Children’s Mental Health Week
Children’s Mental Health Week gives us the perfect opportunity to talk to children about mental well-being. With approximately one in four people experiencing mental health issues every year, it is important to make sure that children know how to recognize illness in themselves and others. With children suffering from diagnosable mental health conditions, as well as factors such as bullying and bereavement, it’s great to have an open and honest attitude to mental health in the classroom.
Children’s Mental Health Week was created in 2015, by children’s mental health charity Place2Be. This year, Children’s Mental Health Week is 3rd – 9th February and has the theme of ‘Healthy: Inside and Out’. It encourages children to think about their health in terms of their mental health as well as their physical health. Place2Be talks about how things we do to improve our physical well-being can be good for our mental well-being as well. We’ve come up with some ideas on how your pupils can eat well, play well and sleep well, to help improve their mental health.
Ask your pupils what kind of food they like to eat when they’re feeling down. No doubt you’ll get a list of typical ‘comfort food’, including cake, chips and chocolate. Explain that, whilst these types of food give a short-term boost to our mood (mainly due to the sugar content), long term they actually make us feel worse. This is because they are physically bad for us, and eaten often can lead to weight-gain, sluggishness and sugar addiction.
Of course, if we are not physically healthy its more likely that we will suffer from mental ill-health as well. So, if we want to stay healthy, in body and mind, we should be eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as protein-rich foods.
Try New Things
There are lots of foods that are thought to improve mental health and wellness. Why not have a tasting session in the classroom (don’t forget to take any allergies into account though). Some children are fussy eaters, but they may follow other pupils’ example and become more adventurous.
1. Oily fish – Oily fish contains a special Omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, which helps to improve memory, boost mental health and reduce anxiety levels.
2. Berries – Berries are packed with antioxidants and they’re great for satisfying a sweet tooth too. Antioxidants have been found to assist in improving symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
3. Yoghurt – Thanks to the brain-gut connection, probiotics found in yoghurt, can assist in lowering levels of stress, anxiety and depression.
4. Whole grains – Who doesn’t love carbs? Whole grains are a rich source of an amino acid that helps to produce serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone’), which helps to calm the mind, improve mood and help you sleep well.
5. Walnuts – They look like a brain for a reason! Like berries, walnuts are full of antioxidants. They can also help us to grow new brain cells – great for maintaining good mental health. Like all nuts though, they are high in fat, so should be eaten in moderation.
6. Leafy greens – According to a study, people who regularly consumed daily servings of leafy greens such as spinach and kale have a slower rate of cognitive decline compared to those who avoided piling their plates with greens.
7. Beans – Full of fibre and antioxidants, beans and legumes keep you fuller for longer, keeping your blood sugar stable and enabling you to burn more energy (which, as we know is essential for good mental health).
Meditate and Enervate
Meditation and exercise are both brilliant for mental health. Why not try a ten-minute meditation session every morning before lessons start? This should calm down any excitable pupils, help your class to focus on their learning and be more mentally healthy.
Encourage pupils to run around as much as possible at lunch-time to boost their mood and to get rid of any disruptive energy ready for afternoon lessons. You could teach them some simple games that they can then play together at lunchtime.
We can all feel a little sluggish by the end of the day, so why not give your pupils a boost before they leave for the day, leaving them with positive memories of their school day. For the last 10 minutes of each day, you could take your pupils out into the hall and play a high-energy game to get their mind and body buzzing.
Top Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
Sleeping well is incredibly important for mental health. Back in December 2017, we published our top tips for teachers to get a good night’s sleep. We’ve tweaked them for pupils to make sure they are waking up happy and refreshed every morning.
1. A calm bedroom – Having an untidy bedroom can hinder attempts to get to sleep. Many people find that if they tidy their bedrooms, they unclutter their mind at the same time, making sleep more easily achievable. So, make sure that you tidy away all of your toys and homework before you go to bed.
2. Sleep schedule – Going to sleep (and waking up) at the same time every day helps your mind and body get into a routine and improves your sleep pattern. Have you tried setting an alarm to tell you when to go to bed?
3. Do some gentle exercise – why not introduce your pupils to yoga. There are some great yoga for kids videos on YouTube, that your learners could try before they go to bed.
4. Step away from the screen – using screen technology before bed has been proven to be detrimental to our ability to get to sleep. Encourage pupils to switch off TVs and put down their phones at least one hour before bedtime for the best chance of a successful night.
5. Bedtime ritual – Creating a relaxing ritual before bedtime can put us into a more positive frame of mind before trying to sleep. Pupils could try a nice warm bath, or a bedtime story to help them to switch off from a productive day in the classroom.
Are you talking to your pupils about mental health this week? Let us know your ideas in the comments section below.
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