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How can you help your child open up?

A report from Youth Index released last week revealed that 48 percent of young people have so many emotional issues that they struggle to concentrate at school. And perhaps more worryingly, 46 percent of these do not talk to anyone about their problems because they did not want anyone else to know they were struggling.

With such startling figures highlighting issues in children today, we’ve put together a guide to help your children open up about their problems and ensure they are healthy and happy both at home and at school.

Ask questions

This may seem simple, but with such busy lives, it can be easy to forget to ask simple questions, such as “How was your day?” or “Did anything happen at school today?” Make sure you make a note to ask questions and monitor responses so you can notice any changes in replies or attitude.

Use feeling words

As well as asking generic questions, it’s important to delve deeper. And one of the best ways to gauge how a child feels is to use feeling words. Asking questions about how they feel or felt at a particular time by using the words “happy”, “sad”, “angry” and “upset” can really help them to open up more accurately.

Give them time to talk

If you ask a question – whether it be something important or a passing question –make sure you give them time to answer before pressuring them for an answer. If children have something on their mind, they will need time to gather their thoughts before they answer.

Use subtle and nonverbal communication when listening

If you manage to get your child talking about things, make sure you give them the opportunity to tell the whole story. In order to do this, use positive nonverbal communication techniques such as smiling and nodding to make sure they know you are listening and understand their issues.

Talk about your own experiences

Sometimes, it can feel like you’re the only person feeling a certain way. And when you’re a child, those feelings are heightened. If you suspect something is playing on your child’s mind, it can be beneficial to talk about your experiences when you were younger. If you experienced a bit of bullying or you were struggling with school work when you were young, letting them now will help them to realise they’re not alone.

Don’t judge

Even with the best intentions, we can give children the feeling of not being important with our responses. Responding to statements with phrases such as “I’m sure that’s not what they meant,” and “I bet it wasn’t that bad,” can make a child feel even more isolated and result in the closing up completely.

Have you struggled to get your child to open up about their feelings? Share your experiences and tips with us!

The importance of discussing mental health with your child

While mental health used to be something of a taboo subject, awareness of the matter is increasing in mainstream culture, with a growing number of campaigns and movements aimed towards cultivating a new attitude towards mental health. Not only do adults suffer from or feel the effects of poor mental wellbeing, but it something that concerns children too, either through living with a friend or family member suffering from mental health concerns, or by experiencing and not understanding symptoms of it in themselves. Without awareness of mental health, both of these scenarios can be confusing and damaging to a child when left without being properly addressed.

To combat this, a scheme is being put in place at Goldsmith Primary School in Peckham, southeast London, encouraging children to talk about mental health by using fun games and activities. As well as initiating the conversation, it also aims to help teach children coping techniques for when they are feeling low, as well as how to recognise the signs of when themselves or those around them are experiencing difficulties to do with mental health.

Last year, a study by the Department of Health and Time to Change found that 55% of parents had not discussed mental health with their children, yet Young Minds estimates that 1 in 10 children aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Even if your family is not personally affected by mental health concerns, it is important to raise the issue within your household from a young age in order to educate your children for the future, and to safeguard their wellbeing.

By openly discussing mental health and making it an approachable subject to talk about, your child will feel comfortable if they ever experience any behaviour that could be a sign of mental illness – taking steps to seek help and protect their health.

Simple steps such as asking your children to identify emotions such as anger, worry, sad and excitement can help kids to be aware of their feelings – a great first step for opening up conversations about more complex emotions in the future. After identifying how your children are feeling, talk them through how they are currently coping with difficult situations, offering advice if they seem stuck.

Do you openly talk about mental health at home? Do your children associate ‘mental health’ with negative connotations, or are they happy to talk about their feelings?

Share how you think it is best to approach this subject with children in our online forum today.

How much pressure do you place on your child – and where?

It can be hard to get the parenting balance right, after all – there is no guidebook or training offered for new mums and dads when their new bundle of joy is born! That being said, most of us know that it’s our job to prepare our loved ones for a happy and successful life, and sometimes this can involve being slightly ‘pushy’, encouraging them towards doing things that you know will stand them in good stead for the future, even if they don’t see the benefits in their younger age. However, new research may cause many parents to re-consider their guiding approach.

Success over smiles?

Researchers from the Arizona State University conducted a study, comparing where a child’s parents placed their emphasis and how this reflected on them. They investigated 506 11-12 year olds, from high income families. With three statements based around kindness and compassion and the other three about personal success, they were asked to rank what they think their parents valued them at.  Surprisingly, those whose parents valued things such as grades or achievement in extra-curricular activities or hobbies were actually showing signs of more stress, anxiety and overall distress than those who encouraged decency towards others and social interaction at school. What’s more, they found that those whose parent’s pushed them towards doing better at school were more likely to achieve lower grades and display disruptive behaviour.

The key is balance

While the researchers from Arizona State University stress that they are not suggesting that encouraging your child to achieve is a bad thing, they highlight that the damage is caused when there is too much of a strong focus towards only on achievement, without any value placed on social interaction and community spirit.

It is natural to want your child to do well at school and to succeed in their dancing, music, sports class or more, but if they believe that only this achievement is critical to them and you, then there could be repercussions in the future.

As a parent, where do you place your values? Do you encourage your children to always be kind to others, or is grades are exams the main topic of conversation in your household? Let us know how you get the parenting balance right and share your thoughts on this new research at our online parent forum.

Kids Want to Ban Takeaways in Schools

A new report into child obesity has revealed that children believe the best way to combat the problem is to ban takeaway deliveries to schools. Half the children surveyed said that they have ordered takeaways on their smartphone and a quarter of them had paid for a takeaway through the school gates.

The report from the Royal Society for Public Health also revealed some other initiatives that children believe will help stop childhood obesity. These ideas included supermarkets giving wonky fruit to children for free, food labels should have the entire fat, sugar and salt content printed on them and that all parks should have free Wi-Fi like the fast food restaurants do. These ideas came from a workshop of 19 young people, after this their initiatives were put to a larger survey of schoolchildren and adults.

Responses to the survey revealed that almost half of the children blamed takeaways for obesity and 42% said there was a place selling unhealthy food less than two minutes’ walk from their school. Parents tended to agree with this too, 74% of them believed that there should be restrictions on fast food restaurants serving children during school hours. Over 80% of children also thought that food manufacturers were misleading customers by only putting serving size information about a product on the packaging.

Childhood obesity is a serious issue that can have devastating long term effects. Nearly one in five of 10-11 year olds are obese. Researchers have also warned that by 2025 the number of obese children will almost double. This is clearly a significant crisis in public health. The government has agreed to introduce its own sugar tax in an effort to reduce the amount of fizzy drinks consumed. However, this won’t reduce children’s access to takeaways and junk food.

The government is expected to introduce their childhood obesity strategy later this year but no details have been revealed yet. Some of the ideas put forward by these children could have a positive impact on childhood obesity. There are many other measures that could be taken like tougher food standards, limiting the ability to build fast food restaurants and banning unhealthy foods. While there is no guarantee that these measures will work every effort must be made to save the health of future generations.

How do you think the obesity crisis should be tackled? Share your thoughts in the comments and on our social media pages.