THE CURRENT SITUATION
I was having a catch up over afternoon tea, with a wonderful friend from my years in teaching. I love it when we get together. We catch up on our personal lives, giggle about past happenings, but also we bat around our thoughts and feelings to do with current education. In fact, we were so busy batting that it took a while for us to realise that they were actually sweeping up around us. When had all of the other customers disappeared?
There is also the London Marathon happening on Sunday with the emphasis this year on mental health. This has been brought about by Prince Harry, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s ‘Heads Together’ campaign being highlighted at the marathon.
This first blog will focus on how we can improve mind-body connections – for ourselves and for children. Next week, I will focus on how the link affects us on a day to day basis.
One of the things my friend and myself talked of was the struggle that many children have these days in coping with what the world has to throw at them. When I was a child, OK it was just post WW2, life moved at a much slower pace with, seemingly, far fewer distractions and demands. We had the time and the opportunity to simply be children. I feel that these days due to society, media, friends, ‘social media friends’, family and the children themselves, there are an ever increasing number of pressures to do things, to be constantly communicating, being put on our children. A need to conform. Somehow, simply being a child can disappear from the agenda. As so many of us older folk say – children grow up far too early these days. Yet, being ‘allowed’ to be a child is an essential part of our development as a well-rounded person, able to cope with whatever the adult world will send winging our way. Have they developed, are they being encouraged to develop the skills to cope with this?
Not only are there pressures on children, there are also pressures on parents to try to ensure that as much is crammed into childhood as possible. Peer pressure, child centered pressures as ‘everyone else’ is doing that!! There are also pressures on schools and teachers. Budgets are being constantly nibbled at, or in some cases seemingly hacked away at due to changes in how they are worked out. As part of this, additional adult support in schools, our wonderful TA’s, classroom assistants, are not being replaced or are losing their jobs. Simultaneously, there seem to be (no, I am sure that there are) more and more children presenting at an ever younger age with mental health issues. Issues of anger, of not feeling that they fit, of depression etc – gradually nudging down and down the age range.
Whilst mental health support for adults in UK remains woefully inadequate, how are we providing for and supporting children? Answer, I strongly feel, – even more inadequately. And – with these mental, social, emotional problems – are we leaning on that open door of greater future physical illness? What can be done to change the current situation? Sorry, questions to which I do not have a definitive answer, though I know what I feel would be a positive help – having experienced the problem from a teacher’s, a therapist’s and a personal viewpoint.
I feel very strongly that we need to get support into schools for these children. We do not want them on long waiting lists to be taken off to places with which they are not familiar. Far better to put the support into schools – both at a classroom level, focusing on emotional intelligence, and for those individual children who are particularly struggling, on a one to one, therapeutic level.
The support of trained professionals who also have an understanding of the education system…. and while we are at it, support for the teachers who are also struggling, with a drop-out rate which can leave a lack of experienced teachers and certainly, in some areas, is leading to insufficient head teachers for our schools. London schools are apparently having to share head teachers, as well as move pupils experiencing special needs into a different local school where they have staff trained and experienced in supporting their needs. This gives me concern on so many levels.
OK, there are ever increasing ‘conversations’ around mental and emotional health issues leading to them being more readily spoken about, though an understanding of what it actually ‘is’ and how it affects people still lags persistently behind. This isn’t helped by the fact that such issues rarely require a simple off the shelf fix, as what works for one person does not always transfer through to others seemingly showing similar ‘symptoms’. This is due to the fact that mental and emotional issues are very much affected by issues of ‘self’ – what else has happened (maybe the root cause), and what is going on for each person, covering, for example, financial, social, behavioural issues.
Back to schools – at present, the role of supporting children with ‘mental/emotional problems’ is largely filled by teachers. The vast majority, whilst being great at teaching children academically, have neither the time, nor the training, to be able to effectively support children with such difficulties – and in a class of children, teaching can be a balancing act, as every child in that class has equal rights to teacher time. Not just the ones who ‘demand’ that attention through their noisy or disruptive behaviour, but those who plod on stoically with their work, and what I call the wallpaper children. The quiet ones. These were always the children who gave me most concern in any classroom. What was going on to make them want to be this little invisible person? OK, occasionally shyness, but certainly not in all circumstances.
To meet the demands placed on them by SAT’s (ugh!!), and the ever changing governmental initiatives, IQ is catered for and the lists are ticked. However, what of EQ (emotional intelligence), or SQ (spiritual intelligence). Note – this is not taking into account the different ‘intelligences’ recognised by Gardner which are expected to be included within the education of our children.
