the questions towards asking your children what they did that was kind or helpful.

We can also help to develop empathy in our children by talking about how they think their actions made another person feel, such as a sibling or friend. Get them into the habit of empathising what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes, including characters in a movie or book. During this pandemic our family have had many conversations over the dinner table about how fortunate we are and thinking about others who may find themselves in much more challenging circumstances.

Acknowledge kindness

The more you acknowledge or notice something, the more children deem it to be important.  A very common mistake that parents make is to tell their children what they have done wrong, rather than catching them when they do something right. Notice and mention any examples of kindness displayed by your children, such as helping a sibling or offering to unload the dishwasher without being asked. Help your children notice what it feels like to be kind and help other people.

One activity we undertook quite early in lockdown, was to sort through all the children’s old toys and books.  We then got in touch with a local organisation, who knew about families in need and told us the ages of the children so that we could prepare packages of toys and books specifically suitable for the age and gender of each family. My 10-year-old remarked how she got more pleasure from giving the toys away than when she had received them.

Another lovely idea, is to create a kindness jar. When your child does something thoughtful, pop a note in the jar and read over them every now and again.

Opportunities for kindness

Being kind to others, genuinely feels good and helps to create a sense of community, connection and distraction from your own troubles. Sometimes you consciously need to create opportunities for your children to engage with people from different backgrounds and cultures. This may take children slightly out of their comfort zones but helps them learn to empathise with others. Perhaps it means volunteering at a shelter or food bank, or for young adults encouraging them to spend a summer with less privileged children. Perhaps as a family you could set yourselves five kindness goals for the week. This could be as simple as smiling at strangers in the street, phoning up an elderly person stuck at home or helping younger siblings with their homework.

Even now there are so mnay initiatives and ways of offering kindness remotely.  One of my daughter’s has been calling up elderly people who can’t leave their homes at all or writing cards for people in care homes.

To truly set our children up for success in life, teaching them to be kind is probably the most moral attribute. I would argue that the true test of parenting is ultimately, how your children treat others not what they achieve.

Always remember, as far as children are concerned, what you do is far more powerful than what you say.

How healthy eating can improve our mental health

It’s ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and in lockdown, we are spending a lot of time thinking about food (at least I am) since we have to constantly provide it for our families. So I asked our expert speaker on nutrition, Tracey Bennett to explain how what we eat impacts on our mental health………

Nutrition has been sorely neglected as a factor in the development of mental health.  The brain like any other organ needs the right balance of nutrients in order to function properly.  A 30% rise in teenage depression over the last decade has been linked to too much salt from fast food and not enough potassium from fruit and vegetables.

The problem is that fast food tastes good and that combination of sugar and fat is highly addictive.  That temporary high is quickly followed by an energy slump which leaves you wanting more.  The more that you eat it the more you need to get the same amount of pleasure.  Additionally, too much sugar has been linked to reducing the protein (BDNF) which has been associated with increased anxiety. 

These foods kill the healthy bacteria in your gut which is thought to play a really important role in your mental health; serotonin which helps to regulate sleep, appetite and mood is largely produced in the gut.

Any processed foods high in fat, salt and sugar have a similar effect on your gut bacteria as well as artificial sweeteners found in so many so called ‘healthy’ foods.

 A poor diet can lead to a range of nutritional deficiencies that can affect your well-being.  A recent study in the UK showed that 92% of teenagers and 77% of adults were most at risk of an Omega 3 deficiency.  This essential fatty acid, found primarily in oily fish, has a protective effect against depression, concentration and memory problems.

It is not easy to ensure that you get the right balance of nutrients and often the problem can be what we eat between meals.  Not buying those unhealthy snacks that are difficult to ration is probably the best option as it can take up to a month to re-educate your taste buds. 

Try replacing them with healthy snacks that not only reduce stress but increase well-being:

  1. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc which aids depression, magnesium to reduce stress and helps to create serotonin.
  2. Blueberries are bursting with antioxidants and packed with vitamin C which helps to relieve stress.
  3. Try putting your blueberries in a natural yogurt.  They build up your healthy bacteria and have been found to have a positive effect on brain health.  A study found that not only do yoghurts reduce social anxiety in some teenagers but they also increase happiness.
  4. Natural popcorn is a tasty source of whole grains that is high in fibre which helps to relieve stress and anxiety.
  5. Avocadoes contain choline which gives you a double boost of serotonin and dopamine.
  6. Walnuts have countless benefits such as improving mood, regulating the appetite and boosting brain function.
  7. When you do fancy something sweet, dark chocolate is rich in magnesium.  Dipping fruit such as bananas or strawberries in melted dark chocolate will help to reduce stress.

