5 Awesome Resources to support Children’s Mental Health

Recently, a few people have asked me about different resources that might help their students or children with anxiety and mental health. In past blogs, I’ve shared links to some brilliant free NHS resource packs for children, relating to a whole host of mental health problems. Click here if you want to go back to this.

If you’re willing to splash a little cash however, there are some really creative, beautifully-made and effective resources to use with your students or children.

This post contains no affiliate links – just good old fashioned sharing of what I’ve had success with; so that others might enjoy the same with their classes/groups/children.

These resources aren’t a substitute for medical help where it’s needed – where there are genuine concerns about your child’s mental health then please consult a health care professional. Sadly, I know that there are a lot of deeply concerned and frustrated parents (and children), whose child has been on a waiting list  for the last year and a half to speak to such a professional. When you’re forced to wait, but desperate to support your child in the meantime, these resources will provide much-needed guidance and support. Similarly, educators who build resources like these into their teaching, will certainly support students’ already suffering with mental health problems, and hopefully arm all students with a little more emotional resilience, needed for a healthy response when they inevitably hit one of life’s ‘bumps in the road.’

Here are 5 Awesome resources that won’t break the bank:

  1. Andrea’s Harms’ The Mood CardsPresently, these are under £12.00 on Amazon.co.uk and they’re worth every penny. As well as being appealing to the eye, these cards offer a mix of CBT, Mindfulness and Positive Psychology. The idea is children are invited to choose a card which relates to how they feel at the time (or they can choose at random but I’ve not found this nearly as effective.) They then turn the card over and answer questions relating to their mood overleaf, or read out a positive affirmation, or both. This stays on just the right level of cheesy and it allows for child-led emotional intervention. Effectively, they’re coaching themselves. Side-note: The cards work for adults too! I’ve successfully coached myself out of frustration or anxiety a few times, using these fabulous cards.
  2. Lily Murray and Katie Abey’s, No Worries! activity book: Labelled as an interactive self-care work-book for children aged 7+, this lovely resource allows children to colour and doodle their way to happiness. There’s a real mix of activities, encouraging children to focus on feelings like gratitude and awareness of the moment, whilst also reflecting on their own emotions and feelings. Plus, there’s actually some factual information and practical activities thrown in. The best bit? Though directed at supporting children with anxiety, it’s still just a fun activity book, which should reduce resistance from children where there is any. Did I mention that it’s currently under £7 on Amazon? I loved this book so much, I couldn’t resist the sequel, Hello Happy! no worries hello happy.jpg
  3. Enchanted Meditations for kids CD by Christiane Kerr: This audio CD is a big hit, particularly with younger children. Yoga teacher and owner of a soft, soothing voice, Christiane Kerr, takes children on a guided mediation journey. Travel with your class on an underwater dolphin ride; chase butterflies around a secret garden; fly away on a hot air balloon ride. Yes – this one is significantly more cheesy; hence why it’s more effective with children 11 and under. It’s a brilliant tool for parents wanting to support their children in relaxing/falling asleep or teachers wanting to introduce formal relaxation. Currently, this audio CD in under £9 and seriously, it’s worth it’s weight in gold. When I’ve used this consistently with classes, I’ve found children to be calmer and more relaxed (even after lunch!), and quicker to concentrate. It doesn’t hurt too, that they soon look forward to this as ‘down time’ for their minds.enchanted meditations.jpg
  4. Mindful Kids’ 50 Activity-card set by Whitney Stewart and Mina Braun: There are some incredible Mindfulness-related products currently on the market, and this card-set is one of the best. It’s beautifully designed, currently available for less than £8, and is a super effective tool for teaching mindfulness and emotional resilience to children. The cards are divided into 5 categories, which I’ll summarise here to be confidence building; handling challenging emotions; sharpening awareness muscles; acceptance of yourself/the world; rest and relaxation. Activities are accessible and enjoyable for all, most solely relying on imagination. A few activities require two or more people and a few resources, but they’ll still fairly easy to put into action. For any parent or primary teacher wanting to establish a regular mindfulness routine with their students (with a few yoga poses thrown in) these card sets provide creative and varied opportunities to do so.
  5. Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly: When I look through these books, I can’t help but wonder how different my life might be today, had I worked through these as a child or angst-ridden teen. There’s a book for children aged 5-9, currently under £12, or for a similar price, one for children aged 10+ which would probably would with children up to 13/14. Effectively, this book takes children through the stepping stones of a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) course. The book is packed full of really useful linformation about anxiety and its effects on the body and mind, along with really useful and structured activities aimed at ‘starving the anxiety gremlin.’ For parents or adults in school, working with anxious children, this book is a must!anxiety gremlin.jpg

If you do have any success with the resources above, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have I missed something unbelievably good? Tell me in the comments below!

Help your students to find their inner ‘Wellbeing Warrior’

I am delighted to announce the creation of ‘Skills with Frills’ original and signature workshop day, ‘Wellbeing Warriors.’

Delivery of this Learning Experience typically lasts the full school day. It’s aimed at upper key stage 2, but is easily adapted for children lower down school or further up. The workshop focus is mental health and wellbeing, something that children (and staff) are frankly crying out for across the country. The workshop has been carefully designed to take children through a journey aimed at creating a positive, ‘Growth Mindset’, better relationships and a happier life.

We begin the day with rules and expectations, followed by a simple question: What does a warrior look like? After considering what it truly means to have the qualities of a warrior, we begin working through the warrior code as follows:

Work hard: understanding and training yourself to have a Growth Mindset.

Appreciate: being thankful for all you have, including yourself.

Risk-hunting: understanding the biology of Fight, Flight and Freeze, and using this knowledge to support you as you step out of your comfort zone.

Resilience: considering the ‘Iceberg Illusion’ of success and how failure only makes us stronger.

Invest in Kindness: practising kindness and reaping the benefits in how you feel.

Observe (B.E.S.T): Mindfully observing breath, emotions, surroundings and thoughts.

Responsibility: Owning your responsibilities and the choices that you make, no matter what life throws at you.

Activities are chunked and varied to keep students engaged; including a mix of discussion, practical activities, video clips, stories from real-life people and written/drawing activities completed in workbooks provided at the start of the session. Students are invited to take these workbooks home in the hope that they will use them as a self-made, self-help guide in times of need.

This workshop incorporates elements of Mindfulness teaching, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, Growth Mindset, Neuroscience, Biology and theory/practice relating to Happiness teaching. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re also building up writing, comprehension, speaking and listening skills along the way.


Want to see this taught in your school? Still have questions? Call Jo on 07719330358 or email jo@skillswithfrills.com and we’ll be happy to discuss this workshop further.

Just to whet your appetite, here’s some feedback from year 6 students at Walton Academy, following a day-long workshop. As part of their plenary, they were asked to write down one thing they’d learnt; one thing they’d do as a result of the day’s learning; and one thing they would say differently. The answers speak for themselves!

What if we set goal systems instead of goals?

At this time of year, when talk always turns to New Year’s Resolutions and goals, I am reminded of a clip I watched on the YouTube channel ‘Big Think.’ Here, Adam Alter tells us that it’s much more useful to set goal systems than goals.

Think about it. On a personal level, this could mean that instead of telling yourself that your goal is to lose 2 stones in weight – and then spending 3 months in a state of perpetual failure – you might instead set a target of working out for 40 minutes a day. One day into this and you’re already a success!

There’s nothing to stop you having a goal in mind, but if you’re more invested in the goal system, then it’s your daily action that defines you.

Consider too – the implications for children in school. In this target-driven culture, how many children live in this state of perpetual failure, always feeling that they are behind target?

What about children with special educational needs in mainstream education – children for whom the system isn’t designed; children who aren’t even going to sit the exams that their peers will be judged by; children that are often fully aware of how completely unreachable their end goals are?

It’s no coincidence that as our teachers express distaste for the data-focused exam culture in UK schools, the media report on an ever-increasing myriad of mental health issues faced by our young people.

So what’s the answer? Even if we are powerless to change the focus on testing, we can ensure that the language we use around students is based on goal structures. We can praise use of full stops in a piece of work, rather than the reaching of a certain level. We can reinforce the notion that tests provide only a result of how you achieved in that hour, rather than how you perform in class each and every day. We can create our own targets, based on the individual needs to students; targets that are actually realistic and achievable.

Furthermore, what if we stopped the emotional battery of our teaching and support staff when our students ‘don’t make the grade?’ I doubt we’d be having the recruitment crisis that we’re currently facing.

Agree/disagree? Are you a teacher who has faced this issue themselves? Are you writing your New Years Resolutions and looking to try something new? Have you had success with goal structures in the past? All comments welcome:

QUICK READ: 5 Teaching strategies to benefit the shy and socially anxious

When I was at school, I was a massive ‘swot’. I wasn’t overly intelligent, but I worked incredibly hard. I’ve always loved to learn new things and I took a great deal of pride in producing work that reflected effort and creativity.

Yet, I hated school. I was just so unbearably shy – so socially anxious – that any area of the curriculum or school life that required confidence/social interaction/public speaking, caused dread, misery and upset. I saw everyone else as being super relaxed and confident – I was a pathetic freak because I couldn’t cope with normal life situations. As time went on, I was able to drop the ‘out-there’ subjects like Drama and PE and throw myself into academic subjects which tested my essay-writing skills, while allowing me to hide my inner-freak. I left school with awesome results, but my self-esteem was in the toilet. I’d had some fantastic teachers who had pushed me academically, but other than annual comments on my report that ‘she needs to put her hand up more,’ my lack of confidence was never tackled. Teaching ‘soft skills’ like confident public speaking, just wasn’t part of the educational dialogue at that time. Everyone was just expected to get on with it.

Nearly twenty years later with the roles reversed, I am driven by the need to make things better for the students I teach. More than anything, I want them to challenge themselves socially and grow their confidence and self-esteem, just as they would work towards targets in their academic subjects. It’s my hope that by opening up discussion of nerves and anxiety, we might just save our students from future years of avoidance, missed opportunities and feelings of worthlessness.

Here are 5 teaching strategies that I’ve found really effective in encouraging confident speaking and discussion: 

  1. Always give ‘thinking time’ in class discussion. When I ask a question in class, I usually ask three times, while wandering around the room. I change the expression in my voice, the emphasis and sometimes the pace of the question. I wait ten seconds or more before choosing someone to answer/taking hands up etc. All students, but particularly nervous speakers or low ability pupils, need time to prepare an answer.
  2. Allow them to prepare feedback in pairs. Whether you want them to consider a question, respond to some stimulus or solve a problem, ask them to discuss this in pairs before answering in front of the class. For younger children, you can make this really structured by giving them set amounts of time each to speak, asking them to speak in turns or giving them speaking sentence openers. For SEND students that struggle to remember what they’ve discussed, they can write notes on a mini-whiteboard to help them answer. I tell my class that as I’m giving them time to prepare, I expect everyone to be ready to answer – then I’ll choose a name, use a name generator or pick out a lollipop stick with a pupils’ name on.
  3. Open up dialogue about nerves, anxiety, social anxiety, fear of public speaking. I found it particularly useful to spend ten minutes going over the physical symptoms of ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and why our bodies react this way. We talked about everything from dry mouth and palpitations to the need to have a nervous wee! We also delved into why the body is designed this way – how it expels fluids so that you can run away more quickly; why your heart beats faster to ensure blood is circulating to your major organs; that when you feel like time has stopped, it’s because your senses are heightening, ready to act. Not only did this allow students to realise that these reactions were normal, but also put a positive spin on them.
  4. Before a presentation, ask your students to write a ‘recipe for success’ and a ‘recipe for disaster.’ I love this task so much! It really pushes students to think about what they need to do to perform an effective, confident and calm presentation, and contrast how they would prepare if they wanted to do a terrible job and let nerves take over. When I was really struggling with public speaking myself, I found it incredibly useful (and amusing) to write my recipe for disaster. It was a big turning point for me, because I realised that I’d spent my entire life up to that point following the wrong recipe!
  5. Notice – listen – understand – but still challenge. When I come across a child who is too afraid to speak in class, I set them a challenge of putting their hand up once a half-term/fortnight/week/lesson. I usually tell them to get this out of the way at the beginning of the lesson, so they’re not worrying about it. This doesn’t work for everyone, but I’ve found this really successful with some students. You can see the mixture of relief and pride cross their face once they’ve ‘done the deed’, and wonder what they were so worried about. Even better, once this becomes a regular pattern, you can see them build up positive momentum. After a while you can’t shut them up!

 

Have I missed anything? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

Slow writing? Quick progress for weak writers.

When I arrived at secondary school, I’m ashamed to say that I’d never heard of ‘slow writing.’ In fact, I only heard about it through a chance encounter with one of the English teachers in the work room. I was grumbling away about the lack of progress in my special needs English group and at the point where I felt like nothing I’d tried was working, when she suggested that I try ‘slow writing.’

Basically, the idea is that students are told what each sentence must include. For example, sentence one must start with an ‘ing ly’ opener; sentence two must include a connective and so on.

It’s true that this is very prescriptive, but it has worked wonders with my SEND writing group.

Previously, these students just couldn’t generate the ideas needed for a lengthy piece of writing, even with planning frames and speaking prep time. Many also were incredibly frustrated because they had the ideas, but just didn’t have the ability to get these onto paper. Then there were the students at the upper end of the group, who can spell and write, but tend to write huge streams of unconscious waffle.

Did they like this style of writing? Not at first, no. The group did complain a lot about having to write what they were told. I also had issues in that this approach relied on them understanding at least basic grammatical words and terms. Even with examples and explanations, I found I would have to recap individually what a simile was, or what a sentence with a subordinate clause would look like. Really though, as I find with any new approach, the key is training students up over time and patience.

We’ve just completed our fourth structured ‘slow write’ this term and the complaints have dropped. The work that my group is producing is of much higher quality and they’re all very proud of themselves. They’ve also built up their SPaG (spelling, punctuation and grammar) knowledge as a positive side effect of this.

