Encouraging children to express their authentic selves

Katie Hoare
By Katie Hoare,
updated on Feb 1, 2021

Encouraging children to express their authentic selves

Children’s Mental Health Week kicks off, encouraging children to learn how to share thoughts and feelings, through creative outlets

A seven-day initiative recognised every year to highlight the importance of children and young people’s mental health, Place2Be’s Children's Mental Health Week (CMHW) is underway. And this year’s theme, ‘Express Yourself,’ is all about how to support young people to express themselves through creativity without fear of judgement or punishment.

Being able to use creative outlets to share your feelings is about finding a way that feels right to you, to show the world who you really are. This can help build your self-esteem, confidence and happiness.

Now in its seventh year, Express Yourself hopes to encourage children (and adults!) to explore the many different creative activities you can use to express your emotions. This could be anything that brings you joy and makes you feel good like music, painting, poetry or dance. The activities that make you, you.

In honour of the week, Place2Be is asking teachers, children and staff around the UK to ‘Dress to Express’, simply wearing a favourite colourful outfit during the week, and donating £2 to the charity. All proceeds from Dress to Express go towards helping more children and young adults receive the emotional support they need.

To further their work in supporting young people’s mental health in schools, Place2Be has launched a series of downloadable resources for schools and teachers, including assembly guides, social media guidelines, fundraising ideas and free training for schools.

Download Place2Be’s free resources

Sadly, around five children in every classroom have a mental health problem, and many more struggle with challenges such as bullying, bereavement and self-esteem.

Jo Smith, a Year One school teacher from Hampshire asks her children to engage with the ‘worry monster’. “It’s a fluffy teddy that sits in the corner of our classroom and acts as a confidante to my pupils. If they’re feeling worried about something and aren’t ready to share it with a friend or adult, they can write it down or draw a picture of it, and zip it up in the monster’s mouth; then their worry ‘goes away’.”

The worry monster encourages children to be comfortable expressing their feelings honestly, paving the way for students to share them with other staff members and adults.

Jo also notes that she tries to lead by example when it comes to her students sharing their feelings. “We have a feelings chart on the wall where children can place stickers between one and 10, depending on how they are feeling, and they can move them throughout the day. I also participate in this, encouraging the pupils to become more comfortable sharing when they aren’t 100%, as they see me do the same.”

Leaders in education embracing creativity

Whether it's a fear of judgement, ridicule or even punishment, sometimes our own high expectations of ourselves prevent us from expressing our authentic selves. “When we try to express ourselves, we can run into a barrier of insecurity and doubt,” explains Dr Judith Revers, a School Project Manager in Yorkshire.

“Our thoughts about how we and others might judge our expression can get between us and our creative possibilities. That’s why I like to bypass my cognitive thinking through engaging and challenging my body and its senses. Being right handed, I choose to draw, paint and write with my left hand for example, or with my eyes closed.

“I can slide into a childlike state exclusively focussing on the joy of the experience. While I am doing so, I am expressing myself fully, in a realm beyond judgement.”

Setting an example of how young people can express themselves in key, as every experience we have is a chance to learn from one another. Sarah Hall, a School Project Manager from Lancashire explains that having the time and space to explore what feels right for you is key.

“My small ceramics group is where I normally process thoughts and difficulties, unconscious or otherwise. The various stages really help me to slow the pace and enter a more reflective, flow state of mind."

Children’s Mental Health Week runs between 1 - 7 February 2021. If you’d like to get involved, you can find out about training, fundraising and more over at Place2Be, and be sure to share your involvement on social with #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek.

This week is all about embracing creativity and individuality, showing the future generations that authenticity is the way forward.

If you or your children are struggling with a mental health concern, reach out to a counsellor via Counselling Directory to find the support you need.

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