From 1 - 7 February 2021 it is Children's Mental Health Week in the UK, and this year the theme is Express Yourself.
Children's Mental Health Week was created by the children's mental health charity, Place2Be. This year's theme encourages children and their grownups to explore all the different creative ways children can express their feelings, thoughts or ideas.
Empowering children, by arming them with a whole range of ways to express themselves has never been more important. According to Place2Be's website, "Around three children in every primary school class has a mental health problem, and many more struggle with challenges from bullying to bereavement."
Children's Books & Expressing Your Feelings
As a parent and a children's author, I often turn to children's books, particularly picture books, as a starting point when I want to talk to my own children about difficult issues or emotions.
Sharing books with a grownup gives children the opportunity to experience and explore emotions through a character on the page. Seeing a character experience similar emotions or problems and come out the other side, reassures children that they are not alone, and that what they are feeling or experiencing can be overcome.
It can also be incredibly difficult to talk about something as personal as our own feelings, so it's hugely helpful to use relevant picture books to, instead, give children the opportunity to talk about what a character is going through and how the character may be feeling.
Books on feelings and emotions also gift children the vocabulary they need to identify and talk about their feelings, while boosting empathy by helping them to identify those same feelings in others. They really are a fantastic resource!
These are just a few we've enjoyed:
Creativity & Expressing Yourself
Sometimes, it can still be too difficult for children to talk about their feelings, which is where the Express Yourself theme of Children's Mental Health Week comes in. There are lots of amazing free resources on the Place2Be website, which will allow you to explore different creative ways that children can express themselves. And the week is about more than just expressing feelings, it's about finding ways to express what makes you YOU. Everyone is different, so it's worth trying them all out to see what works!
If your child is worried or scared, perhaps you could encourage them to try painting or drawing a picture of what their worry or fear would look like?
What about putting on some music and seeing if they can dance out their feelings?
Some children may like to write a story or a poem.
Or perhaps create a family feelings jar and encourage everyone to jot down their feelings, whether good or bad, and then talk about them together afterwards?
A few books we've found useful for encouraging creative expression include:
Design A Superhero
I wrote Superheroes Don't Get Scared...Or Do They? to help to normalise the experience of fear for children while helping them to recognise and celebrate their inner superheroes. One of my hopes was that the book would prompt conversations between grownups and children about fears and worries and bravery. So, as part of the free resources on my website I have created a Design a Superhero activity, which is a creative way for children to explore fears and bravery (while creating a fun superhero or villain all of their own).
To mark Children's Mental Health Week I have recorded a video which children can follow along with when carrying out this activity. I am not an illustrator (Superheroes Don't Get Scared was illustrated by the fabulous Clare Elsom), but as Place2Be says "being able to express yourself is not about being the best at something or putting on a performance for others. It is about finding a way to show who you are, and how you see the world, that can help you feel good about yourself."
I hope it brings a little joy, and perhaps a few helpful conversations!