5 Steps to Better Physical and Mental Health: Step 5 - Accomplishment

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Step 5: Accomplishments

 

This week, as part of “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’ve been writing a daily blog describing five foundations of wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

This week, I’ve considered how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and to build towards a healthier mind and way of living. There are two aspects to body image:

 

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

 

So, on day 5 of this series, we’re talking about accomplishments

Working towards goals

We’re often at our best when we’re working towards longer term, meaningful goals. This might be at work, or could be related to hobbies, family or other areas of your life. And interestingly, neuroscientist Alex Korb says 

“achieving the goal is often less important to happiness than setting the goal in the first place.”

 

So what’s the best way to set goals?

 

Stretching into a goal

 

The goals you set for yourself need to stretch you too (you won’t feel satisfied if they’re too easy!). A good way for keeping you on track is to break down your big goals into smaller ones. Make a plan that adopts a bronze, silver, gold approach and it’ll seem more manageable at the outset and, probably, more achievable in practice.

 

Try planning a WOOP

Psychologist Angela Duckworth, who specialises in understanding GRIT (what enables people to keep working towards difficult goals) recommends the practice of WOOP as one way to play around with goal setting. She says, 

“You begin by identifying a wish or goal you want to achieve. Next, you mentally imagine one positive outcome of achieving this goal and one obstacle that stands in the way. This reflection sets you up for the final step: making a plan for how you can get around that obstacle”.

You can learn more about WOOP at Angela Duckworth’s Character Lab: https://vimeo.com/235975265

Grit helps us to bounce back when things don’t go well. But it’s not an innate characteristic that we’re either born with or not - it’s a skill we can learn, with practice. 

What about goals related to body image?

As we’ve been exploring wellbeing in relation to body image this week, it's important to think about what’s helpful and unhelpful when it comes to setting goals related to our bodies. Many people want to set goals related to achieving a particular size or weight. And although these are specific and measurable goals, sometimes, regardless of the effort and good work you’ve been putting in, you may not feel like you’re getting closer to your goal. 

A different way to look at this, might be to focus instead on what we call ‘process goals’. These are the actions you take everyday to help you move towards your goals. For example, instead of setting a goal to be a particular size, set yourself the goal of eating at least 5 fruits/vegetables per day and doing 30 minutes of exercise. 

Self-compassion

As with all goals we set ourselves, it’s important to develop a healthy dose of self-compassion too – especially when we fail. We’ll all fail at some point, so being kind to ourselves at such times (rather than beating ourselves up about our failures) makes it much more likely that we’ll keep working towards our goals in the future. I think the hashtag for this year’s Mental health awareness theme says it all: #BeBodyKind. 

So, as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness week, I hope you’ve learned some new ways for taking care of your mental health. Please do get in touch, I love to hear feedback as it helps me know what I can improve and whether or not I’m on the right track in working towards my own goals too. Thanks for taking the time to read these blogs.

Bye for now, Hazel

5 Steps to Better Physical and Mental Health: Step 4 - Meaning

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Step 4: Meaning

For “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing five foundations for wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and to build towards a healthier mind and way of living. There are two aspects to body image:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Today, we’re talking about meaning

“Shhhhh” that noisy voice

When we experience a dip in our body image, it’s often accompanied by a noisy and unhelpful voice in our heads. It shouts various types of abuse such as “You’re no good”, “You look awful”, “You’re hopeless”, “You’re useless” and so on. Although it can be hard to quieten this voice, one way is to remember we’re part of a bigger world – it’s not just ourselves. When we start to shift the spotlight away from ourselves and towards others, there are all kinds of benefits waiting to be unwrapped. 

Why am I here? 

There may have been a point in your life when you pondered this question “Why am I here?”. It can be a tough one to answer, and research suggests our sense of meaning and purpose changes throughout our life. In our teenage years, it can feel confusing; as we edge towards adulthood, we generally report a more stable sense of meaning. But that doesn’t mean that the answer to “Why?” remains the same.

 

What we do tend to see from the research is that those with a stronger sense of meaning and purpose also report better physical and mental health. Some studies have shown people with a strong sense of purpose tend to sleep better, live longer and reduce their risk of depression and strokes. 

 

So, although there’s still plenty of unanswered questions in this area of research, we’re starting to create a picture that having a sense of meaning is important for us and our wellbeing. So, if you already feel you have a strong sense of meaning and purpose, go forth and do great things!

 

On the other hand, if you have no idea how to answer the question “Why am I here?”, read on.

Firstly, you’re not alone. It’s a question pondered quite regularly – and one that’s hard to answer – so be gentle with yourself. If I’m completely honest, I felt a little sheepish about writing today’s entry. What could I possibly add to the complex world of meaning and purpose? But then I remembered the fabulous words from Brene Brown, which I paraphrase in my own head as something like this:

 

“You gotta get in the arena. You might get your ass kicked, but your intentions are good and you’re doing something that matters to you”. 

 

And it does matter. I started ThinkAvellana with one big mission – to bring clinical psychology (the mountains of research I’ve come to understand and the clinical work I’ve done) to a wider audience. An audience who might be able to use the knowledge I’m sharing to help themselves and others. I feel passionately that we should all learn how to take care of our mental health, so that we can live meaningful lives. And so, in that way, meaning matters to me a great deal.

Small acts. Big Changes. 

However, creating a sense of meaning doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to create a big scary goal. (Although if you want to do that, go for it). Meaning can be discovered in other ways too, like consciously deciding to do something kind for someone else. Enabling others to feel good will often make us feel good too - and it can help take our mind off our own issues and our noisy, unhelpful self-critical voice. So if it starts to bark unhelpful comments, you might like to try taking the spotlight of your attention away from it, and shifting your attention to helping someone else. 

 

Try it: 

Plan a small act of kindness and carry it out. Notice how it makes you feel – and see how the other person reacts. 

5 Steps to Better Physical and Mental Health: Step 3 - Relationships

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Step 3: Relationhips

For “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing each of the five foundations of wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and to build towards a healthier mind and way of living. There are two aspects to body image:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Building a sense of belonging

Today’s post, then, is about our relationships and investing our time and energy in nurturing close connections with others. 

