As parents, the health and wellbeing of our children is almost always at the top of our list of concerns, and when a child is struggling, particularly with mental health, it impacts us and them on a deep soul level. I have supported and worked with children and families for over 25 years. Having experienced this first hand as a mother of three, I can vouch for the feelings of fear, anxiety, sadness and helplessness that hit hard.
Trying to navigate broken Child and Adolescent Mental Health systems, deal with school and manage your own mental health is incredibly tough. I want you to know that firstly you are not alone, and secondly your intuition and feelings are completely valid. It’s ok to put your child’s mental health first, above exams, above school, above relatives’ opinions. Trust in your own relationship with your child. You can get through this, and you are doing a great job.
I wrote this article to share three simple, practical, enjoyable ways that you can support your family’s mental health and wellbeing. Including you, (parents) in this. We have all been through a very difficult few years, and we all deserve some self-care. So, even if your children laugh at you for hugging trees and jumping in puddles, my advice to you is do it anyway, you will feel better!
Play is something that I am passionate about. It is something that is often dismissed as being ‘unnecessary’ for children, a luxury that should be limited and taken away if children don’t conform to adult rules and regulations. Having created and operated The Play Well Trust charity for four years, where I used the power of play to support seriously ill children and their families, I have seen first-hand just how essential play is for children’s mental health and wellbeing.
Play helps children to build relationships. It gives them a safe space to work through feelings and emotions. Helping them to make plans, find solutions, ease anxieties and interact with friends and family in a way that they might not feel able to in the ‘real world.’
Even as adults play is essential to our thought processing and relationship building. We play with ideas until we find the way forward. Go out with our friends and have some ‘down time’. We also as parents and carers we use play to bond with and interact with our children.
- Boost communication and understanding
- Allow space for laughter and fun.
- Allow space for tears and frustrations.
- Strengthen relationships.
- Lower stress levels and blood pressure
- Boost the immune system.
Therefore, play should be the very essence of how we support our children.
Being outdoors offers children and adults a multi-sensory experience to which we respond instinctively. Have you ever noticed the energy children have on a wild and windy day? The sort of day when they hold their coat high above their head and run into the wind? Compare this to a warm, slow, sunny day, where they choose to play quietly with some water in the shade, watching it drip and splash. Children are at home in nature.
I have used the outdoors for a whole range of activities with my children. From creating large pieces of art and nature photography, to den building, bubble blowing and sharing stories.
Humans are designed to be outside and the impact the outdoors has on our bodies is both profound and almost instantaneous as we step into our natural habitat. In the brilliant book, 52 Ways to Walk, by Annabel Abbs, she writes:
“When we move, hundreds of intricate changes take place inside our bodies. A twelve minute walk alters 522 metabolites in our blood – molecules that affect the beating of our heart, the breath in our lungs, the neurons in our brains.”
The Impact of Nature
As a Holistic Eco Therapist I have studied the impact of nature on children and adults in great depth. The benefits just keep coming, particularly in terms of mental health. Here are a few interesting findings:
- Healthy soil contains natural antidepressants. It’s hard to believe that making mud pies is good for you. Researchers at Bristol university discovered that friendly bacteria in the soil activate the brain cells that produce serotonin. This helps to regulate mood and is a key factor in good mental health.
- The colour green is deeply therapeutic and healing for us humans. Research shows that looking out of windows at green spaces, having live plants in hospitals or even looking at images of the natural world, improve and speed up the healing process in hospital patients.
- Spending time amongst trees can lower blood pressure and reduce stress. This in turn boosts your immune system. Not only that, but hugging trees releases oxytocin (the love hormone), in our brain and it makes you laugh, which is also beneficial to us!
The benefits of being creative are equally as valuable as nature connectedness and play. It’s something that I have always incorporated in all areas of mine and my children’s lives.
Creativity is important to us all. It increases happiness, improves mental health, lowers stress levels and boosts our immune system. Drawing, painting, creative arts and crafts also offer children a way to express themselves. They work through thoughts and feelings without feeling pressure to talk about how they feel. It’s a natural, instinctive way for humans to process emotions and it gives us a time to be still and focus on the moment.
Group and community creativity are fantastic ways to connect with those around us and develop stronger bonds. This is also true within families, whether you cook together, sing, dance, make music, tell stories or play imaginary games, all of these creative activities help to support happy, healthy relationships between all family members.
I really hope that this article has been helpful for you, I have lots of free resources and ideas on my website that I would love for you to use. Therapeutic Play and Well-being | Do Try This at Home (thedotrythisathomeschool.com)
And I also have a new book coming out at the end of August about combining nature, creativity and play to support children’s learning and wellbeing.
We are excited to read Sarah’s book! What activities do you do with the children to help their mental health? Did any of these ideas resonate with you? Let us know on TikTok, Instagram, Threads, Facebook and Twitter. Don’t forget we have some fabulous creative ideas to do with the kids in our Children’s section and Free Resources!
Sarah Vaughan is a mother of three and has a background in education, holistic health and children’s mental health. She is a holistic eco therapist and is also the founder of The Do Try This at Home School, a website full of free ideas and resources to support parents to help their children with both learning and wellbeing. You can find Sarah on Instagram as sarah_the_holistic_teacher, where she shares even more creative activities to keep children and families busy, happy and well.
From 2019-2021 Sarah was the CEO of The Play Well Trust, a small charity that she created herself to promote the power of therapeutic play for seriously ill children and their families. This was extremely successful, and Sarah was able to raise enough money to create and send 123 Feel Better Boxes to families across the UK.
Sarah is also an author and writer, she has written 4 children’s books so far, including “Timmy’s Time Travelling Toilet” and “Magical Magnificat”, and she has also written a guide for parents considering home education in the UK called, “Is Home Education the Right Choice for Our Family?” All of Sarah’s books are available to buy on Amazon.