Objectives for the Managing your Child’s Anxiety Webinar

OBJECTIVES

So, first, let’s take a look at the objectives of this webinar:

  • We look at why children need to learn about managing anxiety
  • Secondly, we look at a range of practical skills to help children control and manage anxiety.
  • We also gain an understanding of why worry and anxiety can be good things, not to be avoided.

Ok, so let’s look at point No. 1, and I’d like to spend a little time on this one. Why do children need to learn about managing anxiety – and that’s the thing, it’s all about managing. I suppose, as parents, we try our living best to look after, mind, and take care of our children. We rush in to fix their problems, sort their issues and ease their anxieties. This comes from a place of love.

However, we need to teach them how to sort their own issues. Even as babies, we supply them with transitional objects, such as a teddy or “blankie”, which they can become very attached to as a source of comfort. They drag it with them everywhere. The eternal battle is trying to wrestle this filthy but comforting item from the hands of your toddler to put it in the washing machine!!! Then, as their world expands, their range of interests do too, and teddy becomes less important. Interestingly, this need for a specific object or pattern can reappear at a later age, if sadness or loneliness, or uncertainty crop up.

 

Now, some of you may have noticed this – a re emergence of an old comfort blanket or toy. It is perfectly natural to revert back to a familiar place of comfort. It’s like, you know when you hear a song on the radio, say from the ‘80s – just humour me – and it transports you back to a time in your life full of great memories and old friends. It is equally the same for a child – teddy evokes memories of feeling safe and secure. However, the biggest disservice we can do for our children is to rush in with our version of “the comfort blanket” – i.e. fixing their problem for them. 

Let me tell you about D.W. Winnicott. He was a pediatrician and psychoanalyst who did groundbreaking work with children. One of the most valuable lesson I have learned to date in my life is that of “the good enough parent”. So, say you are in the park with your small child – they run off playing and you are sitting on the park bench. They trip and fall. What do you do? Well, instinct tells us to get up and rush over and pick them up and hug them and reassure them. Right? Well, Winnicott believes we should stay where we are on the bench, and let the child pick themselves up. They look around and see you there, and they come to you, where you then give them hugs and comfort. They know you are there for them, but you allowed and encouraged them to pick themselves up. They then go to their secure base – that’s you, Mam or Dad.

The gift you are giving them here is the ability to manage their own situation, literally pick themselves up. The trick is to teach them how to manage their own anxiety – a skill that will stay with them for life.

 

Our second point is to look at some practical skills which they can use right away, to help them control and manage their anxiety. The idea behind these resources is to provide ways your child can take control of the situation – simple tasks that allow pause for thought -to slow down their thinking. You know it is when we are anxious – our thoughts are going at 100 miles an hour, creating that feeling of not being in control. So, these resources are designed to slow everything down and take the scary element away.

 

Our final objective is to understand why worry and anxiety are not to be avoided. Simply put, they keep us safe. They keep us aware. Every single one of us has some degree of anxiety in our lives – the thing is to manage it and keep it under control. You know how it is – deadlines in work or finances or illness in the family, and of course with Covid, there are a string of new stresses and anxieties in our lives. Worry and anxiety keep us alert – be it from crossing the road safely to preparing for an exam. They will never be fully eliminated, but we can learn how to keep them under control.

by Michelle O Brien

BSc(Hons)Psych; H.Dip. Coun; MIACP

Buddy Bench with the BBC World Hacks

The school playground can be a lonely place for a child if they haven’t got anyone to play with. But a special type of bench is helping pupils make friends and get people talking about bigger issues too.

One day, during her usual chat with her eight-year-old son about school, Tracey Cooney got an answer she didn’t expect.

“There was nobody to play with. Everyone was playing in their own little groups,” he confided.

She was surprised because he was usually outgoing and confident. But two of his friends had been sick that day, so they weren’t at playtime.

Cooney felt a little upset, but remembered something she had seen on social media and wondered if it could help children in his situation. It’s called a Buddy Bench.

The idea is simple – if a child feels lonely, they can go to the bench as a signal that they need someone to play with. Another child will see them, go and talk to them and include them in their games.

So Cooney asked other parents and the head teacher at Castlemartyr National School in Cork, Ireland, whether they would be interested in getting one – their answer was, “Yes.”

Buddy Bench
Image captionCastlemartyr is the 247th school to receive a bench from Buddy Bench Ireland

Also known as friendship benches, these pieces of playground furniture have been around for a while, in various countries.

But the people who make them in Ireland are trying to do something different with them.

“We use the bench as a reminder for children of things like communication, mutual support and opening up about feelings,” says Judith Ashton, a psychotherapist and co-founder of social enterprise Buddy Bench Ireland.


Hear more

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench

Her team delivers a day of tailored workshops about empathy, built around the arrival of the bench.

There are role-plays and children learn a song that reminds them to “look up, look around and look out for each other”.

It’s something that’s easy to forget, in an age when even young children can be engrossed in smartphones, Ashton says.

Buddy Bench workshop
Image captionThe courses are led by specialists trained to work with children

Apart from reducing social isolation and improving mental wellbeing, the hope is that the benches can tackle another problem found, to some degree, in most schools: bullying.