When we think about what keeps us healthy, things like exercise, diet and sleep are often at the top of the list. We don’t usually think about friendships, even though research shows that our social relationships have a significant impact on our physical and mental health during our lifespan.

  

“Don’t compare yourself to others" 

There’s a page I love in Matt Haig’s book, Notes from A Nervous Planet, in which he promises 10 tips on how to be happy… then makes every tip identical.

 

“Do not compare yourself to other people"

 

I think this is particularly crucial when thinking about body image. In an age when it’s so easy to compare ourselves to anyone else in the world at the touch of a button, we can be flooded with images of the “perfect body”. And, according to the research, this is making us miserable. To stop this happening, we should try to notice when we’ve shifted into this negative comparison mindset and gently remind ourselves that this way of thinking isn’t helpful. It’s easier said than done, but it’s possible with practice and bucket-loads of kindness towards yourself.

Find your tribe 

So, how can your relationships help you develop a positive body image? 

Exercise is brilliant for our physical and mental health, yet it isn’t always easy to build a routine that you can sustain long term. And sometimes a negative body image can be a barrier too. This is where relationships really matter. When you exercise with others, it can be a massive win-win. You get the chance to catch up with friends, be supported (and support others), and revel in the feel-good hormones released.

Be cautious about the people to choose to exercise with. Do they feel like your tribe? Does it feel positive doing exercise with them? Try to focus on finding people who enrich this experience for you, and gently move away from those where it feels like everyone’s comparing themselves to each other.

 

Try it:

So today, if you notice yourself shifting into comparison mode (and we all do it from time to time, so you’re not alone), try to acknowledge that’s what you’re doing and remind yourself it’s not helping you. 

You may also like to think about connecting with a friend and planning a lunchtime walk or after-work cycle (or any other exercise that you enjoy).


5 Steps to Better Mental and Physical Health: Step 2 - Engagement

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To mark “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing five foundations for wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

  • Positive emotion

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning

  • Accomplishments

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and build towards a healthier mind and way of living. Body image has two important aspects:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Yesterday we were talking about positive emotion and body image

Today’s post is about the second of those pillars, engagement. This is the feeling you get when you really lose yourself in something; your attention is absorbed and you’re focused.

Being in this state of mind brings a host of benefits. These include feeling more connected with life and less isolated, having a stronger sense of self, and possessing more self-belief. 

Finding your flow

One way that we can build engagement is to find activities that are pitched at the right level for us. By “right”, I mean that they’re not so easy that we get bored and not so hard that we feel overwhelmed or anxious.

When we find this middle ground, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it ‘flow’. Whenever we move into this flow state, we’re fully engaged with the task that’s immediately at hand and not easily distracted by other things.

In the wellbeing workshops I run with businesses, I enjoy getting into conversations about flow. I’m fascinated how this intense state of engagement can be found in such a diverse range of activities, including cooking, surfing, gardening, knitting, hiking, and running.

Engagement and body image

So how do we enhance our body image using the concept of flow? When we’re in this state, we’re often doing something that's challenging and yet ultimately rewarding for us. So perhaps an activity that’s good for our bodies (and minds) would fit the bill? 

I’m thinking of yoga. If you’ve never tried it, don’t despair - there are loads of great community classes out there and you can also practise at home. I really like Yoga With Adriene (find her on YouTube), where I’m encouraged to ‘find what feels good’ and ‘focus on sensation’ rather than pushing my body into a perfect yoga pose.

When we focus on what it feels like to do that activity, rather than what we look like (or whether we’re doing it perfectly), we're cultivating a really positive body image for ourselves. 

So I encourage you to think about the activities you do where there’s just the right balance between challenge and skill, where you lose your sense of time. Make time for these things, especially those that can help you feel good about your body too.

In tomorrow’s post, I’ll be looking at the third PERMA pillar: relationships.

5 Steps to Better Mental and Physical Health - Step 1: Positive Emotion

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5 steps to better mental and physical health

Step 1: Positive emotion

To mark “Mental Health Awareness Week” - which this year has its focus on body image - I’m writing a daily blog describing five foundations for wellbeing and happiness. 

Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, developed the PERMA model to show what we need in our lives to feel better both mentally and physically:

  • Positive emotion

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning

  • Accomplishments

This week, I’ll consider how each pillar can help us to see body image in a different light and build towards a healthier mind and way of living. Body image has two important aspects:

  1. how we think about ourselves and our bodies

  2. how others perceive us and the effect that can have on our mental state

Looking for what’s good

Today’s post, then, is about positivity - the idea that we should look for the good rather than focus on the bad. This doesn’t imply an approach to life where you believe that bad things won’t happen; they will! Instead, it’s about adopting a positive mindset in adversity - however big or small - and beyond those moments, too.

We can interpret situations in all sorts of ways, even though many may be out of our control (and therefore not a reason for being self-critical). In those parts of life where we feel that we are managing well, the failures can seem larger or more important - and may, as a result, mean that we think less of ourselves.

To be more positive and, consequently, kinder to ourselves, we have to recognise that events aren’t good or bad. Rather, it’s our interpretation of those events, and the meaning we attach to them, that give them a value. And these values, derived from our initially positive or negative thoughts about situations, can drive us into an upwardly positive cycle - or go the other way.

Cultivating gratitude

One way of savouring what’s good is to cultivate gratitude - an approach I’ve blogged about before.

Positive emotion and body image

The concept of body image can provide us with plenty of opportunities for feeling positive about ourselves. Although we can sometimes be tempted to focus more on the things we don’t like. 

Have you ever spent time feeling grateful for how your body WORKS?

When we move from thinking about the negatives - ‘this bit is too big’ or ‘this bit is too flabby’, to ‘wow, that muscles just allowed me to get up from my chair’ or ‘I’m feeling stronger in my back today’ we are cultivating gratitude towards ourselves and generating positive emotion (- one of the core foundations of wellbeing). 

So why not try it today? Spend a minute just noticing all the amazing things about you and your body. Acknowledge the parts of yourself that are working hard to help you perform everyday and supporting you to do the things you want to do. 

Here’s a few from my list:

  • My legs - thanks for being strong and allowing me to walk to the places I want to go, and even to run if I’m a bit late! 

  • My fingers - thanks for connecting with my brain and allowing me to type this blog post on my computer. 