I’ve attached a slow writing sheet – Mr. Bean at the dentist – slow writing task and example – that I used with my SEND group at the end of a unit of work based on Mr. Bean. We watched a video clip of Mr. Bean getting up late for the dentist and I showed students examples of slow writing to match this. Their task was then to complete slow writing for the second half of the clip, following the set structure. While this isn’t really my kind of humour, I find that Mr. Bean is a MASSIVE hit with KS2 and SEND KS3 students so the fact that they’re happy and engaged certainly helps! Here’s the clip in full:

Slow writing really is such a simple idea, but it has made a huge difference to the progress, skill, understanding and confidence of some very weak writers. I will certainly be using this again.

 

A simple and effective way to learn from our mistakes

For many of the children I teach, particularly the lower ability/special needs pupils, mistakes are something to be feared; something that seems to prove your stupidity and confirm to everyone that you’ll never amount to anything. It’s Learned Helplessness 101.

I did it wrong. I must be thick.

I’ve lost count of the number of children over the years (mostly boys I’ll note) whose immediate response to a tiny mistake is to rip their work into shreds and ‘down tools.’

And I know I’m not alone. This is a problem throughout primary and secondary schools, and there’s a lot of fantastic work going on in both sectors to combat this ‘destructive perfectionism’, linked to ‘Growth Mindset’ approaches. Educators are talking about failure, and mistakes, considering how we frame this in the classroom so that children see it as a necessary and beneficial part of the learning progress, rather than something negative.

For many children though, we need more than words to really ‘hit home’ with the message. I’ve tried something this week with my special needs Maths group – something that I’d done years ago with bottom set year 6 Maths and forgotten about. Basically, I set them a test but I’ve already filled in all of the answers incorrectly.

test1

test-scales

At this stage, I know my students and I’m aware of the kind of mistakes that they’re likely to make…so I purposely make the same mistakes, so that they’re immediately forced to think about why this is wrong and find an alternative solution. test-3

 

 

As they work, we talk about how great it is that we’re learning from mistakes and gaining high-level thinking skills in being able to explain why certain questions are wrong.

This kind of activity is easy to put together and highly valuable for all groups of learners, in any subject, at any age. And it’s another reminder for our students that we learn so much more from failure than from success.

QUICK READ: Top 5 tips to build resilience in the classroom

  1. Teach it! So many of us mope into the Staff room and complain about how easily our students give up/quit/don’t even try (my past-self included) without stopping to ask if anyone has ever spoken to them about what resilience is and why we need it, especially when it concerns children who lack positive role models at home. Many Primary Schools and some Secondary School leaders are beginning see the value of a ‘Growth Mind-set’ approach and with this, the need to explicitly teach resilience through models such as ‘the learning pit.’ Whatever age you teach and however you discuss this, it’s important to remind students that fear, difficultly and struggle go hand-in-hand with challenge and growth, and that ‘the only way out is through.’
  2. Give kids an ‘out’ so that they can make a mistake. If, for example, you are drawing posters and you’re faced with a child who repeatedly rips up their work because they ‘don’t think it’s good enough’, I tell them that they can do this only once and then they must use the mistake and make it part of their work.
  3. Instil an ethos of Independent Learning. I like to have the 5 Bs posters on the wall which represent a series of things that students need to do before shouting, “Miss!” These are: Brain, Book, Board, Buddy, and Boss. “Ask three before me,” is something that we say a lot too and the children at KS2/3-age respond really well to this. Often, students will tell me that they ‘don’t get it’ before they’ve even read the task sheet, or because they didn’t listen to the instructions. Instead, direct them to their classmates – this saves you from repeating yourself and it benefits the child who is explaining as they have to break this down into simple terms.
  4. Sometimes you need to refuse help. Harsh as this sounds, some children (especially SEN or low-ability pupils) have been allowed to become totally dependent on adults – they’ve come to understand that if they ask for it, someone else will tell them what to do and even do it for them. This approach only ensures that they’ll never learn to think for themselves or believe that they are capable of anything on their own; that’s simply not good enough. If I think it’s a moment of ‘learned helplessness,’ I might say, “I’m afraid I can’t help you with this one because I know you can do this…” Depending on the student/day/topic/your relationship, you may use a firm tone to reinforce this, ensuring that the student knows what the exact consequences of non-compliance will be; or you might adopt a more humorous, playful tone. Sadly, this is often something that you might only learn after the student has flipped a table over. This is where your resilience comes into play!
  5. Reward resilience. Whether it is stamps in planners, an email to their form tutor or even a quick call or postcard home, praise students who persevere through problems and don’t give in. It doesn’t matter whether the actual work/team project/presentation looks like a dog’s dinner; you’re specifically praising their effort and resilience, rather than their ability, reinforcing their self-image as someone who doesn’t give in when things are tough and achieves good results through hard work.