“I’ve been teaching 39 years,” says Jane Flannery, the principal at Castlemartyr National School.

“When I was a younger teacher we were more blasé about it and told people to get on with things. But I don’t think that’s good enough any more, we need to try something different.”

For her, Buddy Benches are that “something different”.

Co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland, Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton
Image captionSam Synnott and Judith Ashton are the co-founders of Buddy Bench Ireland

But do children actually use the bench? And are they worried about how it makes them look?

“They don’t see it as stigmatised,” says Sinead McGilloway, director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research at Maynooth University, who led a study of 117 pupils at three schools which have benches.

Forty per cent of the children she questioned said they had used the bench, and 90% said if they saw someone else sitting on it they would talk to them.

Buddy Bench class
Image captionChildren role-play to practise what it feels like using the bench

However, a small sample of parents did raise the concern of stigma.

And this is where the bigger aim of the project comes in, because the Buddy Bench team wants to tackle a problem that affects both young and old in Irish society: a reluctance to confront mental health.

“People spoke out of the corner of their mouth about it,” says Michelle O’Brien, one of the workshop leaders. Thinking back to her childhood, she says a mental health issue was seen as a fault in the family.

“Instead of the word depression ever being used, it was, ‘Their nerves are at ’em.’ It was a lot of factors, I think religion was a massive part of it.”

The Buddy Bench team aims to reach every pupil in Ireland, seeing this as an early intervention to tackle mental health problems across the generations.


Buddy Bench materials - cuddly toys and books

Mental Health Stigma in Ireland: Studies and Statistics

40% of Irish people would conceal a mental health problem from family, friends and colleagues (The Green Ribbon Report, 2017)

64% of Irish people believe that being treated for a mental health difficulty is seen as a sign of personal failure (survey by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, 2017)

52% of Irish people have experience of people with mental health problems (The Healthy Ireland Survey by the Department of Health, 2016)


In a symbolic gesture, the Buddy Bench Ireland team has its benches made by members of the Men’s Shed movement.

There are more than 400 Men’s Sheds in Ireland. They are a kind of hobby club where men, usually middle-aged or older, come together to make things.

It’s proved a lifeline for many coping with issues such as divorce and bereavement, by helping them to open up and talk about what they are going through.

John Fitzgerald, from the Carlow Men’s Shed, is one of the people who handmakes the Buddy Benches.

Men's Shed member John Fitzgerald
Image captionJohn Fitzgerald says he would have benefitted from a Buddy Bench

“I had a religious-based education and they brought us up to be men, in other words to be self-sufficient. If you were in trouble you just put up and shut up.”

The Buddy Bench would have been a nice idea for a quiet boy like him, he reckons.

Like a Men’s Shed, it is “a safe space” where you can speak about “difficulties, vulnerabilities and problems in your life”, he says. “It would have been beneficial for our generation.”

Children carrying a Buddy Bench

After the workshops have taken place at Castlemartyr National School, a small group of pupils are chosen to carry the bench into the playground.

By the time they reach the far end, a huge number of pupils has flocked around them.

A grand, triumphal procession slowly takes shape.

When the bench is finally put into place next to a wall, you can’t even see it any more.

There are too many excited children swarming to be the first to sit on it.

Children sitting on a Buddy Bench with more children gathered around

You can follow writer Dougal Shaw on Twitter: @dougalshawbbc

You can listen to Dougal’s full report on Buddy Benches in the latest People Fixing the World podcast from the BBC World Service

Our Schools

We are extending our reach daily both North and South of Ireland.  With the support of Buddy Bench Ireland, a child who is fearful, anxious and confused about how they feel can communicate it.

Our Vision

Our vision is a future where each child is supported to thrive throughout their school years in a community that priorities their mental health.

Ultimate Goal

We are working alongside others to build a generation who will not only be able to express themselves with ease and compassion, but also help those around them, and those they care for in future, to do the same. Improved mental fitness will have associated benefits for the home environment, schools, workplaces, the health care system and society as a whole.

The Aim

Our aim is to deliver the Buddy Bench Aware programmes to 2020 schools by the year 2020!

 

The Challenge

What is Mental Wellbeing?

A state of well-being in which the individual realises his or own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her own community. The best children’s Mental Wellbeing strategy is one that prevents issues from arising in the first place. Early intervention is central to the Buddy Bench approach.

A mental health risk factor is an internal or external condition that increases the likelihood of a mental health problem. In the school setting mental health risk factors include:

• disengagement, absenteeism, isolation and alienation • bullying and relationship difficulties • low academic achievement • violence/aggression • learning disabilities • cultural differences • low self-esteem • stressful life events • difficult school transitions • poor connection between family and school • harsh and inconsistent discipline

Even though we can’t always protect our children from stress but we can teach them the lifelong skills to cope with life’s challenges. It is normal for children to experience some stress throughout childhood and adolescence. Many children may experience heightened stress related to peer pressure, family conflict, transition from primary to high school, increased demands of study, performance expectations and body image. According to the R.C.S.I., 1 in 6 young people aged 11-13 experience some kind of mental health challenge, while high levels of anxiety affect up to 20% of children and young teenagers.