  • My eyes - thanks for working well and letting me see the beautiful colours emerging in my garden. And for being so similar to my Mum’s eyes, that when I look in the mirror, I see her too. 

Tomorrow, we’ll be exploring ENGAGEMENT and I’ll be sharing more tips about how we can build a positive body image and support our wellbeing.

Finding my mindfulness mojo

My formal mindfulness practice has slipped a little lately. I've definitely lost my mindfulness mojo. My good friend and mindfulness teacher,  Bella Glover   (BeingWell)  used to say  “if you’re too busy to find 10 minutes for meditating, you need to find half an hour” . This always made me giggle as it felt so incongruent with the work/life balance I was struggling with, and yet I could completely see the logic. It hits home the crucial message that busyness is not to be worn as a badge of honour, but more as a warning sign.  I met  Claire Kelly  (Director of  Mindfulness In Schools Project  - MiSP) when we were both speaking at a Wellbeing conference a couple of years ago. I am so grateful for this chance meeting, which has allowed me to follow the journey of MiSP and join with many others at the MiSP conference on Saturday 16th June, 2018 to explore the question " What is the future of Mindfulness in Education?”    Over the course of the day, I heard many great inspiring passionate speakers and I wanted to share with you some of my key take-aways, and how I plan to rediscover my mindfulness mojo. If you’ve lost yours, or mindfulness continues to be on your To Do list but you’re just not there yet, I hope this may be helpful to you too.   Be here now or miss the good stuff   The day kicked off with the legendary  Jon Kabat-Zinn . Often hailed as the man who brought mindfulness to the west. Having read Jon’s book, ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’ over 20 years ago, Jon has been very much at the heart of my own learning. In his keynote he reminded me  “running on thinking is exhausting” . We do need to make the space to BE. To train our active thinking monkey minds to occasionally come to a place of focus and stillness, paying attention to this moment so that we don’t miss the infinite possibilities of now.    Mindfulness mojo goal #1 - Set an intention to practice.    Busyness is not an excuse     Cathie Paine  explained in her authentic and heartfelt keynote how she has built a regular daily mindfulness practice by setting her alarm to allow time for this. She talked about it feeling ridiculous to sometimes be setting an alarm at 4.30am in order to fit her practice into a busy day, and yet also essential. She explained,  “you can’t weave a parachute whilst you’re falling, you have to have it done before you fall” .     Mindfulness mojo goal #2 - Make my practice part of my daily routine.     Let mindfulness and technology be friends   Often, I think we can feel frightened of technological advances, especially in relation to mindfulness. Will they distill the essential ingredients, will something get lost so the cake no longer rises? App designer  Rohan Gunatillake  brought a breath of fresh air with his approach to this area. He feels we need to innovate to allow mindfulness to adapt and be authentic for the 21st century.   Mindfulness mojo goal #3 - Find a good app*.     *I’ve got quite a few mindfulness apps on my phone including Headspace, Calm, Mindfulness For Children, and most recently Buddhify - which I tried out for the first time this morning. I enjoyed Buddhify, and one reason for this was that I was listening to Rohan’s voice, the person I was actually in a room with on Saturday, and this made the experience feel more real.      Connect    Luisa Martin-Thomas  offered a bright and passionate keynote detailing how she had taken others along on her mindfulness journey. This sense of connection that rippled through her school underlies something that feels fundamental to a mindfulness exploration.    Mindfulness Mojo goal #4 - Connect with others on their mindfulness journey*.     *I’m going to be regularly checking back in with Bella to share my reflections. If you’re hunting for people to connect with try the hashtag  #MiSP18  to find others who were at the conference or connect with me  #mindfulnessmojo  and we can do this together.    We must start with ourselves   Maya, a primary school student wowed us all with her final reflections that  "teachers can’t expect children to be happy, if they aren’t happy themselves” . We are all teachers. We must take care of ourselves.    Mindfulness Mojo goal #5 - Start with myself.

My formal mindfulness practice has slipped a little lately. I've definitely lost my mindfulness mojo. My good friend and mindfulness teacher, Bella Glover (BeingWell) used to say “if you’re too busy to find 10 minutes for meditating, you need to find half an hour”. This always made me giggle as it felt so incongruent with the work/life balance I was struggling with, and yet I could completely see the logic. It hits home the crucial message that busyness is not to be worn as a badge of honour, but more as a warning sign.

I met Claire Kelly (Director of Mindfulness In Schools Project - MiSP) when we were both speaking at a Wellbeing conference a couple of years ago. I am so grateful for this chance meeting, which has allowed me to follow the journey of MiSP and join with many others at the MiSP conference on Saturday 16th June, 2018 to explore the question "What is the future of Mindfulness in Education?”

Over the course of the day, I heard many great inspiring passionate speakers and I wanted to share with you some of my key take-aways, and how I plan to rediscover my mindfulness mojo. If you’ve lost yours, or mindfulness continues to be on your To Do list but you’re just not there yet, I hope this may be helpful to you too.

Be here now or miss the good stuff

The day kicked off with the legendary Jon Kabat-Zinn. Often hailed as the man who brought mindfulness to the west. Having read Jon’s book, ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’ over 20 years ago, Jon has been very much at the heart of my own learning. In his keynote he reminded me “running on thinking is exhausting”. We do need to make the space to BE. To train our active thinking monkey minds to occasionally come to a place of focus and stillness, paying attention to this moment so that we don’t miss the infinite possibilities of now. 

Mindfulness mojo goal #1 - Set an intention to practice.

Busyness is not an excuse

Cathie Paine explained in her authentic and heartfelt keynote how she has built a regular daily mindfulness practice by setting her alarm to allow time for this. She talked about it feeling ridiculous to sometimes be setting an alarm at 4.30am in order to fit her practice into a busy day, and yet also essential. She explained, “you can’t weave a parachute whilst you’re falling, you have to have it done before you fall”.

Mindfulness mojo goal #2 - Make my practice part of my daily routine. 

Let mindfulness and technology be friends

Often, I think we can feel frightened of technological advances, especially in relation to mindfulness. Will they distill the essential ingredients, will something get lost so the cake no longer rises? App designer Rohan Gunatillake brought a breath of fresh air with his approach to this area. He feels we need to innovate to allow mindfulness to adapt and be authentic for the 21st century.

