Give your kids a happiness MOT
Think kids don't have a care in the world? It's a jungle out there and young people are struggling. Muddy takes a wellbeing crash course.
If you’re a regular Muddy reader you’ll know that I love to scoot along having fun and looking for the best things in life (happily they’re free – just ask Janet). But even I can’t sugar coat some subjects.
I have 2 mudlets myself, the youngest starts school in September and the eldest is now at secondary school. Mental health is a hot topic, read the newspapers and you’ll see the picture is pretty bleak. The average onset age for depression was 45 in the 1960s; today it’s 14, with the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers reporting this week that kids as young as 4 are showing signs of mental health problems.
The bad news doesn’t end there, according to the charity Young Minds, 3 children in every classroom have a diagnosed mental illness – anxiety, panic attacks and depression being the most common and 1 in 10 will develop an eating disorder before their 25th birthday. Hospitalisations from self-harm have doubled in the last three years.
Wow. Aren’t you glad you’re not a kid these days? What a relief when we were growing up for no social media, non-pushy parents, only 3 channels on telly (yes, I’m that old). The pressures of modern childhood are smashing self-esteem and affecting all areas of little people’s lives.
But how to solve it? St Joseph’s College Reading is taking a proactive stance and Head of Prep Mark Bushby has been instrumental in beefing up the school’s focus on EQ alongside IQ. It is proud to be a Mental Health First Aid Centre, running courses for teachers, parents and anyone working with young people to develop skills to spot problems and respond with knowledge and confidence. St Joseph’s now has more than 30 members of staff trained in mental health first aid and they sent me on the course too.
The thing that really resonated for me, is that if we want out kids to be happy, we need to work on their day to day wellbeing. So, I hoping these insights might help .
Hang with people who matter
Finding your gang is hard. It’s all too easy to say, spend time with people who make you happy. Obviously that’s true, but when you’re young, you want to feel accepted, you don’t want to be different and it’s all about fitting in. Throw in communicating on What’s App and living in a world where popularity is measured by likes and shares, and you see the problem. But close relationships with family and friends provide love, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Outside interests introduce them to new communities that bring a sense of belonging. If someone makes you happy, stick with them – quality over quantity. But as parents also need to practice forging good relations with our kids – and that is definitely tested when your little munchkins grow up to be temperamental teens.
Look after your body
Shift your butt and get in a solid 8 hours sleep and we all feel more human (note to self). Kids and adults feel happier if they’re more active. We don’t need to run marathons, but anything from walking, cycling or skateboarding to yoga, running or playing team sports will instantly improve mood and can lift us out of a depression. We can also boost wellbeing by unplugging from tech and making sure we get enough sleep! So no phones or iPads at bedtime. I think we’re all well-versed in: Eat well + sleep well + move more = happy. But I for one do not always practice what I preach and need to swap my late night Insta binges for a good book; go for a run and stay away from the chips.
Find ways to bounce back
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is not just something my mum used to say, science has shown that it does have some truth in it, too. Having noticed a lack of resilience in my own children, this is something I really worry about. Life can be hard. We all have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma, but our ability to bounce back is key. Like many other life skills, resilience can be learned, but it does mean, as parents, allowing your kids to actually experience adversity. By doing this, they learn ways of coping and identify and engage their support network. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose our own attitude to what happens. If they don’t learn how to dust themselves off and bounce back, life is going to to be work and overwhelming. So back off, let your kids make mistakes and give them the space to figure out a fresh approach.
Stop and take notice
Is there more to life than playing games, social media and YouTube videos of cute cats? If you can prize your kids eyes away from a screen, there is! We just need them to stop and take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware will do wonders for their wellbeing in all areas of life – like their walk to school, what they eat or their relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future, so try and encourage your kids to be present.
Reach for the stars
Dream big. I wanted to be fighter pilot when I was growing up. It didn’t happen but only because of bad eyesight. The point is, setting goals, both big and small, boosts happiness. They need to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. Happiness doesn’t just happen – it comes from thinking, planning and pursuing things that are important. Encourage your children to set goals – from improving on their next maths test to becoming PM, just make sure you’re not imposing YOUR benchmarks on them. It’ll only end in tears.
See through the Insta filter fakery of likes and comments. No-one’s perfect. Getting teenagers in particular to focus less on their flaws – what we’re not rather than what we’ve got – makes it much harder for them to be comfortable in their own skin. Having constant criticism in their heads about not being good enough is a sure way to be unhappy. Putting imperfections into perspective is really important – seeing them as normal rather than out of the ordinary. So teach your kids to be kind to themselves as well as to others.
Set a good EQ example
Our kids are our world and we prioritise their needs. But when it comes to good mental health and wellbeing, we need to practice what we preach. It’s not good enough to say, “Do as I say not as I do”. We need time out to do the things that make us happy – whether that’s going for a run, reading a book or taking a bath. Be good to yourself even if it for 1 hour a week. Children are naturally highly attuned to their parents’ moods. Putting on a brave face will never fully mask what we’re feeling, and these feelings, which our children undoubtedly perceive, are sure to impact them.