This week is Children’s World Mental Health Week and the focus for 2023 is “Let’s Connect.”
Mental Health can also be thought of as emotional wellbeing. The NHS definition is that Mental health is a “positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection to people, communities and the wider environment.” It is this ‘sense of connection’ which we are focusing on for this blog.
As, in the words of Dr. Seuss, “To the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world”
Creating positive connections is an important part of our mental well-being – as human beings we are made to be part of a community – we function better as part of a tribe (clubs, family and community). When we are isolated, or disconnected, our mental health suffers.
An ONS (Office for National Statistics) study of ten focus groups of children found that children identified “positive relationships” as one of the key themes of what makes a happy life. The theme was broken down further into; love and affection, socialising, being able to talk to someone they trusted, as well as the value of supportive family relationships. (Source: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/childrensviewsonwellbeingandwhatmakesahappylifeuk2020/2020-10-02)
We know that positive connections and interactions are key to supporting positive mental health and well-being. When we spend positive time with family and friends, we have an increase in the neurotransmitters serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine – three of the feel good chemicals which help us to feel happier and more connected.
When the Youth Fairies work with children, we always support them in identifying the things that make them feel happy. We ask them “what’s been good?” in their week and encourage them to build a positive habit of writing down five things every evening. These lists always include positive time spent with friends, siblings (yes, they do feature on the good list sometimes!), friends and pets too.
The benefits of recognising and recalling positive interactions
It is through repetition that we create good habits (and new neural pathways).
Each time we focus on the good things of our day, either in the retelling or in writing them down, we are helping to strengthen that neuropathway and increase our serotonin too. We are practising one of the 3Ps – Positive Thoughts. (The 3Ps are positive interactions, positive actions and positive thoughts).
In developing this habit, the boss part of our brain (the conscious brain) gives clear instructions to the PA (the anterior cingulate) which in turn informs all the other areas of our brain (the subconscious brain) that we are focusing on good things and are actively looking to remember and recall these things. And so, as children focus on the positive relationships, they are able to recognise the value and seek to repeat these positive experiences. In doing so, they are also improving their mental health.
It is interesting that children often recognise positive connections as ones made (and sometimes solely maintained in the virtual world) through gaming and social media. Although children recognise online interactions as positive interactions, in the ONS survey they identified that they would like their parents to spend LESS time on PHONES! The survey reported that children identified that they value specific time and space that is created just for them.
Encouraging Positive Connections
- Schedule one to one time with your children – the ONS survey identified that although children enjoy creating memories as a whole family, they also value having individual time.
- Create a list of activities that you enjoy doing together – these could be with wider friends or family, or one to one time. You could write these on lolly sticks and store in a jar, setting time aside to plan the events over the year ahead. We know that, in addition to recalling good things that have happened, looking forward to time together also creates serotonin and supports improved mental health and a positive mindset.
- Encourage and support your children in developing positive friendships in school and other activities. Older children can be encouraged to make independent plans and activities with friends.
- Model good relationships – include your children in your positive relationships and show them how you develop your friendships. We know that young people notice not only what we say but also what we do.
- Positive connections with pets also have many of the same benefits as the interactions we have with one another. Our pets don’t judge us, they love us and require very little from us. Spending time with pets increases our oxytocin (for us and them) and helps to increase the sense of connection which can then extend to our other relationships. For more information on the amazing benefits that pets can bring, look out for our upcoming blog!
- Encourage positive relationships with another trusted adult – the ONS survey also identified the value of having another adult to talk to and confide in. This might be an older cousin, aunt, God-parent or someone else in their wider community.
- Acts of Kindness – kindness develops connections and has a positive impact of both the giver and the receiver. For more ideas to encourage acts of kindness and the associated benefits read our previous Kindness Blog
Building positive relationships within family, at school and in their community develops our childrens’ sense of belonging, builds connections and confidence in developing and maintaining relationships. These positive connections support children if feeling safe and valued. All of which supports their mental health and well-being.
Signposting to Further Support for Children and Young People
Young Minds https://youngminds.org.uk/
The Young Minds Crisis Messenger text service provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and need support, you can text YM to 85258.
Parents’ helpline 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4pm).
The Mix https://www.themix.org.uk/get-support/speak-to-our-team
Telephone: 08088 084994
Essential mental health support for Under 25’s, 1:1 online chat, crisis messenger service and helpline.
Kooth is a mental health and wellbeing platform providing an online counselling and emotional well-being platform for children and young people, accessible through mobile, tablet and desktop and free at the point of use.
ChildLine is a service to help anyone under 19 in the UK with any issue they’re going through. Call ChildLine free on 0800 1111 or speak to a counsellor online.