Emotional Resilience, Life in general, Mental health, School, Youth work

New Year, New You?

*First published in Youth and Children’s Work Magazine December 2017 edition*

Have you ever noticed that the mainstream media is obsessed? Headlines scream at us day in day out, forming the ‘wallpaper’ to our daily lives, and the New Year brings all of that into sharp relief. As if it’s not bad enough that our newspapers, magazines, timelines & advertising feeds are full of messages about our image or body shape or fashion sense all year round; in January this goes into overdrive. For weeks before Christmas we’ve been exhorted to fill our kitchen cupboards with enough food to feed a small army for a month, we’ve been given recipes for the perfect Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day meals and walked down supermarket aisles groaning with chocolates, sweets and other Christmas related food items. And then, a few days after that, BAM – we are suddenly bombarded with calls to lose weight; get fit; detox our bodies; to create a ‘new you’ all in the name of self-improvement. Our media tempts us to view the New Year as a time to create all sorts of goals for ourselves that are completely unrealistic at best and borderline legalistic at their most extreme.

Now, none of these exhortations are bad in and of themselves, but, for a moment put yourself in the shoes of a ‘tween’ or young person who is struggling with their relationship with food, or has a growing obsession with body image or fitness levels. Maybe one of the young people you work with is already in the grip of an eating disorder, or one of the children you see regularly in school is being neglected by their care-givers which can lead to Anxiety and/or Self-Harm and/or an eating disorder, in a bid to find a way to control the environment around them. How might that young person or child feel about all these ‘Do this one thing and be a better person/belong to this elite group/live a happy life’ messages?

What if our children and young people were able to live free of the power these media messages hold over many of us, even as adults? If we could do something to turn the tide against these pervasive and potentially damaging messages, why wouldn’t we?

How do we develop this idea further?

I firmly believe that each child and young person should have the support of a trusted adult outside the family unit to guide them through the pitfalls of life. This might be an Auntie or Uncle, it could be a youth or children’s worker, it might be a school counsellor or schools worker. Of course with the current way society is this is becoming less and less of a thing – a combination of political-societal factors like austerity and the pressure to earn enough money, the 24hr news cycle, an increased ability to create and distribute sexualised imagery, cyber-bullying, and the pressure to conform being higher than ever before have created a ‘perfect storm’ scenario which our young people and children are struggling to negotiate life with what feels like an ever diminishing number of adults who have the capacity to get involved. 1 in 4 of us are now thought to suffer from a mental health condition, many of these conditions begin in adolescence with some being traced back to childhood patterns or traumatic events.

But enough of the doom & gloom – here’s the hopeful thing:

We can all make a difference in the lives of the young people and children we work with! And many of you will be able to testify to that yourselves. We don’t need a huge team of volunteers or staff in order to make a difference but we do need to be present, not just showing up but fully attentive to the lives of the children or young people in front of us. This is what Jesus did in his ministry, through the calling of the disciples, signs and wonders, and even his death and resurrection he shows us that the life of following him is best practiced with the emphasis on relationship rather than rules; that no-one has to look, behave or act a certain way in order to be loved by our heavenly Father; and that life is for living rather than wrestling with or simply existing!

I should add that I don’t think the following of Jesus is a cure for all mental ill-health. I do advocate the use of appropriate medication and other treatments where they are recommended by experts. I also think that if we did something to bolster the self-esteem and relationship building capacity of our children and young people we might have fewer adults in the future struggling with self harm and eating disorders because some of those very destructive thought patterns and behaviours might have been broken or stopped.

I would suggest that if we are fully present with our young people in whatever activity we are doing, then we will already be giving them tools to overcome the pressure of the media especially at New Year. However, on these pages we like to give you some very useable ideas to take to your next schools work session, so here it comes!

How do we do something about this?

I currently go into local schools with our local YMCA schools work project and we use material from the Shine and Strength courses published by Hillsong [Edit: This project has evolved into the Unique Project, some of the materials used now are similar but I no longer work for them] Some of these suggestions come from the ShineGirl sessions on self-esteem and building resilience. These will be best carried out in a group where there is trust and a culture of supportiveness between members.

Compliment Slips – give each member of the group a sheet of A4 paper and a pen. Use masking tape to attach the paper to their backs and then play some music for 5 mins while they go round the room and write a compliment on each other’s paper. This of course relies on each participant being positive about the others in the group – it’s a great exercise to do in this type of group. Encourage each member of the group to take their sheets home and put it somewhere they can look at it again when they’re feeling less certain of themselves.

What is Beauty – There are lots of articles or videos you can use about the power of Photoshop – many celebrities have recently protested the use of airbrushing or touching up in images and you can find these articles with a quick internet search. The one that’s most intriguing is the journalist Esther Honig who sent a photo of herself to different Photoshop artists in 25 different countries with the request to make her beautiful. The results are pretty dramatic and available on Buzzfeed.com (search ‘Esther Honig’). You could print out the article, cut out the photos and get the group members to guess which countries each image came from – then discuss why the Photoshopped images are so dramatically different from the original or each other.

Colbie Caillat is a singer who has taken on the culture of ‘perfection’ in her video – Try https://www.youtube.com/user/ColbieCaillatVEVO

Nick Vujicic is an incredible guy with an amazing story of hope and positivity in a world where he didn’t feel he fit in. If you haven’t heard this guy speak before be prepared to be blown away! His ‘No Arms, No Legs, No Worries!’ Video is available on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SjbX6mDnMwM

SelfharmUK have produced a set of playing cards based on the theme of Talking About Emotions – these can be used as a conversation starter. Buy a pack at Youthscape.co.uk/store. You could play a card game with the group, something simple like Memory Game (place cards face down in a grid, each player takes it in turns to flip two over. If the numbers match they ‘win’ that round and keep that pair of cards), but it could be something else if preferred. Get the members of the group to ask and answer the questions on the cards they turn over. Encourage them to be honest themselves and respectful of each other’s answers.

If you run a lunchtime club with 30 or so under 11s then these activities may need some tweaking to work for that number. If you have two adults in the room then perhaps one of them could take 4 or 5 of the students to one corner and do some of this material.

Other organisations with Self-Esteem material or resources for work with children and young people include:

www.acet-uk.com

www.place2be.org.uk

www.youngminds.org.uk

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Life in general, Personal, Thankfulness

Thank you!

This is a little thank you to all those who have read my blog this year, particularly recently after a spell of not publishing much. You may know that I have been writing a regular column for Youth and Children’s Work Magazine on Schools Work and that, coupled with a very stressful volunteer role I have been in this year, has meant that I have been finding it difficult to write on here in the last 12 months.

I’m hoping this will change in the coming year, but in the meantime I realise that some of the stuff I’ve written for the magazine might be interesting for you lovely people to read too. So I’ll be publishing those articles on here over the next few weeks, along with a traditional end of year thing and possibly another Christmas themed rant like this one

But seriously, even though I’ve only published 4 posts this year the number of views over the year is similar to those of previous years so thank you for being so interested in my musings!

Emotional Resilience, emotions, Life, Life in general, Mental health, Stress

Finding Joy

(with apologies to CS Lewis)

So I’ve been struggling to reflect back on an important role I’ve held for 2.5 years and see anything positive. Until I was reminded that what I need to do is remember the bits that have brought joy, and acknowledge the mistakes without allowing them to eclipse the joy.

I thought it might help to write these out and, marvelously, the ‘joy’ list is at least three times as long as the ‘mistakes’ list! Finally, I find myself able to reflect and look back without getting in a hot mess about it all and the other piece of good news (for those who read my blog post last week) is that there is now someone who will take over from me and I’m hopeful that there will be an opportunity to actually meet with them and pass on the things that are crucial.

The interesting thing about this role is that I’ve brought my own joy to it and also learned a lot about processes and practices, which don’t always bring me joy – often through making mistakes – but always ensuring that I stick to my values of gratitude and person-focussed care.

The main aspect of the role that has brought me joy are the relationships I’ve built, I have found myself being a champion, confidante, protector and fellow-ranter: all things I am good at! Where I’ve found myself at the sharp end of another relationship, one which has been much more antagonistic or at times downright rude, this is where I’ve found it much more difficult.

I know that finding joy is important, that not letting my mistakes overtake everything is essential for my overall well-being. I know that intellectually but was having a hard time letting that seep into my heart, I’m glad to have been reminded of how important this is, and this is your reminder: have you allowed your mistakes to overshadow the joyful things in your life? How can you remind yourself of the joy today?

emotions, Life in general, Personal, Stress

This is Me

Today I find myself in an emotional storm, my youngest boy has battled against going to school yet again and I am about to preside over my last meeting which is a long term volunteer commitment that has been full of battles and not many wins. My stress levels have been running on high since June of this year which has been the catalyst for giving this commitment up along with plenty of other reasons, some ideological, some practical, but I’m struggling with the giving up. I think this is because this group will continue, without me and, as it currently stands, without anyone in the lead role; it’s a crucial role to leave empty and I’m finding that hard.

This lunchtime I’ve felt the urge to take myself down to the seafront, in the wind and rain, to blow some of the anxiety and take my hot mess of emotional turmoil out into the fresh air where nothing seems to feel quite such a big deal. As I walked into the wind I felt a very tangible sense of battling through; as I walked on the pebbles on the beach I felt how difficult it is to move when the ground underneath is not flat and still; as I rejoined the promenade I felt the relief of leaving behind that shifting, heavy-going situation; and as I turned the corner out of the wind I noticed the silence and calm that comes from the absence of high distress. When down on the seafront I watched the sea hurl itself at the groynes on the beach and realised that as the sea is able to rage and roar in highly agitating circumstances, so am I.

So I am looking forward to getting back onto a flat surface, and the absence of the storm which has been raging for the past year. I just to need get through this evening!

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Emotional Resilience, Friends and family, Life, Life in general

Friendship

I plucked this topic out of a jar that’s at least half full of writing prompts and it got me thinking (I guess that’s the whole point!) about friendships. If you know me, you’ll know that I am passionate about my friends and there is nothing I like more than to find new friends, especially when they turn out to be people who you really click with.

Top qualities then:

  1. Passing the ‘6-laugh test’ – I’m borrowing a theme from my favourite movie podcast (HTJI) here but a good test of friendship is being able to giggle a lot with each other. Not that every conversation has to be fun-filled but laughter is a very important part of friendship for me.
  2. Making a connection – there are lots of ways this might be achieved and it probably looks different every time a connection is made but there needs to be a spark of recognition, an ‘I see you’ moment for both people.
  3. Loyalty – this is an interesting one, perhaps not the first thing that you would notice about a person but it is so painful when someone shows disloyalty after you’ve trusted them, after they’ve shown that they ‘get you’. As painful when a friendship breaks down like this as a marriage or long term partnership.
  4. Being real – friends are people who take each other as they are: a hallway full of coats and shoes; piles of laundry; baby screaming; kitchen being tiled; 3 days post shower; snotty and full of cold; rustling up a meal at the last minute with leftovers and tins from the back of the cupboard; and love too much to allow us to stay as we are ‘Do you think you might have reacted like that because…?’
  5. Hospitality – this is such a key element to life in general, friendships can be formed or dissolved around the bond of hospitality. At face value this is showing your friend hospitality – a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a meal, ‘loaning’ a cup of sugar or the phone to call in an emergency. And then as we dig deeper into what hospitality really means this becomes about allowing another person into your life, letting them see what makes you tick, what gives you the heebie-jeebies, what makes you laugh and cry, the most vulnerable places in your heart and mind. If you never let anyone in, you’ll never really know the joy of friendship.
  6. Things in common and things that are different – some of my most interesting friendships are with people who think very differently to me, and have very different interests.
  7. Making reparations – friendships are messy. Today I caught myself thinking ‘Oh to be young and have uncomplicated friendships’, the truth though is that friendship is always messy, no matter at what age and stage we are at. We need to be true to ourselves but this will often have an impact on our friends, we need to be able to forgive each other and make reparations to the relationship. There is a myth that being friends means not disagreeing or never saying sorry, in fact I’ve heard this about ‘being in love’ – that it means you never have to say sorry, and it’s utter rubbish. To be a good friend (or boyfriend/girlfriend etc) it is essential to learn how to say sorry and practice moving past it.
Life in general, Training

Life Long Learning

I spent 7 years of my teaching career telling students that gaining good grades at GCSE was important because it would lead to a better job. Looking back, I’m not sure that was strictly true for those young people and there was a tacit acknowledgement that many of the students I worked with would go on to do much better at college, even if that meant re-taking GCSEs.

Fast forward to more recent years when I’ve been teaching adults and I realise that this is still true – adults learn better! Partly because they can opt in or out, partly because they will therefore generally only choose to study when it’s a subject they are passionate about, partly because life experience has shown them that learning happens in many different ways.

So, what are you waiting for? If you need any further persuasion here are 5 reasons why learning something new is important:

  1. Self-improvement: learning helps to expand your thinking on your chosen subject. It increases your capacity for new ideas and practices.
  2. Gain a new perspective: when we put ourselves in a teacher-learner relationship we gain perspectives we did not have before, this challenges us to think and act differently in our work practices.
  3. Meet new people: one great spin off to joining a new course is that we meet a whole bunch of people we probably didn’t know before, each of them as passionate about your area of study as you are!
  4. Good for your mental health: expanding your thinking and opening up to different points of view, theories and work practices can all help with our mental health. Not to mention the act of focussing on one area of study which we are interested in helps to absorb our thinking into something that is outside of ourselves and therefore supports good mental health.
  5. Improves your opportunities: any training will help with improving job opportunities, an accredited course will give you a professional qualification that could either lead to promotion or even to more learning if you find yourself really enjoying the learning!

 

 

Full Disclosure: I am currently the Head of Further Education Studies for CYM and we run accredited training for those working with young people and children in faith based contexts! I have always been fascinated by study and learning and will always want to encourage adults to take on study where it will be useful to them!

#3goodthings, Friends and family, Home, Life in general, Thankfulness

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s Friday, the end of a busy week. Not only has it been a busy week for me that has required me to wear each of the different hat at different points: Chair of Governors, Head of FE, writer, soother of souls, motivator of small humans, Friend, Daughter & Daughter-in-law, Listener, Fixer of broken things, Sleep-bringer, Chief cook, List-maker, Homework-helper, Reader, Family Decision Maker, Time-keeper and Clock-watcher! It’s also been a busy week for my family with my nearly 12yr old finally beginning to take charge of his own homework schedule (but waking up at 7.10am this morning realising he’d missed a piece that needed to be in today!) and my 8yr old getting to grips with what he described as a huge writing task that his class were all doing and he would be expected to complete.

This morning was chaos, not the shouty ‘COME ON GET A MOVE ON’ kind of chaos – not this time anyway! But the kind of chaos brought on by a cocktail of the aforementioned homework crisis, my pain levels shooting up and by the 8yr old’s usual reluctance to going to school ramping up a notch or 3 (he’s still got to complete this written task that was set on Wednesday and it’s making him miserable). We all made it to where we needed to be in time, thank the Lord, but it wasn’t the smooth operation we’ve been working towards (I reckon it goes smoothly once every couple of weeks, if we’re really concentrating and only if I get up at 6.30am, which I really hate doing!).

And now I’m trying to write, my pain levels have subsided thanks to the painkillers I’ve taken and I’m sitting in a local café on the seafront. Both boys and husband are where they should be and I’m quite sure they are all on task and enjoying being with friends and colleagues!

So, I need to focus on the good things: I’ve survived a busy week, the first one for ages that I’ve worked all five days; I live in the most beautiful place in the whole world (OK, maybe I’m biased but I don’t care!); I am a multitasker and I do it well most of the time; I love what I do even when it’s difficult.

I feel hard pressed on every side

but I’m not crushed

I feel pulled to pieces but inside,

inside I know I’m not

~ Lou Fellingham’s ‘Hard Pressed’

Friends and family, Home, Life, Life in general, Thankfulness

2017 New Year’s Honour Role

I’ve been trying to think of a way to sum up the year and after reading a friend’s blog post about New Year Honours I thought I’d try that myself! So here are the people I would reward, in no particular order:

a) My boys: a constant source of joy and frustration, laughter and tears! The older one has just started secondary school and had a tumultuous term – another friend said to me just this morning that it’s such a big shift and we’ve definitely felt that. The younger one has been getting used to life at junior school without his big brother and that has also been a huge shift. They are fabulous and exhausting, and it is a privilege to watch and support them as they grow up.
b) My Husband: I’m very thankful that Jon supports me in all the crazy things I take on! He also helps me to sort stuff out when my brain gets too overwhelmed. In 2017 it was conversation with him that began our journey to moving church and we’ve ended the year in a very different place. There have been challenges to the year, facing them together has made them feel more surmountable.
c) Flossie Hayllar and I have been friends for a LONG time – I have taught both her children as well as been part of the same church for a short time. This year, for the first time, we have begun working together and discovered just how similar we are in many ways! She is a fab woman who has made my year end really well.
d) Julie Smith is another long-standing friend with whom I have begun working this year. In a hilarious job interview with her and Steve (see next person!) interviewing me, I had to explain just how passionate I am about schools work to these two people I’ve known for well over 10 years! It has been a pleasure to work alongside Julie and her team in encouraging girls to overcome some huge obstacles in their lives.
e) Steve Blundell, leader of Mosaic Church and another long-time friend. One of the most surprising ventures of this year has seen us change churches for the third time in three years. Steve has been amazingly gracious and encouraging of the process of finding somewhere we could all flourish when it would have been easier for him to try to persuade us to stay or to walk away from the conversation.
f) Sam Richards is the main reason why I have the job I am now doing! Sam recommended me to take on the Head of FE Studies position I have now, after she and I worked together for only a few months. She has encouraged and cheered me on professionally and I am amazed by where I find myself today!
g) James Fawcett works for Concrete Youth and as such facilitates Think Tanks on a wide range of subjects around working with young people. Another role I have had this year has been to administrate and lead the Think Tank on Young People and Mental Health which has had a huge impact on my thinking. James is something of a legend within the Think Tanks: always fostering positivity, always inspiring connections and always looking for where God is working.
h) Rachel Crowe who is the best friend anyone could ask for. There are so many things I could say about Rach, but I’ll settle for just this one: I am so very thankful that she arrived in my life more than 10 years ago and has refused to leave!
i) Lou Funnell has inspired and stretched me to think outside the box this year! We need to Skype again soon.
j) Family: a bit of a cheat to lump all my family into one but I know that both my parents and my Mum-in-Law are invaluable to us as a family. They also cheer us on and support us in so many ways it’s impossible to count: Child care, washing, encouraging, dinners, cleaning and tidying, cups of tea and/or coffee, holidays… on and on the list goes! And of course my sister, brother-in-law and niece all deserve an honour too, for being completely fabulous.

There will be more that I have left out, because that is the nature of these things! But to these and many others I have spoken with, prayed with and for, to those who have challenged me and supported me this year I thank you; from the bottom of my heart I thank you!

Children's Minstry, Church, faith, Training

Children’s Ministry training

As a life long Youth Worker I have not often given too much thought to children’s ministry. I know, it’s almost shameful to admit! My interest in it began, as with many others, when I had my own children and began to look around at what my children were being taught in Sunday School and other settings in church. I put a lot of effort into encouraging my children to engage with the Bible and worship in church and at home, with varying degrees of success!

This summer I took on the leadership of the Further Education Department of CYM, a national provider of Youth and Children’s Ministry training at a variety of levels. My jurisdiction is Level 3 and below and one of the brilliant courses we offer is Equip Children’s Ministry. The course focuses on the Playwork Principles and emphasises just how children find God through playing. I had the opportunity to assess work and meet some of the students and I was blown away by their commitment to helping children, from the very littlest up, to engage with faith and God. The work these students were doing, or had done made me almost envious that my children had not had this kind of opportunities when they were very small.

So, I recommend this course for anyone who is working with children in a faith-based context, whether you are paid to do this work or work as a volunteer.

Find more details here

Or email FE.Admin@cym.ac.uk or cymoffice@bristol-baptist.ac.uk

Be quick! Deadline for applications is rapidly approaching.

Life in general

Advent – darkness to light

My favourite Christmas Bible verse is ‘Those walking in darkness have seen a great light’ Isaiah 9:2 I use it on my own Christmas cards, it captures something very profound about the Christmas message for me. But I’d not thought about the relevance or applied this to the period of Advent, until I read about Lucy in Unearthly Beauty by Magadalen Smith.

For us in the northern hemisphere it’s the darkest time of year, and is characterised by a deep sense of waiting, & watching: in darkness, perhaps as much metaphorically as literally. We become people of the darkness, going about our usual business despite the night which descends and engulfs us; as people of faith we remember and relive the years of waiting for the Messiah, those dark times of holding onto the hope given by the scriptures but precious little else.

Our darkness though is punctuated by light, the lights that we display in our homes, the light that as people of faith we carry in our hearts, and the light of those cold crisp gloriously sunny winter days when anything seems possible and we remember that this too shall pass. Into our darkness Jesus breaks in, the angels light up the skies, the star guides us to his manger. The hope in our hearts bursts into the knowledge and presence of Jesus the King of Kings, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counsellor, Almighty God.

As we cannot appreciate light without darkness, so we cannot know true hope if we have not known despair. This Christmas may we be people of the watching, waiting darkness, may we live with great anticipation of the Light of the World, the Messiah, he who will turn our sorrows to joy, he who will promise to never leave us nor forsake us.

The full verse from Isaiah 9:2 is this: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”

Amen and Amen