Mindfulness mojo goal #3 - Find a good app*. 

*I’ve got quite a few mindfulness apps on my phone including Headspace, Calm, Mindfulness For Children, and most recently Buddhify - which I tried out for the first time this morning. I enjoyed Buddhify, and one reason for this was that I was listening to Rohan’s voice, the person I was actually in a room with on Saturday, and this made the experience feel more real.  

Connect

Luisa Martin-Thomas offered a bright and passionate keynote detailing how she had taken others along on her mindfulness journey. This sense of connection that rippled through her school underlies something that feels fundamental to a mindfulness exploration. 

Mindfulness Mojo goal #4 - Connect with others on their mindfulness journey*. 

*I’m going to be regularly checking back in with Bella to share my reflections. If you’re hunting for people to connect with try the hashtag #MiSP18 to find others who were at the conference or connect with me #mindfulnessmojo and we can do this together.

We must start with ourselves

Maya, a primary school student wowed us all with her final reflections that "teachers can’t expect children to be happy, if they aren’t happy themselves”. We are all teachers. We must take care of ourselves. 

Mindfulness Mojo goal #5 - Start with myself.

5 Ways To Shrink Your Critical Critter

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Somewhere, inside us all, hides the CRITICAL CRITTER - a rather scary, hairy and un-fairylike creature. The Critical Critter is fed on a diet of negative self-talk and unkind, unsupportive words from others. Each time we chew on harsh and unjustified criticism, it’s like giving the critter another burger to munch on. 

And then, one day, we notice that the Critter has grown - and started throwing it's weight around. In fact, the Big C is bossing everyone in the brain house; bullying them, even. You see, the Critter is making frequent visits upstairs to tell the thinking characters that they’re wasting their time. 

Not content with that, this dastardly doubter is also lurking downstairs and telling Fearsome Fred that he’s right to panic and flip the lid, because it’s all going to go wrong. And when it does, insists the Critter, Fearless Fred will be to blame because he’s useless. We. Are. Useless.

The Critter in Action

What else does the Critter do? Well, on sports day - aged 7 - our internal critic sits on the sidelines and bursts into fits of self-incriminating giggles when we trip over in the running race. 

Aged 16, it hides under the exam desk and repeatedly whispers ‘Hey thicko - you’re gonna fail at this!’ When it’s time to leave education and think about a career, the Critter starts a chorus of ‘You’ll never do it; you’re not going to make it; you’ll never amount to anything.’

In short, the CRITICAL CRITTER makes us feel rubbish about ourselves. It makes us give up when things get tough. It makes us feel sad and miserable. But we can fight back…

5 ways to shrink the Critter

If your Critter has grown bigger, scarier and hairier recently, it’s time to put it on a crash diet - here’s how:

1. Give your Critter a name: This may sound a bit daft, but separating your inner critic from yourself is a great way to give you the space you need to notice what it’s saying, quieten it down and tame it. Call it anything you want - just make it memorable.

2. Take the Friends and Family Test: Whenever you notice your Critter speaking negatively, ask yourself: “Would I speak like this to my best friend or closest family member?” If the answer is “no”, then don’t allow it to speak to you that way - be your own best friend.

3. Answer back: You may have been told as a child that it’s rude to answer back - but this isn’t the case with Critters. You need to boss them about, just as they’ve been bossing you, to make them shrink. So when you hear Critter chanting ‘This’ll never work, you’ve always been useless at this’, answer back. Use these sentences and your Critter will be eating broccoli for a week!

  • “That’s enough out of you Critter - I’m doing my best”
  • “I can’t hear you Critter, I’m too busy being amazing over here”
  • “Maybe it didn’t work this time Critter, but I’m giving it another go”

4. Call for Back Up: If the Critter is firing out harsh words when you’re working hard to try and master something or reach a goal, prove it wrong (and keep it quiet) by trying again. Maybe you’re doing a Couch to 5K running programme, trying your hand at knitting, or learning how to boil an egg - whatever it is, seek the advice and support of people who have done it before. If you surround yourself with those who say “You can” then it’ll be harder for your Critter to keep yelling at you to give up. And soon, it will stop shouting ‘You can’t’ and sit quietly in a corner chomping on an apple. 

5. Strengthen yourself: Being under attack from the Critter is tough and, for some people, can feel relentless. It can make us question ourselves, our parenting skills, our ability to do our job… everything; even whether we should get out of bed. To cope with this relentless criticism, it’s important that we find things about ourselves that we like. Each day, make time to notice the things - no matter how small they are - that went well BECAUSE OF YOU. And don’t be surprised if your Critter laughs with contempt at your first try at a list. Use the tips above to wipe the smile off its face - and put one back on your own.

Day 5: Be Resilient - Children's Mental Health Week #ChildrensMHW

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Day 5 - Be resilient

This week it’s Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmhw) and, at ThinkAvellana, we’re sharing simple ways to boost wellbeing in children. We hope parents, grandparents, carers, teachers - and anyone else who cares for children and young people - will find them useful.

Being resilient means bouncing back when you encounter challenges, set backs or failures. We all go through times when we struggle, so building our resilience is crucial to helping us cope. 

One way to build resilience in children is to help them develop a growth mindset. This relates to the belief that our abilities and intelligence can develop with practice, feedback and effort. At the other end of the spectrum is a fixed mindset, the belief that our intelligence is fixed and there isn’t much we can do to change it. 

Children with a growth mindset are more likely to try again when they fail at something, and also to attempt to learn how they can improve. Research into this ‘gritty’ quality and growth mindset approach shows that learning from failure is one of the crucial tools for success and resilience. In contrast, children with a fixed mindset tend to give up when they encounter failure, believing that that just don’t have what it takes.

Here are three ways to encourage your child to adopt a growth mindset:

1) Add the word ‘yet’

Changing the way you talk about intelligence can help your child understand that learning is a process, and that our abilities and traits are not fixed from birth. When your child claims ‘I can’t do this’ (whether they’re talking about a new hobby, their homework, or tying a shoelace), say ‘You can’t do it YET’. Adding this tiny word emphasises the learning process.

2) Practise (and fail) with others

Trying new things can be scary, but it’s often less scary when you do it with others. As a family, you might decide to try something new and celebrate your failures when it doesn’t work (the 1st, 2nd, or even 99th time!). Children can learn a lot from hearing adults respond kindly to themselves when things don’t work out - and then from seeing them try again. 

3) Find inspirational stories of success and failure

With the Winter Olympics about to start, it’s a great time to have conversations about how these athletes are able to achieve such elite levels of performance. Talent alone doesn’t make you an Olympian. You have to be prepared to dedicate years of training, sacrifice many things, and learn to accept - and grow from - failure to achieve these remarkable accomplishments. These conversations about inspirational people and their achievements can help reinforce the growth mindset message. 

Thank you so much for joining us on our 5 days of wellbeing for children. If you try any of these ideas, we’d love to hear how it goes: the successes and the failures!

Connect with us on our Facebook page.

Day 4: Be Kind - Children's Mental Health Week #childrensMHW

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Day 4 - Be Kind

This week it’s Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmhw) and, at ThinkAvellana, we’re sharing simple ways to boost wellbeing in children. We hope parents, grandparents, carers, teachers - and anyone else who cares for children and young people - will find them useful.

Kindness is a win-win for wellbeing. The research shows us that when we’re kind to others, we not only boost each recipient’s wellbeing; it tends to have the same effect on our own sense of wellness too. Being kind can help us connect with others, and our relationships play a crucial role in our mental health and wellbeing in the long term. 

There are hundreds of ways children and adults can show kindness - every day. And it can be fun to sometimes turn these acts into larger events, to really emphasise their importance and value. 

1) Wear a “kindness cape”

Younger children often love pretending to be superheroes, from SpiderMan to WonderWoman. So they’re also likely to enjoy wearing an imaginary ‘kindness cape’ and working with adults and peers to do superhero acts of kindness. These could be at school, at home or in the community. You can use these opportunities to talk about why it’s important to be kind - to others and to ourselves.

2) Give something

Encourage children to consider donating toys or clothes they’ve outgrown to a charity shop. Involve them in the process, right from choosing what to give through to taking it to the shop. Talk to them about how they’re helping others due to the charity’s work, and helping the planet by recycling rather than adding to landfill.

3) Start fundraising and volunteering

For older children, connecting kindness to something they’re passionate about can be a great way to get them involved with their community and boost their wellbeing. They can do this through organisations like Step Up To Serve (#iwill), which aim to get young people involved in social action opportunities in the community.

We’d love to hear how you’ve found to boost kindness in children and young people - whether through superhero acts of kindness, charitable donations, or community service. Share your stories, or simply connect with us, on our Facebook page. 

 

Think:Education, Think:Family

Day 3: Be Mindful - Children's Mental Health Week #ChildrensMHW

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Day 3: Be Mindful

This week it’s Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmhw) and, at ThinkAvellana, we’re sharing simple ways to boost wellbeing in children. We hope parents, grandparents, carers, teachers - and anyone else who cares for children and young people - will find them useful.

Our minds can be very busy, getting pulled into thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Finding ways to focus on what’s happening in the present moment is another way to build your child’s wellbeing. 

Here are three different ways to help children develop their mindfulness skills, which will probably work best if you join in too (especially if it’s younger children involved). 

1) Draw for 10 minutes

Give everyone a pencil and paper, set a timer for 10 minutes, and draw something you can see. Bring your attention to the shapes, colours, and patterns. Look at the object from different angles. Challenge older children to see if they can spot when their mind’s wandering (or wondering!) and bring their attention back to the drawing. This activity isn’t about how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ the drawing is, it’s about whether you can focus on the activity and bring your attention back when it wanders. 

2) Take a bear for a ride

Younger children may enjoy this simple mindfulness technique for bringing attention to their breath. Ask your child to find their favourite small soft toy. Lay flat on the floor and invite them to put the soft toy on their tummy. Set a timer for two minutes, and ask them to watch how the toy moves up and down as they breathe in and out. This simple act of noticing the movement allows your child to remain “in the moment” for more than one moment.

3) Train the “puppy mind”

Older children (and adults) might enjoy watching this video from the Mindfulness In Schools Project. It’s a 10-minute mindfulness practice that uses a fun and playful animation. 

If you’ve got other mindfulness based activities that work for you, your family or school, we’d love to hear about them. Join the wellbeing conversation on our Facebook page

We’ve been sharing other ways to boost wellbeing in children on our blog here

 

Think:Education, Think:Family

Day 2: Be Grateful - Children's Mental Health Week #ChildrensMHW

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Day 2 - Be Grateful

This week it’s Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmhw) and, at ThinkAvellana, we’re sharing simple ways to boost wellbeing in children. We hope parents, grandparents, carers, teachers - and anyone else who cares for children and young people - will find them useful.

It can be easy to feel other people’s lives are better than our own, especially when we’re bombarded with perfect images on social media. We can get stuck thinking others are more beautiful, have more money and fun, or simply ‘have more’. And children are just as susceptible as adults to this comparison trap. So how can we help them (and ourselves)?

One idea is to bring attention to what’s working well in your/their life by developing gratitude skills. Here are three ways to do this: 

1) Start a gratitude jar

Get children into the habit of writing a short gratitude note when things have gone well, and putting it into a gratitude jar. You can encourage them by modelling the behaviour and doing it yourself (it may boost your mood too!). To help get you started, there’s a 40 second video on our blog. 

2) Write a gratitude journal

Older children may prefer to keep a gratitude journal, noting down the things they appreciate and the things that went well for them each day. It can include the positive moments they witnessed too - perhaps good things that happened to their friends that they want to celebrate and give thanks for. 

3) Have a gratitude conversation

Find a time each day to chat about gratitude. Some parents like to do this before their child goes to sleep, prompting them to talk about what’s gone well that day. Some teachers build the chat into the end-of-school routine, by asking questions like ‘Tell me about someone who’s been kind to you today” or “Tell me about something you feel really thankful for today”.

Building gratitude habits doesn’t mean we diminish, or lack a response to, the struggles and difficult moments that children experience. These moments are really important to talk about too. But, having a time in the day when you focus on the positive can be useful in helping children to keep their thoughts balanced. 

 

If you have a gratitude habit that works for your child, please do share it with us. 

And in case you missed it yesterday, we talked about ways to help your children build their strengths

Tomorrow, you’ll find even more ways to help your child build their wellbeing.

 

Day 1: Be Yourself - Children's Mental Health Week #childrensMHW

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This week it’s Children’s Mental Health Week (#childrensmhw) and, at ThinkAvellana, we’re sharing simple ways to boost wellbeing in children. We hope parents, grandparents, carers, teachers - and anyone else who cares for children and young people - will find them useful. 

Day 1 - Be Yourself

The theme of this year’s mental health week is about celebrating our children’s unique strengths (#beingourselves). Helping children to recognise their character strengths is a great way to build their confidence and appreciate the uniqueness they bring to the world. 

By shifting the focus from the things they can’t do to what they can, you emphasise the positive aspects of their character. Character strengths aren’t dependant on an outcome, a grade or a particular achievement; they’re the core virtues that make us who we are. 

There are many ways you can encourage children to notice and appreciate their own strengths, and those of others too. Here are just three:  

1. Spot strengths

If you’re one of the people spending time wth a child (a parent, friend, teacher, or example), start noticing and naming the strengths you see them display. So, say things like: “You really showed your strength of patience today while we waited at the supermarket” and “I noticed how you were working together in your football practice today; great teamwork!”

2. Take the VIA strengths survey

You may want to support children over 10 by getting them to take the Youth VIA strengths online survey (which is free). By answering a series of questions, the child discovers their strongest character strengths. To emphasise their top 5 strengths, write them down and make sure your child can see them every day.  

3. Find a character role model

There are so many fantastic stories and films depicting character strengths. Talk with your child about the strengths on display and see if they want to try emulating the role model in real life. If they do, use the “spot strengths” technique to praise them for working hard on the trait.

I hope you have fun celebrating your child’s uniqueness. Tomorrow, you’ll find even more ways to help your child build their wellbeing. 

Join the wellbeing conversation at http://facebook.com/thinkavellana/

Surviving or Thriving? The Teenage Years.

It was really great to meet so many parents, carers and teachers last night at Debenham High School. I was thrilled that so many of you are keen to hear more about the developmental tasks of adolescence and the latest research on the teenage brain. 

Here's a short list of my favourite books, websites and resources that I hope will guide you - and the young people you care for - towards thriving through the teenage years. 

Books (available through Suffolk Libraries):

Brainstorm - The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain - Daniel Siegel 

Blame my Brain - The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed - Nicola Morgan

Websites:

Reading Well - Wellbeing books for young people

https://www.suffolklibraries.co.uk/health/reading-well-for-young-people/

MindEd - Information for parents about mental health

https://www.minded.org.uk

ThinkAvellana - This is my own website, where I write a blog and have a quarterly newsletter. On Facebook, I tend to share articles and new research relating to well-being, parenting, and mental health that I find interesting. 

www.thinkavellana.com

www.facebook.com/thinkavellana

Hey Sigmund - Written predominately by a psychologist, with helpful articles about parenting, teenagers, and ways to take care of our mental health. 

www.heysigmund.com

Mindful - Great articles about ways to look after yourself, to reduce your stress and practice that essential skill of ‘breathing’ through the tough times. 

www.mindful.org

Think:Business, Think:Education, Think:Family

Three Good Things. That's it!?

Last year I wrote an article called ‘How To Teach Your Kids About The Brain’ that I hoped a few of my friends might see… to date, it’s actually been read over 100,000 times. 

I continue to get emails about it from people all over the world, commenting on my ideas and sharing theirs. Many adults tell me that they didn’t realise their brains worked in the ways I described - and that having this new understanding has really helped them. One of the ideas that has resonated with people is that naming emotions and brain functions can help us understand the brain better. Let’s focus on what I called “Frightened Fred” (which you might call Frieda, Froggy, or any other creative name you can think of). 

Frightened Fred’s got the volume control: 

The part of our brain designed to keep us safe is Frightened Fred (along with his friends Big Boss Bootsy and Alerting Allie) who can trigger our ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ response. This part of the brain has been brilliantly effective in the survival of humankind, but it can also get in the way of our daily living sometimes. We have become GREAT at listening to Frightened Fred and spotting the potential pitfalls at every turn: “Did that person in the supermarket just give me a dodgy look?” “Is that chap standing a bit too close to my kids?” 

We are primed to take care of our own survival and that of our off-spring. Some days, Fred turns up the volume and we focus all our attention on these risks, potential dangers, failures and worst-case scenarios. 

Sometimes I listen to Fred. Sometimes I don't. 

Recently, I was invited to speak at a big conference next year. I came off the phone feeling dizzy with excitement. I sat down with a huge grin on my face and allowed the feelings of self- congratulatory praise to come flooding in. Except they didn’t. Fred started making an appearance. “What if I make a terrible mistake?” “What if I face-plant on stage?” “What if I quote someone’s research and that person is actually there, and they tell me I’ve got it all wrong?”

“What if…?” “What if…?” 

Let me slow this down. Fred sees the potential threat of a big crowd looking at me. Fred decides to warn me: “Don’t do it, it will end in tears!” 

Sometimes I listen to Fred (remember he IS trying to keep me safe) and sometimes he is silenced by Problem Solving Pete and Calming Carl. They say things like: “But what’s the best that could happen?” and “If the worst case scenario does happen, you’ll still be okay - except perhaps for face-planting, you may need medical assistance for that one.”

How do we learn to turn down the hum of unhelpful negativity from Frightened Fred? 

Here’s one way: Gratitude

In Woods, Froh and Geraghty's review of the gratitude research they explain gratitude as “noticing and appreciating the positive in the world”. This could include: the appreciation of other people’s help; feelings of awe when we see something amazing; focusing on the positive in the ‘here and now’ moments; or an appreciation rising from the understanding that life is short. 

Grateful Gerty

Let me introduce you to Grateful Gerty, our brain’s gratitude representative. The research tells us that building up Grateful Gerty’s strength is associated with a whole host of benefits. Gerty can make Frightened Fred simmer down and reduce anxiety. Expressing gratitude provides a path to more positive emotions. People who express more gratitude have also been found to have better physical and psychological health.

