CONTENT WARNING: THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES COMMENTARY ON MENTAL HEALTH
Mindset coaches have often commented on the concept that we live in a conditioned world. As young children, particularly as babies, we have no choice but to have our daily needs met by others. We are wholly reliant on our parents/carers to ensure that we are fed, clean, clothed, homed, and kept healthy. What can be overlooked and not wholly acknowledged is the effect that this can have on us on our mental health in later life, as we grow from children into adults, and need to be responsible for our own daily needs.
Routines, routines, routines
The NSPCC offers comprehensive advice on promoting mental health and wellbeing to children, which covers the importance of maintaining a routine in a child’s life to provide stability, security and reduce stress. Examples include regular mealtimes and bedtimes for young children, evolving to social activities and homework for older children.
It can be hard work for parents to establish an efficient and working routine, as it needs to accommodate both the child’s and the parent’s needs. Parents need to fit in their own daily needs and commitments alongside the child’s, which can be an upheaval as parents own routine is highly likely to be disturbed. There is a wealth of help and advice out there, but as with any health issue searched online, it can be overwhelming and counterproductive. It is a hard balance to find a “routine” that works for both parents and babies, and there are advantages and disadvantages over their strictness.
It can be equally as hard for children, especially babies, having to absorb and learn all this new information with extremely limited communication means. Unfortunately, not all children’s upbringing is the same, and some do not have the full support they need in their early days, months and years. This brings a heightened awareness that mental health is indeed a lifelong and personal condition which can reverberate back and forth throughout an individual’s whole life. Mental health education subconsciously starts in your early years, which continues at school and beyond.
A child’s perspective
I took this opportunity to have a discussion with my own children about what their understanding of mental health is. My daughter, 12, and son, 10, had an adequate routine as babies. They are now in Year 7 and Year 6 at school, and I was curious to discover what they had been taught. Some guidance is available here but I was keen to hear it in their own words.
Both agreed that mental health is to do with your “brain”, and it’s about what you think, do and feel. It can affect your mood in that you have good days and bad days. They have covered most of this in primary school, with secondary school mental health education being steered towards sex education and puberty.
They don’t particularly enjoy being taught about mental health issues but are happy to be taught it, as they know why it is important and know there is help and advice available if they need it. They consider themselves both mentally happy at present. My daughter would be happy to talk to her parents and teachers if she had any concerns, but would prefer to speak to us as parents first because she trusts us. Interestingly, my son considers it “weird” to talk to parents and teachers and would rather discuss his mental health concerns with his friends. This was quite an interesting revelation from my son, broaching on gender attitudes surrounding mental health, and I was pleased to start a conversation surrounding his mental health and hear his honest opinion.
Their own opinion on mental health lessons, from what they have been subconsciously taught from early year routines and structured lessons at school, is awareness. Awareness that it exists, that we all have changing moods, and have good days and bad days. Awareness that support is available if we need it, and that we need to support others when they need it.
A fundamental lesson in life
By no means do I consider myself a health care professional or child psychologist, but I would comment that the main fundamental lesson to be taught about mental health is awareness. It will always be part of our psyche as human beings. It will always be part of who we are as individuals. It is there when we are children as much as we are as adults. It may tick over quite nicely as part of our daily routine, and it may threaten to overwhelm us and become challenging.
It is not a subject that can be taught at school, like maths, or science, but is something that, like any other health care, needs to be taught to be cared for personally and regularly. Like brushing your teeth twice daily, together with an annual checkup at the dentist.
For further advice, the NHS has published a 5-step guide to mental wellbeing at: https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/five-steps-to-mental-wellbeing/
Other advice is available here: