It's Children's Mental Health Week in the UK. The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, among others, is highlighting just how many children suffer from mental health problems like anxiety, depression and damaging obsessions -- the rate is so high you are likely to find at about three diagnosable cases in any classroom.
But even if children are never medically diagnosed with a problem, they will have them. I know from bringing up my own three children that all children struggle from time to time with deep issues of confidence and self-belief. Anything can come along - poor test results, a falling-out with friends, a family break-up, even just seeing a scary movie, or getting into a patch of insomnia - to derail a child or teen and send them into a spin of negative thoughts or behaviours.
What's not often talked about, though, is how important home is in how children respond to these challenges. If parents obsess too much about school achievements, or fail to put in place secure boundaries, or don't pay good attention to children's physical health, or live in a state of stress, rush and teetering chaos, children are unlikely to feel loved, secure and empowered enough to see off their demons.
On the other hand, parents have the most incredible power to inoculate their children against the stresses and demands of modern life. After all parents are - by miles -- the most influential adults in their children's lives. And it isn't even difficult to do. Just a few minutes spent reading and thinking about what a child really needs to start building their inner core of resilience and optimism, and then just a tiny amount of daily effort to be more thoughtful in talking to them, nurturing them, encouraging their independence and helping them deal with set-backs, will bring the most astonishing and lifelong results.
I learned about this the hard way, by trial and error, observation and research. My dream is that every parent could be introduced to these basics as they embark on family life. Failing that, I believe every school should offer support and help to parents as their child first goes to school, and also later, as their child develops and grows.
I was an education correspondent for decades, visiting schools all over the world. Everywhere I went, from the poshest of posh prep schools to the most deprived inner-city nursery, I could see so clearly what children needed and what so many weren't getting.
Because of this I wrote two short e-books- The Six Secrets of School Successhttp://amzn.to/1R60rlS and Backbone: how to build the character your child needs to succeed http://amzn.to/1LeUKOT -- outlining in the shortest and clearest way possible what I knew about fostering confident, happy and successful children.
I would love every parent to read these, not because of personal vanity as an author, but because I know they offer broad and invaluable advice that will support all parents and prevent yet more children falling into the terrible deep, dark hole of mental health problems.