Robert Emmons is one of the world leading gratitude researchers. Here’s what he says about the benefits:

“We’ve studied more than one thousand people, from ages eight to 80, and found that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of benefits:

Physical

• Stronger immune systems

• Less bothered by aches and pains

• Lower blood pressure

• Exercise more and take better care of their health

• Sleep longer and feel more refreshed upon waking

Psychological

• Higher levels of positive emotions

• More alert, alive, and awake

• More joy and pleasure

• More optimism and happiness

Social

• More helpful, generous, and compassionate

• More forgiving

• Feel less lonely and isolated

• More outgoing” 

So how does it work?

When we search for things to be grateful for, neuroscientist Alex Korb explains that this activates the part of our brain that releases dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and it can also boost serotonin production (low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with depression). Or, to put it another way: on Halloween, Gerty’s the one handing out the treats. 

Gratitude can change our thinking habits. Regularly spotting the good things in our life can also make it more likely that (even when we're not looking for them) we see more positives. 

And gratitude works on a social level too. It can help us feel more connected to others, which in turn can improve our well-being. 

So how do you strengthen Gerty?

Grab a journal and, before you go to sleep each night, write 3 things that went well that day and why you think they went well. Keep doing it for a week. That’s it. 

When I first read the research on gratitude, I felt like there must have been some pages missing. “So, they wrote about things they were grateful for, and then they…”? But no. It really is as simple as that. 

As Froh and Bono point out, we can be great at analysing why we’re anxious or sad. But when we’re happy, we don’t often stop to ponder why. Mainly because when we are experiencing positive emotions, it's a signal that all is well in the world; we can relax and enjoy ourselves. 

Keeping a gratitude journal allows us to focus on the positive things. It teaches us how to strengthen Gerty’s ability to spot them in the first place - and how to savour them. Some people worry that they won’t be able to find anything to be grateful for. While it’s true that some days the searching may be harder than on others, Korb reminds us that “it’s not finding gratitude that matters most; it’s remembering to look in the first place.”

There will always be more important things than gratitude. 

Pets will need taking to the vets, reports will need to be finished, kids will need feeding, cups will need cleaning… gratitude can quickly fall down the ‘to do’ list. But that’s the challenge with taking a proactive approach to well-being. It’s hard to prioritise because you can’t easily see the things you’re preventing. 

You may be preventing the onset of depression or anxiety. You may be moving yourself further up the well-being spectrum towards thriving. But scientifically, it would be very hard to prove that. 

Be a scientist of your own world.

Just like we know why it’s good to eat healthily and exercise, my mission is to help share the research on ways that we can all take better care of our well-being. I want people to have access to evidence-based ways to improve their mental health. 

Some of these ideas might work for you, some of them might not. So, what I’d encourage you to do is this: become a scientist of you own life, and if you decide to try keeping a gratitude journal, observe how it feels for you. 

And maybe, just maybe, Gerty will give out some treats.

Think:Family, Think:Education, Think:Business

I'm Doing My Best - the hunt for a realistic journal

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Recently, while browsing through the stationery section of a big department store, I was struck by the number of notebooks and journals with messages written on the front. The research on priming demonstrates what happens when we're faced with the same message regularly: our thoughts, feelings and behaviour can all be influenced. There’s plenty of evidence for how athletes use this idea of priming to their advantage.

Some of the inscriptions on the journals said ‘Be Happy Always’ or ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’. They were beautiful, pastel-coloured journals, embellished with gold pineapples. But something about them made me feel a little uncomfortable. I wondered about the effect of these messages.

I’m a big advocate for positive psychology and ways to enhance well-being. My training in clinical psychology has also allowed me to study the importance of the (so called) ‘negative emotions’.

We can’t be happy all the time. This just isn’t a realistic goal and, while I imagine that the makers of these beautiful journals understand this, they also know we're seduced by the idea that a permanent state of happiness is attainable. 

We've been gifted with such an amazing spectrum of emotions, and they all have an important place in our lives. Imagine if we didn’t allow ourselves to feel all those emotions. If we weren't sad when someone shared devastating news, or weren't worried when our teenagers didn't come home after a party.

When we try to aim for 'happy all the time' I think we can also open ourselves up to self-criticism - and close the door to self-compassion. I loved the editorial in the latest Flow magazine (Issue 15), where Irene and Astrid talked about aiming for ‘good enough’ and not trying to be superhuman and brilliant at everything.

Barbara Fredrickson’s groundbreaking research on positive emotions revealed the importance of negative emotion in our lives. She has found enough data to support the idea that there's an optimal ratio of positive to negative emotions. Achieving this ratio makes it more likely that we can build positive relationships with others and strengthen our resilience and well-being. 

The magic number is 3. If, on average, we can achieve 3 positive emotional experiences to every negative 1, her theory suggests we are building our well-being. Notice that she doesn't suggest a ratio of 3:0. So, perhaps the Be Happy Always journal could have a little sub-heading "Except on the 1 out of 4 occasions that you aim not be happy"? 

After some searching in that shop, I came across a journal with ‘I’m doing my best’ on the front cover. To me, this seems like one of the most important messages to use to prime my brain. There is comfort and compassion in this phrase, since it allows for the good days and the not-so-good ones. It motivates me when needed, but also quietly sits alongside me on the days when "my best" might not feel very productive. 

I handed the journal to the cashier. ‘Cute’ she said, scanning the item. I smiled,  ‘Cute... and realistic’ I said.


If you want to discover your positivity ratio you can take Fredrickson's evidence based assessment here. If it's not as high as you'd like, be gentle with yourself (perhaps even try saying 'I'm doing my best'), stick with me and find out what the research says about how journals can improve our positivity in my next blog post.

Positive Relationships

We know that eating well and exercise is good for us. But did you know that your friendships are equally important for your physical and mental health? Today, on World Mental Health Day (10 October 2016) start a positive ripple and connect with someone. The great thing about ripples is you never know how far they will travel. 

Think:Family, Think:Education

How to teach your kids about the brain

Photo by Jessica Roberts -   http://jessica-roberts.com

Photo by Jessica Roberts -  http://jessica-roberts.com

How to teach your kids about the brain: 

Laying strong foundations for emotional intelligence. 

 

Knowledge is power.

