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Children's Mental Health: a different approach

As part of our focus on Children’s Mental Health Week, our Lead Adviser for Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH), Cerys Townend looks at changing approaches when interacting with the children we look after.

Everybody wants to improve the mental health of our children, the headlines that we see can be worrying to any parent or professional working with young people.

We all agree that it is time to change (T: @timetochange) and do something but it feels too big and can feel beyond our control. But here is the thing, if we think back to the media frenzy about the plastic in our oceans after David Attenborough’s programme Blue Planet, we have learnt that small changes can make a big difference, so let’s all commit to taking small steps towards improving our children’s wellbeing too; these little steps will all add up to a much larger change over time.

And just as we have all committed to do our bit for the environment, let’s also commit to modelling emotions to our children, whether they are our own children or children in our care as teachers, social workers and others working with children. 

Share how you feel and why, this will help children to normalise a whole host of different emotions. Name their emotions too and help them to understand by listening to how they are feeling and reciting their story back to them with empathy.

Connect with a child when they are facing a wave of emotion that they are unable to control before trying to re-direct any outward displays of behaviour that result from the strong emotions they are feeling. Validating the way the child feels through acknowledging or even embracing those feelings even if you don’t like the behaviour will help defuse situations.  By connecting with the child first we will move them from reactivity to receptivity in the short term and deepen the relationship as well as build connections in the brain to support children’s emotional wellbeing in the long term.

Connection brings the child into the here and now instead of reacting based on sub-conscious memories of past experiences, it also helps us to chase the why by looking behind the behaviour to understand the reason. It is only when we know the reason for the emotional fall out that we can really support children through difficult times.

So, be brave. Try a change in approach when working with children; from directing and controlling their behaviour to connecting, validating and supporting them to understand their feelings.

If you would like some more information about SEMH and working with children, please get in touch:

E: nyes@northyorks.gov.uk

T: 01609 533 222