Marilyn Hawes, Founder of Freedom from Abuse CIC, has been a regular guest blogger on our website over the last year. Marilyn’s safeguarding organisation works really closely with sports/pastime clubs all around the UK and does an amazing job of passing on best practice.
This week, Marilyn is telling us all about simple everyday things that can affect children’s mental health. Once again, the more we know about a topic, the more we can support children in our clubs who may be struggling.
Mental health problems affect around 1 in 10 children and young people. As trusted adults in young people’s lives, we should keep our knowledge as up to date as we possibly can. Otherwise, how are you supposed to help with something you don’t know about?
People suffer with their mental health for many reasons, however, I’m not going to go into that today. I'm going to give you some examples of a few everyday situations that can affect a child’s mental health.
As a former Deputy Head Teacher, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many adults are guiding children far too strongly. This is of course in comparison to letting children find things out for themselves and then make valued decisions in order to grow.
We understand that it can be difficult to let children explore new situations by themselves. But this vital experience is almost compulsory in helping them develop the right life skills to go forward in life.
Ideally, life skills need to be developed by children themselves and guided by adults at the right level. If children don’t learn to how to make these important decisions from an early age, it may affect them later in life, or sooner than you think.
2. Social media
I’m sure you won’t be surprised about this one. There are lot of positives to using social media, but it can also be dangerous. Apps like Instagram and Snapchat can expose children to negative situations such as bullying and even child protection concerns.
If a child has been gifted an electronic device, it’s their parent/guardian’s responsibility to manage the hours they spend on it. That being said, if you run your own club, you’re more than entitled to implement a device/social media/safeguarding policy to manage this during club hours.
3. Expectations that are higher than normal
Most parents simply encourage their children to attend a club so they can learn something new, find a hobby they enjoy and make friends.
Sometimes parents can have such strong ambitions for their children, they can end up being overly demanding or pushy. Although this usually comes from a good place (of just wanting the best for their children), it can affect some children negatively.
It’s unfair to put so much pressure on a child. It can result in them not enjoying the sport/activity anymore and even cause problems with their mental health.
Sometimes parents compare their children with their friend’s children, coaches compare young athletes with other students and even children can compare themselves to their peers. Regularly comparing children is unrealistic as they grow at different paces - mentally, emotionally and physically.
Children will thrive when they’re in an environment where they’re safe, cared for and treated as a unique individual.
5. Lack of trusted adults
Life can be stressful for teenagers. With the introduction of exams, social media and educational pressure, it’s even harder in the modern day. Nevertheless, having a trusted adult who they can have a relaxed discussion with (without fear of comparison or judgement) is essential to their wellbeing.
A big part of coaching is providing feedback. I’d suggest individually assessing the right point to give feedback and also assessing what’s really important to pick them up on. For example, if a child is feeling particularly anxious and going through a hard time, it’s probably not the best time to give them a list of several things they’re not doing correctly.
It can be difficult for children to receive criticism and if they’re suffering with their mental health, this can make it harder for them. Perhaps you could time feedback so that it’s not compiled together or make a ‘feedback sandwich’. For example, “Your handstand has improved so much! You still need to work on your posture when dismounting. Overall, a fantastic job!”
We know that when you think about the different areas of knowledge that are required as a coach, it seems daunting. There are lots of topics to educate yourself (and your team) around and there aren’t enough hours in the day… especially if coaching isn’t your full-time job.
If you did want to make an extra effort to update your knowledge, you may like to take a look at some books about child development/mental health etc. I honestly believe we can all do a far better job with youngsters and we should want to do more to help.
Some other resources to be aware of/get help from are as follows:
• Contact a Family
• Family Lives
• Penumbra (Scotland)
• CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
• PAPYRUS (Prevention of Young Suicide)
• Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC)