Children's Mental Health Week 2021

We first spoke with Dr Andrea Shortland, Founder of Pocket Family Psychologist a few months back, when we heard her thoughts on the power of rituals to evoke a sense of calm and security.  Her comments about how the preparation and serving of a hot drink such as tea ‘symbolises warmth, comfort and care’ have really stuck in our minds and reinforced our ethos - tea for us is about healthful (and delicious) hydration but it is also about taking five and enjoying a moment of calm.

This week, 1-7 February 2021, is Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week and we took the opportunity to touch base with Pocket Family again to understand why campaigns such as this are so important and why being able to express ourselves (as adults as well as children) is crucial to our mental wellbeing. 

Guest blog by Pocket Family Psychologist

two boys dressed as Robin Hood

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. The campaign this year is centred around ‘expressing yourself’. 

Expressing yourself is an incredibly important capability and psychological resource. Through self expression we integrate and transfer our energy, thoughts, and feelings into something beyond ourselves. This can be done through writing, playing, music, art, sport and so much more. It is unique to every person, but its benefits are shared. 

Creative expression supports our mental health in many different ways. The creative process can help us process experiences that are overwhelming or difficult to make sense of. Our thoughts, emotions and body feelings are integrated without too much interference from our cognitive/analysing left brains. Creative activities such as playing music have been shown to stimulate and integrate our left and right brains in a unique way. Finally, creative expression supports our ability to communicate and connect with others in a very powerful way – we can feel part of something so much greater than ourselves. 

We love fostering that inner creative here at Pocket Family, to allow children the safe space to express themselves openly and candidly. So in honour of Children’s Mental Health Week, we’ve collated some examples from both inside the therapy room and at home with our own kids, of children expressing themselves, in their own unique ways. 

Dr Andrea Shortland is our founder. She is a Clinical and Forensic Psychologist, as well as an EMDR Consultant (see our recent blog post to learn more about what this means here). In her spare time, Andrea loves being with her girls and dogs by the beach. She has relied on hair, clothes and interior design for self expression until more recently when she started creative writing classes. She wants to give a lot more of her time to creative expression in the coming years. I asked her recently for an example of children expressing themselves in her therapy room…check out her response. 

Dr Andrea Shortland: I love the silly songs children make up to deal with whatever it is that is currently bothering them. I was helping a little girl who was frightened of sick. She made up a song , “Sick, sick, do your job, if you have to, come out of my gob.” She then went on to make sick using putty and glitter to make it more stomachable (excuse the pun). I also love working with children to create stories to help with traumatic experiences – we have put some of these here to help other families.

Dr Ananda van den Heuvel, another of our Clinical Psychologists who has expertise in neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism, and other developmental difficulties, agreed with Andrea. 

Dr Ananda van den Heuvel: There are so many examples from the therapy room of children expressing themselves, allowing them to address their difficulties in a meaningful way. For example, I had a 6 year old girl who championed her tears as her strength. Whilst a 10 year old boy who struggled with day time wetting asserted that, “I have put cheeky tinkle back in its box”, and an astute 9 year old boy commented that, “Life is like a mine craft; you must build one block at a time and just use your imagination.” And more recently, a sentiment shared by many adults too I’m assuming, a 5 year old girl commented that, “Coronavirus will have to say a big big sorry.” 

These little tit-bits from the therapy room are wonderful examples of children freely speaking their mind to tackle their issues head on, but in a manageable way that makes processing their difficulties that bit easier. However, the need for children to express themselves is not limited to just the therapy room, or even for their problems. Expression can be important, simply to tell the world who you are and what you love. Take for example, our Office Manager, Saskia Raymond. Although she absolutely loves her work supporting therapists, she balances the intensity of work with her studies in art and photography and running after her two gorgeous boys, Ludo and Eti. Ludo and Eti love to dress up and have fun and express their thoughts and dreams through creative play. You can see them both in the picture above. I’m sure you’ll agree, they make for very compelling Robin Hoods! 

We hope that this just adds a little flavour to the diverse ways children can express themselves and how important it is to nurture that self-expression, both in terms of their mental wellbeing, but also to make the world a more interesting place. We also hope that you’ll join us this week in celebrating and fostering the joys of self expression within your children as well as yourselves (you’re never too old!) in honour of Children’s Mental Health Week!