November is without a doubt a long month. The excitement of Halloween is soon forgotten, and the colour of bonfire night seems like a world away as those dark nights set in. Leaving for work in darkness, and getting home in darkness soon becomes a norm. Even at the weekend, the parks become empty as the weather reaches freezing temperatures.
I’m used to all of this affecting MY mood, but I haven’t noticed the effect in my kids before. Katie is really missing playing out with her friends. Not even a month ago at 6pm she could be happily scooting outside, but somehow it doesn’t feel right to be playing outside in the dark. Doors are shut and the kids aren’t flitting from one house to another.
I’m aware that the kids’ mood and happiness is really effected by this. They thrive on fresh air and exercise – they are social creatures and enjoy bouncing off others. So in short, I’ve been thinking a lot about their mental health alongside their immunity to the usual coughs and colds:
Katie has never been a good sleeper, even as a small baby she was always happier to have one of us close by. But things reached a definite low when she began to experience night terrors when she was about two and half. Katie’s scared of cats anyway, but she would wake up screaming that there were cats in her bed scratching her. It would take ages to calm her down and I was utterly at my wits end as to how to solve the problem.
Weirdly, Elmo solved it for me. Katie had taken to watching Sesame Street on youTube so upon spying Elmo for sale in a shop – she was desperate to buy one. I capitulated whilst spinning the tale that cats were deathly afraid of Elmo and that he was excellent at catching them. That night, and for many nights after, Elmo would search Katie’s room for cats and then would sit at the end of her bed with his big staring eyes – keeping guard through the night.
Katie completely bought into the idea that ‘Elmo no like cats.’ And after all the trauma, she was sleeping again. It’s amazing, but at that age, our make believe is not that different from their reality. I think particularly when anxieties are mild or even moderate – faith and belief can all play a role in helping young children.
The role of make believe
I was chatting to Caroline recently about Guatemalan ‘worry’ dolls. The idea being that children could tell their doll about sorrows or worries before hiding it under their pillow during the night. The story goes that the doll would then take the worries away by morning – with the parents removing the doll. Caroline raised the point it would actually be better for kids to leave the dolls out on view – so the parents would their kids were worried about something!
Which leads to the point – that if a child is truly worried about something, whilst make believe can play a role – it’s still important to actually talk about problems. Kids can get worried about the most random of things, and sometimes just need reassurance that everything is ok! I’m not convinced that a doll is the solution, but rather could be the beginning of one.
We were recently gifted a ‘worry plaque’ from the Irish Fairy Door Company by The Treehouse in Stockbridge that works on a similar premise. The plaque glows red when you place your hand on it and you tell the ‘fairies’ your worry. At that point the plaque turns green symbolising the fairies taking your worries away.
This has worked really well for us as Katie really does believe in fairies – thanks to the fairy trail at Archerfield Gardens – but more importantly, because I can hear Katie articulating her worries.
I have learned that Katie is consistently concerned that the other dolls might not be kind to her Lottie doll because pirates can be scary. I’ve also learned that she’s worried that if it doesn’t snow that Santa might not be able to get here in his sleigh.
In short, I’m reassured that she really is a happy girl who can articulate how she’s feeling. Of course, we’ve subsequently talked about pirates and Santa – but the worry plaque was a good starting point with this.
As both a parent and a teacher, I would always say that children’s concerns, fears, worries or anxieties should be listened to. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that in some situations they can really have a knock on effect – whether it’s anxiety about being left at school or going into new social situations.
Whilst make believe and talking things through can no doubt have a role, I would always say that if anxiety is severe, persist or interferes with everyday life – it’s a good idea to get some help. Chat to their teachers or care providers, or even visit your GP. Life is too short to be unhappy, childhood is even shorter!
As for how to get through winter? Our plan is to get outside anyway, freeze half to death before consuming our body weight in hot chocolate and marshmallows!