When children understand what’s happening in the brain, it can be the first step to having the power to make choices. Knowledge can be equally powerful to parents too. Knowing how the brain works means we can also understand how to respond when our children need our help.

Sometimes our brains can become overwhelmed with feelings of fear, sadness or anger, and when this happens, it’s confusing, - especially to children. So giving children ways to make sense of what’s happening in their brain is important. It’s also helpful for children to have a vocabulary for their emotional experiences that others can understand. Think of it like a foreign language; if the other people in your family speak that language too, then it’s easier to communicate with them.

So how do you start these conversations with your children, make it playful enough to keep them engaged, and simple enough for them to understand?

Here is how I teach children (and parents) how to understand the brain. 

Introducing the brain house: the upstairs and the downstairs.

I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs. This idea comes from Dr Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson's book "The Whole-Brain Child" and it’s a really simple way to help kids to think about what’s going on inside their head. I’ve taken this analogy one step further by talking about who lives in the house. I tell them stories about the characters who live upstairs, and the ones who live downstairs. Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain - the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain - the downstairs).  

 

The Brain House

Who lives upstairs and who lives downstairs?

Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix 

The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy.  

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, as long as you and your child know who (and what) you are talking about. You could have a go at coming up with your own names: try boys/girls names, animal names, cartoon names or completely made-up names. You might like to find characters from films or books they love, to find your unique shared language for these brain functions. 

Flipping our lids: When ‘downstairs’ takes over. 

Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other.  This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations. 

Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts ‘the downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger’. The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected. 

Flipping your lid

Sometimes, flipping our lids is the safest thing to do. 

When everybody in the brain house is making noise, it’s hard for anyone to be heard. Bootsy is keeping the upstairs brain quiet so the downstairs folk can get our body ready for the danger. Boots can signal other parts of our body that need to switch on (or off). He can make our heart beat faster so we are ready to run very fast, or our muscles ready to fight as hard as we can. He can also tell parts of our body to stay very very still so we can hide from the danger. Bootsy is doing this to keep us safe. 

Try asking your child to imagine when these reactions would be safest. I often try to use examples that wouldn’t actually happen (again so that children can imagine these ideas in a playful way without becoming too frightened by them). For example, what would your downstairs brain do if you met a dinosaur in the playground?

Everyone flips their lids. 

Think of some examples to share with your child about how we can all flip our lids. Choose examples that aren’t too stressful because if you make your kids feel too anxious they may flip their lids then and there!

Here’s an example I might use:

Remember when Mummy couldn’t find the car keys and we were already late for school. Remember how I kept looking in the same place over and over again. That’s because the downstairs brain had taken over, I had flipped my lid and the upstairs, thinking part of my brain, wasn’t working properly. 

When the downstairs brain gets it wrong. 

There might be times when we flips our lids but really we still need the upstairs gang like Problem Solving Pete, and Calming Carl to help us. 

We all flip our lids, but often children flip their lids more than adults. In children’s brains, Big Boss Bootsy can get a bit over excited and press the panic button to trigger meltdowns and tantrums over very small things and that’s because the upstairs part of your child’s brain is still being built. In fact, it won’t be finished being built until the mid twenties. Sometimes, when I want to emphasise this point, I ask kids this question:

Have you ever seen your Dad or Mum lay on the floor in the supermarket screaming that they want chocolate buttons? 

They often giggle, and giggling is good because it means it’s still playful, so they are still engaged and learning. I tell them parents actually like chocolate just as much as children, but adults have practiced getting Calming Carl and Problem Solving Pete to work with Big Boss Bootsy and can (sometimes) stop him from sounding the danger alarm when he doesn’t need to. It does take practice and I remind children that their brains are still building and learning from experience.

From a shared language to emotional regulation.

Once you’ve got all the characters in the brain house, you have a shared language that you can use to help your child learn how to regulate (manage) their emotions. For example, ‘it looks like Big Boss Bootsy might be getting ready to sound the alarm, how about seeing if Calming Carl can send a message saying ‘take some deep breaths’ ’’ .  

The language of the brain house also allows kids to talk more freely about their own mistakes, it’s non judgemental, playful and can be talked about as being separate (psychologists also call this ‘externalised’) from them. Imagine how hard it might be to say ‘I hit Jenny today at school’ versus ‘Big Boss Bootsy really flipped the lid today’. When I say this to parents, some worry that I’m giving children a ‘get out clause’ - ‘can’t they just blame Bootsy for their misbehaviour?’. Ultimately what this is about is enabling children to learn functional ways to manage big feelings, and some of that will happen from conversations about the things that went wrong. If children feel able to talk about their mistakes with you, then you have an opportunity to join your upstairs brain folk with theirs, and problem solve together. It doesn’t mean they escape consequences or shirk responsibility. It means you can ask questions like ‘do you think there is anything you could do to help Bootsy keep the lid on?’. 

Knowing about the brain house also helps parents to think about how to respond when their child is flooded with fear, anger or sadness. Have you ever told you child to ‘calm down’ when they have flipped their lid? I have. Yet what we know about the brain house is Calming Carl lives upstairs and when Bootsy’s flipped the lid, Calming Carl can’t do much to help until the lid is back on. Your child may have gone beyond the point where they can help themselves to calm down. Sometimes, parents (teachers or carers) have to help kids to get their lids back on, and we can do this with empathy, patience and often taking a great deal of deep breaths ourselves!  

Where to go from here?

Don’t expect to move all the characters into the brain house and unpack on the same day; moving house takes time, and so does learning about brains. Start the conversation and revisit it. You might want to find creative ways to explore the brain house with your child. 

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. draw the brain house and all the characters 
  2. draw a picture of what it looks like in the house when the downstairs flips the lid
  3. find a comic, cut out and stick characters into the downstairs and the upstairs 
  4. write stories about the adventures of the characters in the brain house
  5. use a doll’s house (or if you don’t have a doll's house, two shoe boxes, one on top of the other works just as well) and fill it with the downstairs and upstairs characters. 
Sophie flipping her lid

If you find other creative ways to explore the brain house, I would love to hear about them on Facebook or twitter.

Make it fun, make it lively and kids won’t even realise they are learning the foundations of emotional intelligence.

Written by Dr Hazel Harrison - Clinical Psychologist