Find Your Brave through Vulnerability
Find Your Brave is the theme for this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, taking place now. Although the focus is on children, I firmly believe that adults have a critical part to play in developing the next generation.
The gap between children’s knowledge and skills around mental health and those of adults is sometimes huge and widening where workplaces aren’t taking this seriously. I’ve noticed recently that children and young people often have a much better understanding of the brain, emotions and strategies for dealing with them, than adults. I’ve recently been training the adults who are teaching the children, informing two very different generations about the same thing, and knowing that pupils are going to grow up to be much better informed than the older population. It’s just as well that many ethical workplaces are also taking this seriously. This isn’t about ‘first-aid’, patching it up when mental health goes wrong. It’s about resilience and knowing how to manage our emotional state in times of adversity.
So, we need to have the knowledge and skills to look after ourselves and those around us but an ingredient that is often missing is the concept of modelling. If we don’t communicate to others, including children, how we’re feeling and how we’re coping (or not), how are we expecting them to do the same?
How do you Find Your Brave?
Modelling with authenticity is about showing vulnerability. That is such a powerful quality that clearly communicates strength and confidence in terms of being real. Hiding behind a ‘mask’ and the assumption that you must remain in control is a common misconception. People can see for themselves when someone is just about ‘hanging-on’ and doesn’t have the courage to admit it. No one is superhuman and the pretence doesn’t give you credibility.
The starting point is being honest with yourself. Regularly checking-in, identifying and labelling what’s going on for you emotionally and physiologically. Ignoring your increased heart rate, tensed muscles, abrupt communication, the feeling of overwhelm or whatever is going on for you is pointless and in fact, damaging. Your relationships and performance suffer and those around you are left to their own interpretations of what they experience. How do we expect others to learn to be emotionally well if we don’t model it ourselves?
Tell people when you’re feeling emotionally overwhelmed. I always tell those around me, including my kids, when I’m feeling stressed about something. Then they know why I’m behaving the way I am, and they understand it’s not due to them (unless of course it is!). This enables them to feel safe as they’re not second-guessing what could be going on and potentially worrying. As a result, their brain stays calm and they’re more likely to empathise, often asking what they can do to help. Even if that’s just about giving me space, it makes a difference.
Check in with others. Let them know that they don’t look themselves and suggest going to grab a coffee and have a chat. Be aware that if you just ask if they’re ‘ok’, many people are programmed to say ‘yes’. You need to demonstrate that you’re genuinely interested and not just being polite.
Finally, stop protecting others from experiencing failure and upset. Unless we experience adversity, we won’t develop resilience. Learning strategies in the classroom or training room is one thing but putting them into practice is something else. Young people need to know that life can be tough but that there are ways to cope. They need to know that feelings such as anxiety are normal, and that it only becomes a problem when it interferes with life. And it’s ok not to know all the answers. Again, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and avoiding the façade of being an expert. We aren’t supposed to know everything.
Find your brave and allow yourself to be honest, open and vulnerable. Get this right and we will build a resilient generation for the future.
There are lots of great, free resources for schools, youth groups and parents and carers to use to encourage them to understand and talk about mental health and how to find their ‘brave’.
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