Writing for Wellbeing – Child’s Play

This week is Children’s Mental Health Week. With the theme this year on “Growing Together”; the focus is on encouraging children (and adults) to consider how they have grown and how they can help others to grow.

This subject is close to my heart on SO many levels. As a survivor of childhood abuse and a parent to 2 x beautifully neurodivergent boys, it isn’t just one week a year that we celebrate growing together, we are living it, together 24/7.

My eldest son is 12 years old and suffers from social anxiety and agoraphobia. These mental health conditions are as a result of a neurological condition that is complex and difficult to navigate. For many years he was able to tolerate the world around him, but when he reached secondary school, it all became too much. The impact this has had on his life is SO limiting. If you compare it to an average 12 year old’s life it is a world apart. (So we don’t compare). But even though he struggles to leave the house and interact with the wider world, he continues to grow in character, knowledge and humour every day. His special interests fuel his days. He shows love, compassion and empathy for his animals, family and friends, and although some could argue that he’s missing out on so much in life, he is making the very best of it right now. There is so much more I would love to say about his (and our) journey but it is not my story to tell. All I can say is that despite adverse conditions, he continues to grow and it is a joy to witness simple moments and breakthroughs.

Our youngest son J is 8 years old and shows traits of neurodiversity, similar to his older brother. However, he is battling on with school, and is significantly growing in independence and resilience. He suffers from sensory issues, anxiety, compulsive behaviours and intrusive thoughts but is remarkably astute and is able to recognise and verbalise these experiences. He is also willing to apply helpful techniques. As part of this self awareness, he knows what helps him when he is feeling anxious. His “thing” is story telling.

During lockdown we bought him a blank comic book. Pages and pages of comic style layouts with blank spaces to fill with his stories.

And so “The Igs” were born. Pig, Dig, Jig, Fig, Big and Wig fell out of his imagination and onto the pages. He spends hours developing these characters. Stories of combat, comedy and chaos. Each night, before bed, he’ll invite us to sit and listen as he narrates and divulges how “The Igs” have been navigating their way through lands of pizza, friendship and fall-outs.

He shows us his comics and we appreciate them. But what I also see is a world within his world. I love how these characters reveal so much about his life. “The Igs” are an expression of all that he sees, feels and hears. But what I love the most is seeing the sparkle in his eyes as he proudly shows me his creations. The joy that he’s found that has come from inside him. He made these! He is proud of himself. It makes him feel good.

We’ve bought 4 more blank comic books since that first one. They fill up rapidly. We have a whole collection and it’s amazing to look back on them and see how his stories have developed and grown from a small seed of an idea into a full blown world.

And yet, his school tell me he isn’t meeting age related targets. That he needs significant support in class to stay focussed. He isn’t engaging. He’s hard to reach. He can’t retain information and doesn’t listen. He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be doing most of the time.

When J comes home from school he tells me he is day wasn’t that good. That he isn’t clever. That the other children are more intelligent, quicker, faster, better. He says he’s no good at anything. He says the teachers are mean. They shout and make him feel sad inside. He loses playtime because he can’t complete his work in class.

It breaks my heart. This is his second primary school and if I am honest, I am beginning to question the merits of mainstream education (But that’s a WHOLE other blog post right there!).

J has sensory issues. Noise, light and the tone of somebody’s voice has a huge impact on his mood and his ability to concentrate. We have been waiting for an autism assessment for months, and have only recently discovered his is dyslexic. But I don’t want to see these as problems. These are the things that make him amazing for goodness sake!

I don’t want him to feel that he’s not good enough. I don’t want him to feel sad.

I believe that creativity is the key to understanding your originality. To create is to be unique. It is a celebration of the magic that YOU and ONLY YOU have.

When J reads me his comics and shows me what he’s created, I know he feels this magic. It makes him feel unique in a POSITIVE way. So this is what we’ll keep doing. We’ll keep buying him blank comic books. We’ll keep listening. We’ll keep celebrating. Because this makes him feel good about himself.

