The Early Childhood Team’s response to children’s mental health week – Dr Charlotte Jones

Children’s Mental Health Week (set up by the children’s mental health charity, Place2Be), runs from 3-9th February 2020. In order to raise awareness of this, the Early Childhood Team have decided to collaborate to create a resource to be shared with students on their Early Childhood Programme, for them to also share with their colleagues, families and local communities.

This resource includes the team’s own particular avenues of interest relating to young children’s mental health, as well as suggestions for useful resources and activities to support students in exploring this highly valuable topic further.

Individual Stories and Collective Voices

With 1 in 10 children currently having a diagnosable mental health need (Department of Health/Department for Education, 2017), never does there seem to have been so much demand for the clear integration of early childhood practitioners, care and health services as well as local communities. Political response to this ever-increasing concern was visible in 2017 with proposals to enhance and develop mental health provision published in ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’ (Department of Health/Department for Education, 2017). Yet it is startling that the mental health and wellbeing of the youngest children seems to have been neglected within policy in England. Interestingly, this sits within the context of the education workforce, of whom 75% of staff reported physical and mental difficulties due to work in the previous 2 years, alongside 50% who stated that they had experienced depression and/or anxiety due to work (Education Support Partnership, 2018). It seems that a multi-faceted approach is required – one that recognises, values and supports the wellbeing of staff and the local community, as well as the children who sit at the heart of our day-to-day work.

It is important to remember that individuals who work directly with young children, use an incredibly powerful tool that supports mental health every day – stories and storytelling. As a form of cognitive play, stories help us to make sense of and indeed make connections to our own experiences and those of others. Through the melting pot of ‘affective’, ‘reflective, ‘verbal and ‘non-verbal’ practices, storytelling provides a world for us to explore together, with an element of distance between story and teller paving the way for both imagination and clarification of our own thoughts and emotions. Additionally, stories and storytelling within the early childhood context offer opportunities to develop skills of emotional literacy – the storytelling experience in itself becoming an approach to community inclusion and the development of self-awareness and empathy. It is therefore important that we support such practices that enhance democracy and strengthen early childhood communities by allowing sufficient time and space – I wonder the extent to which we feel sufficient flexibility to translate this into practice? Perhaps the answer is that it is up to us to carve out the time and space. To end, I’ll share a couple of ideas for stories and storytelling from current ECS students who continue to inspire me:

  • A storytelling space can be found anywhere – one student has created a cosy storytelling space half way up the stairs of their home, meaning that the space that her child steps through each day can at any moment become a comforting, peaceful location to quite literally step into another world
  • Guess the ending – why not leave the ending of a story out initially – asking the children themselves to consider potential avenues for characters, feelings and circumstances to conclude
  • The value of images – Consider the use of wordless books, such as The Journey by Aaron Becker in which the author and illustrator offers us a series of prompts for the development of our own stories
  • Know your audience – Explore avenues for sharing stories with children using the senses – be inspired by ‘Touch to See’ books, with the story being conveyed to the audience through painted tactile pictures
  • Have fun! – Remember that it is important for us too, to delve into stories – reading for pleasure is so valuable at all ages!

References

Department for Health/Department for Education (2017) Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision. [online] Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/664855/Transforming_children_and_young_people_s_mental_health_provision.pdf [accessed 27th February, 2020].

Education Support Partnership (2018) Teacher Wellbeing Index. [online] Available at: https://www.educationsupport.org.uk/about-us/press-centre/teacher-wellbeing-index-2018-highlights-stress-epidemic-and-rising-mental [accessed 28th February 2020].

Additional Reading Suggestions

Golding, K. (2014) Using stories to build bridges with traumatized children. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Crawford, P., Roberts, S. and Zygouris, V. (2019) Addressing 21st century crises through children’s literature: picturebooks as partners for teacher educators. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education. 40(1): 44-56.

Jennings, S. (2004) Creative storytelling with children at risk. Milton Keynes: Speechmark Publishing Ltd.

By Charlotte Jones

You can read the rest of the team’s responses to Children’s Mental Health Week here:

Rachel’s Blog

Maggie’s Blog

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