Teaching our children who and how to ask for help, by Paula Talman (ISPACE WELLBEING)
When I was at school, no one taught us about mental health.
I spent my school days in the east coast of Ireland, growing up by the sea. It sounds idyllic and in many ways it was, but as with all childhoods, there were challenges to be faced and tough lessons to be learned.
When I moved to my secondary school I struggled with learning three languages one of which was my beautiful native Gaelic tongue. I had to try extremely hard at school but it paid off and despite my language difficulties I was a high achiever.
However, just when everything was going well with the teachers, I was achieving high results, I won some awards and I even got selected for the lead in the school musical, you would think things couldn’t be better right? Wrong! – now your peers don’t like you. I had attracted too much positive attention and then the bullying started.
Bullying is insidious. The voices and views of others can chip away at your identity if you haven’t developed a strong sense of self or have a strong support system to tell you otherwise. As children develop their sense of self through their experiences and relationships, bullying has a significant impact on esteem, behaviour and mental wellbeing.
Luckily, I had a mother who was a nurse and a sister who was a trainee psychologist and I learnt what I consider to be the most important thing we can teach our children, who and how to ask for help.
When I was picked on, I knew there were people I could turn to who would help me, which in turn helped me to find my resilience and bounce back.
However, mental health was when I was growing up, and perhaps still is a term full of fear and worry. Something to be whispered, avoided and shunned. Historically it is a term associated with shame and stigma. It is a term that makes people feel uncomfortable.
Throughout my extensive nursing career, I now understand that the uncomfort people feel around mental health is fear. We fear what we don’t know or understand. We fear it and avoid it.
But here’s why we need to embrace it.
The connection between our mental, physical and social health is what contributes to our wellbeing, it is how we live life well.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen first hand that mental health needs to be managed and maintained. It needs work like our physical health or our relationships, to stay in shape.
You wouldn’t expect your body to be able to run a marathon without building up to it. Researching and putting in place a training plan, eating the right things to nourish your body and give it what it needs, stretching and resting to relax your weary muscles, creating a running playlist to give you that mood boosting motivation to keep going, and perhaps training with a buddy or a group to give you that extra support when you need it.
Our minds are much the same.
When we experience life’s ups and downs, that’s when it’s most critical for us to take good care of bodies and our minds.
But how do you know this if you’ve never been taught it?
Throughout my nursing career and as a nurse working in schools, I witnessed the stigma that surrounds mental health in full force. I saw as children and young adults were often debilitated by their fears, worries, thoughts and beliefs. I have seen that these can become serious issues, but when we catch these things early with education and support, we have the power to change the future for many children and young people. But education around mental health is still largely missing in society and schools until problems arise and have to be managed. It’s time to stop putting a band aid on mental health and start addressing it where it begins.
This is why I created iSpace Wellbeing, the mental health and wellbeing curriculums for children 4-13+, an exciting whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing.
iSpace stands for I, Stop, Pause (breathe) And Calm Everything. The characters Dunican and Niam whose Gaellic names subtly instill the beliefs of “I Can” and “I Am” in children as they travel around the wellbeing galaxy, filling their backpacks with tools and resources to build their resilience, develop an awareness of the mental and emotional wellbeing and use a common language to talk about their emotions and behavior.
Our evidence-based curriculums support lessons from reception year through to year 9 and provide an age appropriate framework including who and how to ask for help, and teach a common language, which encourage conversations about mental, emotional, social and physical health to become part of everyday school and home life.
Alongside the curriculums, there are toolkits which include a deck of cards which helps the children to still communicate when they are struggling to find the right words to express how they are feeling. Our first book “Have you ever had a Stressor?” is aimed to support these conversations and bring them from the classroom to the home seamlessly, ensuring parents have the tools to hand to help have the conversations they historically may have shied away from.
We need to support children with their mental health as much as their physical and social health. By being brave, and facing into conversations that scare us, we can actively help our children by removing the stigma surrounding mental health.
Through iSpace Wellbeing, I want you to feel supported.
I want you to know that your child is learning the life skills to help them bounce back when they need to. They are learning to identify and express their needs, prioritise what they need to feel and live life well. We are teaching children, teachers and parents to learn how to take care of themselves. Teaching them the tools, skills and life lessons they can rely on when life’s ups and downs happen as they inevitably will.
Most importantly, when those times come. They will know who and how to ask for help.
Written by Paula Talman
Founder, iSpace Wellbeing
Find out more about the iSpace Wellbeing curriculums, learning tools and books here or to enquire about iSpace Wellbeing for school, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Find out more about our journey to protect the mental health and wellbeing of over 1m children by 2025 over @iSpaceWellbeing on Instagram or @iSpaceWellbeing on Twitter.