It’s not easy to talk about our feelings, especially if we are in a situation in which we feel overwhelmed, worried about embarrassing ourselves, or if those feelings seem out of place.
For Children’s Mental Health Week, we are encouraging children to be brave. Bravery comes in many different forms, but one way I’ve seen is children plucking up the courage to talk openly about something that is on their mind or worrying them.
Nathanial*, aged 13, is one of those brave children.
One lunchtime at school, Nathanial made the decision to come to one of our Place2Talk lunchtime drop-in sessions to discuss something that was worrying him.
A head's view: How schools can boost students' mental wellbeing
For Nathanial, nothing seemed to fit. He felt he had the wrong friends; they picked on him while keeping him close. There was no subject at school – and no teacher – he felt he could relate to. He liked different music from everyone else. Whenever he spoke in a group or in class, it seemed that he said the wrong thing.
A lot of this would fit the experience of many teenagers. But the added element was that he felt he didn’t belong in his body. He thought he might be trans. Or gay. Or he might prefer to be a girl. He just didn’t know.
Nathanial checked again and again that he could speak in complete confidence to us. Talking about this aloud to a trusted adult took immense courage. This school hadn’t yet had these kinds of conversations with a child before. It was a school in a traditional, conservative, rural area which was not used to overt expressions of difference. His parents had no idea.
So where did his courage come from? Partly from necessity: he had to find a way to express his difference and make sense of it. Partly because he came from a caring family, even if he thought that they would not understand him. And partly because there was an opportunity available for him to be listened to – to be heard.
Nonjudgemental listening is so important. This is really not rocket science, but it does require that we know who we are and where our hidden prejudices and unconscious biases might lie.
Someone taking such a brave step as to trust you with their most hidden feelings will be hyper-alert to any hint of disapproval or criticism – and that kind of response might shut them down for a long time to come.
Jonathan Wood is national manager for Place2Be Scotland, a charity which provides mental health counselling, support and training to schools.
Children’s Mental Health Week is from 3-9 February. The theme this year is "Find Your Brave". There are resources on the Place2Be website to help children and teachers to start discussions and explore what it means to be brave.
*The name in this case study has been changed to protect the identity of the child.