‘Growing Together’ is the theme chosen for Children’s Mental Health Week 2022, and organisers Place2Be have asked us to share how we help children and young people to grow.
Many of our advocates are also parents. In this blog, Bristol-based advocate Kate reflects on parenting during the pandemic, on the similarities between parenting, volunteering and advocacy, and on learning what works for each of her children as individuals, something that really chimes with her work as an advocate!
The last two years have taught me so much as a parent.
I have two neurotypical children and a SEND child (special educational needs and disabilities), and their needs all vary massively.
With my SEND child the pandemic has been less impactive on his mental health; he likes his own company and quiet down time at home. It is generally hard to get him out of the house, to school or to anything recreational.
For my older two children the choice of socialising and seeing their peers was taken away from them, and it had a detrimental impact on their mental health. I could see this in friends’ children too, especially teenagers. I have seen a rise in the use of anti-depressants among young people and their parents. There’s more talk of self-harm, suicide attempts and children in crisis amongst my social groups.
I saw the need for my own children to be protected from the damage of being isolated during the pandemic.
As a family we enjoy being outside and we try and involve our children as much as possible, whether that be walking the dog, litter picking, or getting onto the beach to make fires, or to collect sea glass, shells and sticks. It is often a battle to get them out of the door, but once they are out, they enjoy it. By making a fire on the beach they are working together as a team and being creative. It’s their job to collect supplies and put the fire out safely before we leave.
My older two children are registered with the young carers’ service. Through the lockdowns the service did virtual meetings and activities online. When society opened up again, my children were able to meet up with other young carers who had been stuck at home for extended periods during the pandemic, often in quite stressful situations. The empathy among the group, the mutual respect for each person’s situation, the message that it's ok to not be ok, and the safe space to express feeling angry, upset or anxious, was of huge value to them.
As parents we grab any opportunity we can for one-to-one time with each of our children, whether it is giving them a lift to football training or collecting them from a play date. It is a chance to talk about their day, check in and see how they are doing and to make every moment count. Life is so fast-paced for us all, both the parents who work, but also children with their busy school day, reading, times tables, after-school clubs, homework and family commitments. Being busy has become the norm for all of us, but when you think about it, it's no wonder sometimes we get overwhelmed.
I don't want my children to feel overwhelmed by the pace of life, as they will experience all that in adulthood.
I’ve learned to respond to how each of my children tick.
My daughter isn't a sharer or a talker, but my middle child is. I have to tread more carefully with my daughter, whereas with my son I can have banter about topics and it can be a light-hearted conversation. My youngest son hates small talk, and he wants to walk to school in silence, so I give him what he needs to recharge for the long day ahead.
For me it’s acknowledging that they think differently and tapping into each of their interests in different ways to engage them. It is about knowing your children and knowing how to communicate in different ways, thinking outside of the box.
Very much like Advocacy.
To me, part of being a parent is about listening, and observing. Seeing the real them, and knowing if they are ok or if they are struggling. Being open and honest: it isn't what they say that worries me, it's what they don't say.
Giving our time is one of the most powerful and positive things we can ever do for someone else. It costs us nothing, but it means so much, and it can be life changing for us and for the other person.
I’ve found this to be true both at home and outside the family, in my work as an advocate, and as a volunteer.
I’ve tried to share my volunteering with my children and encourage them to volunteer themselves. I want to instil in them a love and respect for helping others, and I want them to have that same sense of belonging and personal development.
It’s been almost a year since I became an advocate and it feels as though there are many parallels between the skills we use as parents, as volunteers, and those that help me to advocate for the people I work with.
In all my roles, my main objective is to keep people safe. I give information to support people to make their own choices, I use words people will understand to simplify what can be a complicated process, and most importantly I ask people what they would like to happen.
I want to play a small part in helping others thrive and want to make a positive impact on the world and people around me. The joy of having time for someone else other than yourself is that whatever the situation, whatever someone needs an advocate for, it is always an open conversation that we can revisit at any time. What is more powerful than helping someone to speak up for themselves?
Here's to making each moment count, and growing together!