Have you ever considered the mental health of your monkeys alongside their physical health? My goals this year include running for my monkeys, with my monkeys and sometimes away from my monkeys. The reasons for this is mental health. I want to run for them by setting a good example for them. I want to run with them to hopefully ignite an interest in running, that gives them a free and manageable exercise to help them keep their heads-together. Finally I want to run away from them, when I need to, for my own sanity and, to help them appreciate my need for headspace too.
On Sunday the London marathon took place and, for the first time, it’s chosen charity was a mental health organisation, Heads-Together. This is huge for mental health. My goals this year are about getting our heads-together as a family. Finding that passion for exercise and equipping the monkeys with a mental health management tool they can use in the future.
Let’s get it all out in the open.
If we think as parents that our children will never be affected by mental health issues then we are delusional. Mental health permeates every part of our lives and this doesn’t always have to be a negative thing. At some point in all our lives we will experience bereavement, stress or anxiety, sadness, loss or even trauma of some kind. Our brains are fairly robust but without careful management it can and will struggle. As parents, I believe it is our job to provide our monkeys with a tool kit to help them keep their heads-together.
Young Monkeys are a great big mix of raw emotions. Huge highs of excitement moments later unstoppable tears and anguish, reversed again within seconds. One extreme and nonsensical merry go round. It is easy to dismiss their emotions, as a result, as if they aren’t real. Now I’m not saying that we should attempt to treat every issue that invokes emotion in our children, however we should try not to encourage them to suppress them either. The British stiff upper lip has a lot to answer for. Have you ever thought that by letting it out, in small bursts is possibly healthy? By encouraging them to vocalise certain things, a positive thing?
You cannot push him
I have shouldered some pretty heavy tantrums during the short life of my monkeys. Top being the actual top offender (Judged on a Snapshot in Parenting Time). I often watch the cogs going round in his brain as he struggles to control his emotions. Some of his outburst have been violent and uncontrollable. Frightening at times. Between us we have crumbled in their wake. To get a grasp on this I have read a lot. What I have learnt is that management techniques are one thing but gaining a deeper understanding is key. When you gain a better understanding of the triggers you can start to predict the emotions and responses.
Top has a cautious personality. Until he is sure, you cannot push him. He needs knowledge and understanding and often a willingness to want to participate before he will commit. Take Junior Parkrun. The first week he refused to go and hung back to watch his brother, second week he reluctantly participated. Now, four weeks in, he is flying. He understands what it is all about and he is confident nothing terrible is going to happen to him. In the past his initial stubbornness would cause a huge argument. Now we know to step back, when we can, continue to encourage and let him find his own way.
Seek professional help
Sometimes though, mental health in children is more complex. Recent statistics reported that in every 30 children at least 3 will develop a serious mental health problem. This is a startling statistic. It is why having a dialogue about mental health from an early age is so important to lift the stigma. To provide children and parents with the confidence to treat mental health as they would physical health. So they can seek professional help if they need it.
Contentment not happiness
The most important thing to remember is that we are striving for contentment not seeking happiness. Happiness can be wonderful but at times of sadness and trauma all we will want is happiness. This can lead to frustration. Contentment and peace can be felt even at the saddest of times. It is a confidence that, with the right steps, life is still going to be ok. Even if the recovery is difficult and long.
Not all mental health issues will need professional help, or be as severe, if you put in place some simple foundation blocks. Good diet and exercise. Encouraging good hydration too. Communication is also essential. We need to learn to listen and hear effectively. As parents we are often keen to be the expert and have the answers to fix things. To make them happy again. Sometimes it’s ok just to say “I understand that you are upset and I understand why.” Then just leave it there. Let them have the time to feel their emotions and work through them. Being unconfrontational could be enough for them to come to you.
Have the conversations later, when things have calmed down. The younger they are you will probably find they can’t remember why they were upset. But as they get older things start the stay with them.
They can be confident I will listen
One of the statistics that frightens me as a mummy to boy monkeys, is that the biggest killer of men under 45 is suicide. The fact that men has historically men have been discouraged from talking. “Man up” and “stop crying like a girl.” Often the families of those who commit suicide say there was no indication that it would happen. I hope that my monkeys will always feel able to come to me at difficult times and that they can be confident I will listen.
Top now has a fairly good insight into his bad behaviour. Mostly tired or hungry but sometimes it is about something that has happened. Talking things out really helps him and we have seen improvements in his behaviour. Our children will observe the world through their innocent perspectives as we will shelter and protect them from its harsh realities. However, we must provide them with armour to protect themselves and the tools to fight whatever comes their way. Teaching them that it is ok to say how they feel and to know where to go to safely express themselves is part of that.
Where to go
If you want to know more about mental health or mental health management, there are loads of resources out there. Heads Together or Mind are a good place to start. NHS Direct Live Well also has a wealth of information. For guidance and support with getting your own monkeys active have a look at the NHS Change4life programme. This also has guidance on healthy diet, sugar swaps and 10 minute exercise suggestions. If you want a way into running yourself the NHS Couch to 5k is also excellent and I can personally recommend the App.
Lots of things to think about then. Start today, open the conversation and help develop a generation of young people who are not afraid to talk about mental health.