Boosting your child’s mental health and wellbeing this winter

by Sophie Mustoe-Playfair – Speech and Language Therapist
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The autumn term is drawing to a close, and we’re all looking ahead to the holidays! I’m sure many of us are feeling a real need for a good break – a time to rest and recharge before we can put our best foot forward in 2022. Despite all of the glitter and excitement that many associate with this time of year, it’s important to consider that winter is often a challenging time, with short days and dank weather which impacts on our mood, and this is as true for children as it is for adults. However, we can, and should, take steps to combat this. We can, and should, make the effort to be kind to ourselves, and others, and to boost our mental health. This is an excellent time of year to practice gratitude, and to share that practice with your family for the benefit of everyone’s wellbeing.

You might think that gratitude sounds like a strange thing to ‘practice’, or that you’re already doing this already, particularly at this time of year, which many of us associate with gifts and ‘thank yous’. However, there are proven benefits to a more systematic and routinised approach to gratitude if we can commit time to form a new habit for ourselves and our family.

So how do we practice gratitude? Practise by saying one, specific, thing that you are grateful for that happened that day (or yesterday, if you’re doing this in the morning). It’s important to give specific examples, and more concrete experiences will be easier for a younger child to relate to. What you are grateful for can be something big or small, for example, being grateful that you received a Christmas card, saw a funny shaped cloud, that a colleague made you a cup of tea, or that your child tidied up when asked. If your child struggles to think of something, try to give them some examples, and then try again tomorrow. You can even give them reminders of nice things that happen during the day, so that these things come to mind more easily when you talk about them later.

Children learn by watching the adults around them. The best way to promote this habit of gratitude in your children is to demonstrate it yourself, consistently and regularly. Forming a routine, for example doing this at the same time everyday (perhaps at a family mealtime) helps to build the habit and supports children with SLCN to be able to predict what is going to happen, which in turn helps those children to participate in the activity. Children with SLCN will also benefit from a consistent pattern of language, which provides a clear model that they can more easily emulate and learn from.

For a child with SLCN there are added benefits to this exercise. This creates an opportunity for structured talking and listening with your child, an opportunity to support your child by providing a good quality model of language, and a chance to practice targeted language skills. For example, talking about what we are grateful for is a perfect opportunity to work on the use of past and present tense verbs. If your child makes an error in their talking, you can help by recasting what they have said – this means repeating their phrase, but with the mistakes corrected. For example, if your child said “I’m grateful that I winned the game”, you could recast this as “You’re grateful that you won the race”.

This habit of expressing gratitude has been shown to improve physical and mental wellbeing, improve sleep quality, and enhance children’s self-esteem in the long-term. In the short-term, expressing gratitude can also boost our mood.

I hope your family will find that there are lots to be thankful for this year, and perhaps consider taking this habit forward into the new year, to continue to protect your mental wellbeing. We wish you a joyful festive season.