So, if as is generally accepted we have far too many young children with mental, emotional problems which are not being – to be polite – adequately catered, not only are we building a future for more teenagers, young adults who struggle in this way, but, as said, will this not also lead to increased physical problems too? We are ignoring that our children are holistic beings who need to be treated as such within the field of education. An even greater need to support early, with appropriate levels of this support. Though, this brings us back to the nitty gritty of budgets. Few heads currently have the capacity to set up such programs, as it would inevitably be relatively costly, but what price the futures of our children? I fear that the concerns, though voiced, will also slip down government consideration lists with all of the issues involved in sorting out ‘BREXIT’.
TURNING TO ADULTS
As adults, we have to work on our emotional intelligence and ensure that we include time for relaxation. There are many routes available to us and a simple Google search will help to identify those nearby. I have always felt an affinity for Buddhism. I stumbled across a Cheshire Buddhist Society offering training and meditation evenings. All involved a reasonable length of drive, but a bit more digging and I found one a couple of miles down the road – I go to my first session on Monday evening and am really looking forward to it. Me time. Relaxation time. Mind-body linking time to add to the Mindfulness I use. Recent research shows that use of such mind-body techniques does help against heart disease, strokes, some cancers and can support the control of pain in such as arthritis. Such things may still feel new and somewhat ‘new-agey’ to us in the UK, but the Chinese, the Japanese have long included things such as Tai Chi or Qigong as part of their daily routines and nobody casts a second glance at a collection of people working through their routines before or after work, or in their lunch break, singly or in large informal groups.
Those of us with a religion make use of prayer and shared worship as a way of linking our minds and bodies.
There are so many different yoga classes available – with the different types of yoga, a good way to use the exercise to also control breathing, focus on the mind as well as the body and relax.
Again, there are so many different ways to include meditation into your daily routines, from short five-minute switch offs to longer pieces of guided visualisation, either using your own mind, or, as I prefer, being guided in my mind wanderings. In fact, I am in the throes of recording some guided visualisations which will shortly be available for downloading from my web site.
Arts and Crafts
Crafting, painting – no matter what your standard, also allow a focus on your creative side. I love to try new crafts and allow myself some escape-time by becoming engrossed in them, and learning new ones adds to my feelings of achievement in different areas of life. The relaxation and release we get from crafts explains why they can be used in therapeutic settings. Many people are using the doodle books as a way of relaxing and expressing themselves through the use of colour.
I remember when my father would be collected and taken to a center where they included art therapy. They crayoned. It brought him so much pleasure as he had painted as a young man, and then again later in life. I have a precious photograph of him in front of a collage of their work. He still had the skills, though Alzheimer’s was stealing so many other things from him and he struggled to grip the crayon with arthritis in his hands. By focusing on the drawing, he was able to forget his physical problems for a while. I can easily pick out his contributions – trees, as he loved them! Like father, like daughter.
I have used art therapy as a way of enabling children (and adults) to express themselves when they struggled to do this with the spoken word. Drawing, painting, using clay. All helped and often provided a distraction to allow talking to begin.
Dance and music
Both are ways of expressing yourself creatively. No need for dance groups or choirs, you can simply fling yourself around at home if you wish, or sing, hum or simply listen to music. Having said that, it can be good fun to go to classes to learn new dance types you aren’t familiar with – I used to giggle when surrounded by much younger girls and women when I went to street dance classe; and there is something very special about singing with a choir of people. An extra dimension to the music alone, a shared experience of producing sounds that affect not only the ears, but the spirits too – lifting us and bringing a smile for performers and listeners alike. How well I remember being a small cog in the wheel of a two thousand strong choir as a teenager. An amazing feeling. Sadly, another aspect of education which can take a back row, apart from times of special performancesor as an extra-curricular activity.
Mindfulness continues to become an ever-more popular way of establishing a positive mind-body connection. I intend to focus a blog on the practice shortly, so will not go into detail now. It can be used at home, at work, inside, outside, for short periods of time or long, formally or informally. It is also being introduced into schools and is proving very effective in allowing children to focus on their work.
So many options to choose from – and my list is far from exhaustive – to link mind and body, and through relaxation to improve both mental and physical well-being, for all ages. Get Googling! More on the nitty gritty of how the links work and affect us next week