Have you ever hesitated before talking about something difficult, or delayed delivering bad news to the adults around you, never mind to a child?
We will all experience tough times or challenges at some point in our lives, whether it's illness or death in the family, financial trouble, or relationship issues, and these alongside the usual day-to-day pressures of work and school. Perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised then, that when Place2Be recently surveyed over 700 10-12 year olds, more than half (54%) said they worry a lot or all the time about their family.
Lives today just seem so busy - so many pressures, so many draws on our time. And in the midst of all this, the very idea of how to go about supporting your child's mental health through a challenging time can sound daunting. But we don't have to be experts to make a difference. Sometimes the smallest things - such as just stopping from the busy day-to-day whirlwind and spending some quality time with your child and really listening to them - can be enormously helpful.
And that goes for the adults in our lives too. I grew up in a country where cups of tea seemed to be the answer to everything. I count myself lucky for that; it's not just the cup of tea is it? It's the fact that someone takes some time out to sit down and talk with you. Time out to step back from the whirlwind. And that's why the Heads Together campaign spearheaded by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, encouraging us all not to be afraid to start conversations about mental health, is so important.
There are so many of these seemingly small gestures that we can all do every day to 'Spread a Little Kindness', the theme for this year's Children's Mental Health Week (6th-12th February). Offering a sympathetic ear, stopping and truly listening, walking in someone else's shoes, offering a seat, a simple smile of acknowledgement - any of these inexpensive things that we all have the power and ability to do any and every day can make all that crucial difference in our world. These small kindnesses are more than just a nicety. Most certainly the concept is not new: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" - Plato. But perhaps it is something that we might have forgotten in today's busy, forever connected, forever 'switched on' world.
Parents and schools are crucial in the effort to instil kindness from an early age. While I was at Mitchell Brook Primary School for the launch of Children's Mental Health Week, I was delighted to hear children of all ages talking proudly about which of their classmates have "the K factor", sending the message to everyone that kindness is something to strive towards.
Our Royal Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, summed it up perfectly when she spoke to over 300 children at the school as part of our Big Assembly: "If you see someone who you think might need help, try and be kind to them. Keep a look out for them if they are on their own or seem sad or worried. Perhaps they just need a hug or someone to talk to. I know it is hard if you are feeling down yourself. But helping someone out will also make you feel so much better too."
When we teach children to practise kindness and look out for it every day, it isn't about smiling away the doom and gloom; it's about inspiring them to seek support for themselves and to be there for others. I'm a member of Moodscope, an online community that helps people to measure, track and share their difficult moments and with some incredible peer support - a virtual cup of tea in today's world.
Imagine a generation of children who can not only weather tough times but extend kindness to those around them, openly discuss issues and support their peers. Now imagine those children as adults, teaching future children to cultivate kindness in the same way. This isn't new, and it won't stop tough times from happening, but it might make our world feel a little warmer.
"May the dreams you hold dearest be those which come true, and the kindness you spread keep returning to you." An Irish Blessing