Undoubtedly, what we eat affects how we feel and a healthy balanced diet can be a powerful aid for people dealing with depression and anxiety.  But the converse is also true as our emotions can dictate what we eat.  For many of us there is an internal struggle between the healthy foods that we know we should be eating and those tempting foods that we would like to be eating.  When we are feeling low, or stressed or bored we can often turn to food for a bit of a boost.  This kind of emotional overeating can also take a toll on our mental health as it doesn’t give us the comfort that we need and we end up feeling even worse.  Left untreated, emotional eating can lead to weight gain, low self-esteem and eating disorders.

Ways of Overcoming Emotional Eating and Improving Mental Health

  • Talk about your feelings:

With a friend or family member, or if you prefer write them down.  Emotional eating is often a distraction to stop you thinking unpleasant thoughts but you end up swallowing your feelings rather than dealing with them.

  • Keep a mood diary:

This will help to identify any kind of emotional eating and will give you an opportunity to develop some strategies for dealing with it.  For example, if stress is your trigger have some activities in mind for when this might happen such as engaging in meditation and other relaxation techniques.

  • Get Moving:

Exercise boosts our endorphins and makes us feel good.  It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol leading to a reduction in depression, anxiety and insomnia.

  • Limit your exposure to social media:

Social media can distort your attitude to body image and make you feel bad about yourself and much more likely to comfort eat.

  • Use affirmations:

Every time you have a negative thought about yourself, try using simple affirmations to encourage yourself such as ‘it is the inner person that counts’ or ‘I can do anything’.  They have been shown to positively rewire the brain and enhance your mood.

  • Help others:

Doing something for someone else will definitely help you to feel better about yourself.

Using these strategies alongside a healthy balanced diet is not necessarily a panacea for all types of mental health issues as your first step may be getting help from a doctor.  Nevertheless, in conjunction with any other medical advice, they will help to boost the improvements.

Of course we serve as essential role models for our children, so they will be influenced by how we eat.

Tracey Bennett delivers a very popular session on Healthy Eating Matters: How to instil healthy eating habits in our children.

Please get in touch for further details.

How Can You Support Your Child With Maths?

Please see my top 5 thoughts on the role parents play with regards to numeracy.

Should any corporates be interested, I run a very popular talk for parents: ‘Numeracy Matters’. It covers how maths is taught in school and how parents can provide effective support at home.

Here are some of my favourite maths websites to support learning:

www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize

www.mathletics.co.uk

www.twinkl.co.uk

www.mymaths.co.uk

www.mathsseeds.com

www.khanacademy.org

www.thenationalacade

https://www.themathsfactor.com/

www.primaryresources.co.uk/maths

How to use your emotional toolbox to support your mental health needs

We are living in one of the most unprecedented times in living history and it is important to recognise how exceptionally resilient we have been during the last 8 weeks in lockdown.  Take a moment to reflect upon that statement. Yes as humans we are naturally creative and incredibly adaptable beings. 

Without a doubt, there will have been times of fear, of anxiety and of hopelessness and despair, but amongst the tidal waves of raw and very big emotions, there will also have been moments of success, of hope, of love and laughter and togetherness.  

You will already have been using tools from within your emotional toolbox in order to navigate these uncertain days, but I hope that I will be able to awaken your sense of skill, as well as suggest some new and creative ideas to support you and your families

What happens to our bodies when we’re stressed?

In times of crisis, uncertainty and stress, our brains and bodies become dysregulated leading us to be in a fight or flight mode.  We are waiting for the “bear,” and these days illness, to come around the corner and our concentration and ability to focus, as well as our productive and creative brain, will be significantly impeded. 

Previous traumas, losses or anxieties may be reawakened in us and our behaviours and responses to our children and our own needs change or old unwanted behaviours become ever-present. If this happens, allow yourself the time to notice, to stop, to listen to yourself and your responses and reflect upon how best to help yourself and your children.

Remember that emotional responses will feel even bigger right now. That’s ok and to be expected but it is so important to remember that this too shall pass. I often like to think about how emotions change for adults and children alike during the course of a day just as the waves change as they reach the shore. 

We are under incredible strain as parents and employees trying to navigate working from home in a crisis while “home-schooling,” we need to dig deep.  Learning to manage these uncomfortable emotions is a lifetime’s work but being conscious of them will help you to feel less overwhelmed and stressed. 

In times such as these, we need to be mindful of our mental health needs in order to meet the needs of our children. It’s a case of putting our own ‘oxygen mask’ on first. Unless we do this, we’re going to feel very dysregulated much of the time. You need to nourish your own basic needs (such as food, water and sleep) where you can get it, in order to successfully meet, contain and validate the needs of your children. 

Check-in on yourself

Notice how your body is feeling. If you can, do a body scan. 

  • Are you feeling really tense? Where does the tension sit? In your hands? In your heart? In your toes?
  • For children a body scan can be completed in a very visual way – draw around their bodies either in chalk or pen and get them to label different parts of their body that feel feelings- for example does their heart feel love? Where do they feel anger? Hurt? Excitement or worry? Activities such as these open up opportunities for discussion and growing emotional awareness.

