Go online, Google it, ask a friend, ask the audience!! You’ll get many different definitions of what well-being actually is. My favourite definition is summed up by The World Health Organisation: “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
Why is it my favourite? Well, it has everything to do with self-esteem, knowing your worth, understanding yourself as an individual and knowing that you can have value as a person – in work/family/relationships/community. It also has to do with managing emotion, coping with life’s obstacles and finding and using the positive (gratitude/affirmation/meditation …) to enhance and strengthen that well-being.
I put my hand up and say that I have really struggled with well-being over the years. I have had the usual difficulties of love and loss, marriage breakdown, illness, bereavement. I had five particularly challenging years: When I lost my sister to suicide, well, my world crumbled for a bit. When my nan died of neglect in a London hospital, it hit me hard. When my dad died in a few short months from an aggressive and horrific cancer, I was devastated. When my mum gave up, because living without my dad was unthinkable – I sank. I had to learn strategies to bring me back to a place of well-being, and when my mood or emotions slip – as they inevitably do, these strategies help bring me back up to a good place.
SO – for me, teaching and embedding the fundamentals of well-being in our very young children is paramount. We don’t know what life will throw at them – and we can’t be there to make sure their path is smooth. So let’s equip them with practice, mind-set and strategies so that they can have not only the very best start, but also a future of great well-being.
Here are my 7 foundation slabs for a robust future of well-being for your child.
- Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is so very important to well-being, the saying goes ‘You are what you eat’ – and I really agree with it, if we eat well we have more energy, less illness. If our children have a healthy start to their food and nutrition, it sets them up for a healthier future. I am so delighted to say that all of my kids are all really healthy eaters. I always cooked from scratch, meals consisted of loads of veg and fruit was in abundance. They didn’t always like what was in front of them – but there weren’t alternatives. Another factor of great importance is that we always ate together, it gave us a chance to connect, to share, to communicate and showed our children that we had a love of healthy food too. Plus – we all know that if you eat what is good for you – you feel better. Full stop. Some foody mood enhancers are; avocado, kale, blueberries, dark chocolate (YAY!), spinach, sweet potato and marmite (love it or hate it).
- Get Outside
So much research shows that being outside in nature has such a positive effect on our well-being – emotionally and physically. It feeds our brain with those good chemicals – a love and appreciation of nature is such a vital life skill that we can give to our children. I know myself that if I’m feeling low, a walk with my dogs on the beach or in the woodland near us is such an uplifting thing and always makes me feel better. If you don’t live near coast or countryside then find a local park. Get them out now, while they are young, and help foster that love of being outside, the wonder and beauty of the natural world and interacting with it.
- Self Affirmation
I can’t emphasise this enough! From a very early age help your child know and believe in their abilities. From the start, get them telling themselves “I am kind” “I am strong” “I am brave” etc. and give examples for them “You fell over, it hurt and you cried – but you are brave because you carry on learning how to ride your bike.” “Someone hurt you at nursery, they pushed you over – but you are kind because you didn’t hurt them back. When they said sorry you said that was ok”. If you do this every day, they will recognise not only their good attributes – but also their positive actions. It will help self-esteem and positive action taking.
- Be Grateful
We have a huge and growing trend on focusing on what we don’t have, rather than what we do have. That’s an easy thing to change if we practice it together, we all have so much to be grateful for – our health, the fact that we have a home, that we have food or a school to go to. If you can get your children to be appreciative of positive things in their every day, it helps a lot. It helps cultivate a mindset of being grateful and thankful. “I didn’t want mummy to go to work and I was sad – but I had a great time at nursery and we made a dinosaur swamp.” Try making a ‘Gratitude’ list – put it on your fridge and add to it every day. Pretty soon that will be a LONG list.
- Be Happy
If your children have an understanding of what makes them happy – that is key. What makes people happy? It can be spending time with friends or family, it can be listening to music or getting outside in nature. For children it’s often tapping into interests – football, skateboarding, swimming, gymnastics, dance, singing … If we know what makes us happy – we can do more of it. Now and in the future.
- Be Mindful
Life is so very busy isn’t it? If we can teach our children to be in the moment, to appreciate some stillness in life… whether that’s in the bath (water is so calming), whether it’s on a walk (nature is just wonderful), whether it’s reading a bedtime story (we’re here together and sharing this moment). Getting your child in the habit of being in the moment, appreciating that moment, feeling a stillness and appreciation of the moment. That’s a life skill right there!
- … and Now To Sleep.
I have suffered from insomnia at various stages in my life, mostly through stress and anxiety. I know that tiredness can have a huge effect on mood, emotion, function and health. Lack of sleep carries huge consequences for our state of well-being. If we can get our children into good sleeping habits from an early age – well, that’s a positive. Our children need around 14 hours sleep from the age of one, to at least 8 hours sleep when they are teenagers (though, from my own experience, many teenagers would stay in bed all day if they could!) – it helps their concentration, their learning, their ability to be on task at school and their ability to cope with difficult emotions. Good sleep habits and patterns are great for future well-being.