How do we find our courage? How do we take that brave step to face challenges in our lives – challenges that we do not know the outcome of? And how do we support and encourage our children to face the difficulties in their lives?
All of us face many transitions throughout our lives, from being weaned to starting school, from joining high school to starting our first job, and from leaving home to starting a family, to name just a few.
All of these require us to step out of our comfort zones, to take a risk, to face the unknown. But courage is not only an in-built characteristic. All of us have a level of courage – almost an instinctual drive – which pushes us forward into growth.
Long read: Why we need to talk about school transitions
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But the emotional, social and familial culture that we come from – the way we are supported in facing personal challenges – is key in building our bravery. That said, sometimes children show immense courage in adverse circumstances that are beyond their control, even when they are not being supported fully.
One such child was Ellie, who was neglected as a baby. She was in and out of foster care while her mother was trying to deal with her own mental health difficulties; on occasion, she was sectioned. When Ellie was returned permanently to her mother, aged 7, she was effectively given a full-time job as her mother’s carer.
Ellie came regularly to Place2Be to talk about her worries with her mum. Some of these resulted in low-level safeguarding concerns being raised, but never high threshold enough for action to be taken.
Still, Ellie clearly needed ongoing support and help to understand that her mother’s difficulties were not to do with her, or in any way her fault. This included counselling, working with Ellie and her friends on strategies that might help, and putting her in touch with a local young carer’s organisation.
Four years on, and Ellie has built a network of friendships and support which have enabled her to grow and thrive at school, as well as to manage aspects of her mother’s mental health so that their lives are not destabilised when things deteriorate for her mother.
She is a positive and cheerful young girl, and practically able beyond her years. She shows extraordinary courage and commitment, given her circumstances.
Children’s Mental Health Week is from 3-7 February. The theme this year is “Finding Your Brave”. There is a range of practical resources, including assembly guides and class activities, on the Place2Be website for children and their teachers to start discussions – and explore what it means to be brave.
Jonathan Wood is national manager for Place2Be Scotland, a charity which provides mental health counselling, support and training to schools