Place your hand where you’re feeling most angst and try and ground yourself in the moment. By this, I mean STOP, DROP AND BREATHE

  • STOP in the moment
  • DROP everything you’re doing
  • And take 3 deep BREATHS

This activity can also be used for children and helps to regulate yourself and them, before reaching volcanic explosions and responses

Grounding

Choose one thing to do every morning that will help you to feel grounded or have a giggle – such as doing a dance like no one is watching or stretching, going for a walk and standing and listening to the nature around you 


Notice and validate big emotions

This applies to our emotions and the emotions felt by your children. During these times, it’s to be expected that sometimes your emotions will overwhelm you and that of your child. 

Remind yourself it’s Ok to feel these big emotions and this too shall pass. Be compassionate with yourself and your children. 

Resist the urge to run away from the emotion, just BREATHE. Expect the emotions that you’re feeling, notice how they move and change. By doing this, you will be helping to regulate your brain activity and reduce the flood of cortisol. 

Every time you work through these big emotions, you are emptying your emotional rucksack. By developing your resilience, your children will mirror you and therefore you are doing an amazing job in developing their emotional regulatory behaviours too. Things won’t always go right, its ok and being reflective with yourself and your child about the less successful emotional moments is important too. 

Find activities you enjoy

To be expected to learn a new language or expected to clean and tidy our homes in Marie Kondo style is not necessary right now, but it is important to give yourself permission to do something that you love for a few moments each day. 

Encourage your children to think about creative ways to nurture their interests too. For example:

  • Plant sunflower seeds and water them daily, watching them grow
  • Create an obstacle course on the street using chalk on the pavement
  • Grab a paintbrush and some paint and just let the strokes of your brush flow.  It’s amazing what your unconscious can tell you through this activity. See where your painting flow takes you. 

Don’t think too far ahead

Our brains like to live in the moment. As soon as we start thinking about what ifs and what next, the little almond sized part of our brain known as the ‘amygdala’ starts flapping away. It controls the emotional response panel in our brains, and it doesn’t know how to navigate the future. 

It’s very much about trying to bring ourselves back to the present moment, which can be so difficult during such uncertain times. But psychologically, we know that our amazing, creative, productive and resilient brains work best when we are in the moment. 

For so much of this time, we have been navigating the sense of stress and worry that lockdown has brought to us as a nation. That said, we are incredibly adaptive beings and you will notice that over the course of the weeks your sense of heightened worry may have diminished slightly with time. Recognise your and your child’s amazing adaptability and whilst we continue to experience waves of emotion, congratulate yourself that you have come this far. Remember what you’re doing is good enough and hold on to that in the toughest of times.

If you would like a webinar to support the Mental Health of employees during this period of Covid-19, please be in touch for some ideas.

Can you look back on this as a scared time to treasure rather than just survive?

I feel overwhelmed by the amount of articles and suggested resources coming through my inbox and across various social media platforms, on every possible topic related to getting through this Covid-19 crisis.

There is one great post that I didn’t write and the author is ‘unknown’ but of all the things I have received, it really spoke to me as a parent, so I wanted to share it with you.

Child – “How old are you, Grandpa?”

Grandpa – “I’m 81, dear.”

Child – “So does that mean you were alive during the Coronavirus?”

Grandpa – “Yes, I was.”

Child – “Wow. That must have been horrible, Grandpa. We were learning about that at school this week.

They told us about how all the schools had closed. And moms and dads couldn’t go to work so didn’t have as much money to do nice things.

They said that you weren’t allowed to go and visit your friends and family and couldn’t go out anywhere.

They told us that the shops and stores ran out of lots of things so you didn’t have much bread, and flour, and toilet rolls.

They said that summer holidays were cancelled. And they told us about all those thousands of people that got very sick and who died.

They explained how hard all the doctors and nurses and all essential workers worked, and that lots of them died, too.

That must have been so horrible, grandpa!”

Grandpa – “Well, that is all correct.

And I know that because I read about it when I was older.

But to tell you the truth I remember it differently…

I remember playing in the garden for hours with mom and dad and having picnics outside and lots of bbqs.

I remember making things and fishing with my Dad and baking with my Mom.

I remember making forts and learning how to do hand stands and back flips. I remember having quality time with my family.

I remember Mom’s favorite words becoming ‘Hey, I’ve got an idea…’

Rather than ‘Maybe later or tomorrow I’m a bit busy’.

I remember making our own bread and pastry. I remember having movie night three or four times a week instead of just one.

It was a horrible time for lots of people you are right.

But I remember it differently.”

Remember how our children will remember these times.

Be in control of the memories they are creating right now, so that through all the awful headlines and emotional stories for so many that they will come to read in future years, they can remember the happy times.

Author unknown 💕