There are many reasons I feel so passionately about this. It is because in my own childhood, despite feeling unhappy a lot of the time, my friend was my writing and creativity. It was my lifeboat in a sea of sadness. It is because, after so many years of believing I wasn’t good enough as an adult, I’ve realised that creativity is a powerful way to just feel GOOD . It is because as a parent, my one true hope is that my children can learn to grown and feel good in themselves, no matter what life throws at them.

Who knows, maybe “The Igs” will teach the schools a thing or two… and not only help J to celebrate how far he’s come, but encourage other children to find their inner Ig !

For more info about how to support your child with their wellbeing click on these FREE RESOURCES below;

Parent and Carer Resources

Here Comes The Sun…

Witnessing the sun rise at any time of year is a magical thing to see. The drama of it will always make my heart sing, but in winter, with the dark mornings and sparkling frosts, it somehow feels even more magical when dawn breaks.

Yesterday morning as I was setting off for a sea swim my youngest son was up earlier than usual and I asked if he’d like to come and watch the sun rise with me. Now, my children aren’t known for being very enthusiastic about outdoor activities in the mornings so I was somewhat surprised when he said “yes”!

Delighted to have unexpected company I failed to check the weather conditions and simply bundled together a bag of swim stuff for myself, and a rucksack with some warm layers for my son. It wasn’t until we were driving down to the beach that I realised the sky (and any hint of dawn) was obscured by dense cloud.

Now, if you have kids you’ll know that in order for a new experience to be something they’ll enjoy, then it simply has to be a good one. If it’s a negative experience then it’s unlikely they’ll want to stay, let alone repeat it! (I guess we’re all like this really). So I was cursing myself for inviting him to watch what I promised to be a “magical event”, when I hadn’t checked if the magic was likely to show up.

We arrived at the beach to a grey sky, cold north wind and no visible sunrise. My heart sank. Still, I gave my Dryrobe and hot water bottle to my son while I had a quick dip. He scowled at me from the shore, making it clear he was less than impressed!

We drove home, me trying to convince him it was a great way to start the day, him disagreeing. I told him that this was actually part of the magic. That I’d been wrong to promise it because it’s not guaranteed. And because you can never really know what kind of beauty you’ll see, this is why Nature is so amazing. This is why when you DO see the magic, it feels really special. Like it’s revealed something to you that not everyone can see. And it’s done this because you made the effort to look, and take notice.

No response.

Later that day I asked my son if he’d like to come again the following morning? To which he shook his head.

And so it was this morning, I made my way to the beach at dawn on my own. And of course, there before me, in jaw dropping splendour , was THE most beautiful scene. The moon still up in the sky while the sun rose and golden light spilled across the ocean. With not a breath of wind the water was completely still. Stepping into the sea was like stepping into a clear, cold bath. I felt like crying! It was stunning and yet all I could think of was my son, and what he had missed!

But I suppose, deep down I know he will see it when the time is right. Maybe what makes a sunrise magical is that you seek and find it for yourself. It is your reward for trying. Perhaps trying to create this magic for someone else simply won’t work?

And yet, I think this what I want for everyone! What I experience in Nature is so profound, it makes me want to share it. I want to know if others see it and feel it, and are boosted in the same way. Is this so wrong?

Surely this is why we create? We feel moved by something. Inspired by something. Isn’t this why we write, or paint, or cook, or teach… we want to share something. To invite the participant to experience something and enjoy it. Maybe even inspire them to go create their own magic, their own way.

I guess there’s nothing wrong in trying to create a bit of magic. Maybe you’ll just never be able to guarantee the result!

And so, as I swam in the sea this morning, I captured every detail of the moment in my mind. Full of inspiration I returned home and wild words poured out of me, describing what I’d seen. I wrote a poem. (Below) To capture the magic so I can remember it, but also so I can share it with those that missed it. To try and create a bit of the magic that was there in that moment. To encourage my son, to encourage you, to encourage everyone of us that there is always magic to be found. You just have to keep looking.

Quiet morning light.
The moon lingers a while
Holding the space between night and day
The sky holds its breath.
While the sea lies undisturbed,
A silent lake
slipping beneath the horizon.
The break of dawn spilling liquid
gold upon glistening glass.
I float beneath the surface
Bathed in a golden sea
My mind, body and soul awash with the new day