Today is the end of Mental Health Awareness Week. This year’s theme is kindness, which at this difficult time is more important than ever – being kind to each other and to ourselves.
Speech, language and communication are vital skills in many areas of a child’s development. These skills are also linked with children and young people’s mental health. Children and young people with good language skills are able to talk about how they are feeling and understand their emotions in different situations. When children find it difficult to express their thoughts and feelings they may become frustrated and this can present as behaviour or becoming withdrawn or isolated.
Supporting children’s language and mental health from an early age is important. As parents, we want our children to be happy and enjoy a range of experiences in their lives. Within these experiences a child’s language and emotional well-being develops.
Children do not automatically know the words that they can use to describe their feelings, so we need to help them to learn these. Children express their feelings from birth, as they do not yet have words they use non-verbal communication and crying. Toddlers are also clearly able to let us know when something is not going their way, when they have a tantrum or other outburst. As a child grows up and their vocabulary develops, so does their ability to express themselves verbally. Here a few ideas to help children to develop these skills:
Model the language and vocabulary of feelings
It can be helpful to model the language that describes how the child is feeling. Saying things like, ‘you look happy, I think you liked riding your bike!’ or, ‘It’s sad you’ve lost your favourite toy’ can help a child link the emotion words to their experiences.
It is also useful to comment on your own emotions, such as ‘I’m happy I’ve been reading my book’, or ‘I’m sad I can’t visit my friends at the moment’. This is important so that children can hear the vocabulary being used in everyday situations but also lets them know that grown-ups feel all of these different things too!
It’s also important that children know that anger is a valid emotion. It is perfectly natural to feel angry in some situations but the important thing is the way we respond. For example, children need to learn that violent outbursts (hitting, throwing etc.) are not appropriate and there are other ways to deal with anger.
Role-model positive outlooks
As well as commenting on the emotions within a situation it can also be helpful to model a solution or a positive outlook. ‘I’m disappointed I have burnt the pie but I can try again and make another one’. Use language that is appropriate to the age of the child.
Encourage your child to try new things
Trying new things can help children to develop confidence and self-esteem and is also lots of fun. These experiences can also be used to show children it is ok to feel nervous and/or make mistakes. Modelling language about how you feel in different situations can be really helpful. ‘oh dear, I’ve put too much paint on my model, let’s try another one’
Trying new things is also a great way to model a range of new vocabulary (not just emotional words) in a real life situation. Comment on what you are doing together so the child hears a range of words.
There are lots of children's stories focusing on different emotions and these can also be useful to help a child develop further understanding of feelings and the associated vocabulary. You can also use your child's favourite books to talk about how the characters feel e.g. "the girl looks happy playing with her ball" etc.
Developing the language around feelings is important for all children. Some children with speech, language or communication needs may find this more difficult and may require more specific support in this area. There are a range of resources on our website, which may help with supporting conversations around emotions. If you are concerned about your child’s language or communication skills please get in touch with me for a free chat to discuss your concerns.
If you are worried about your child’s mental health please seek support – there are a range of contact details available on the NHS website for children and adults who have concerns about their mental health.
I love mindfulness and often try to incorporate different mindful activities into my day. I also love the 'Mindful Kids' cards which have a range of activities which help to manage everyday emotions and have fun with mindfulness. There are 50 different activity cards, so children can choose which one they feel like doing at any given time. The Mindful Kids resources are available from Amazon:
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