How are you? You okay? What about ya? How’s it going? So many times I’ve heard people say this to each other.
Yes, I’m talking about you (!) BUT did you actually stop to HEAR the reply or is it just a ‘saying’ you churn out, a habit you say when, in actual fact, most of the time you say it, they say it and neither of you answer.
'Was nursery good today?', 'What did you do today?' are questions I hear most days from parents collecting children from nursery and school. BUT most of the time I actually think 'WHY ASK' as two minutes later (and I HAVE seen this so many times) the parent is not actually talking or listening to the child.
So what’s the point of asking? If you really are interested then take the time to listen. Don’t bother asking 'how are you?' if your really don’t want to know. Yes, this does sound a bit harsh. I know I sound tough. BUT the simple truth is we do need to listen to each other more, be more aware of how our friends, family and, of course, our toddlers and children feel.
How we feel is important, it links directly to our self esteem, our self confidence, our willingness to try new things, our ability to cope with problems, our ability to manage upsetting and worrying situations, our ability to form and maintain friendships whether we be two years old or 52.
It involves understanding and being aware of our feelings and how to manage feelings of sadness, loneliness, anger and hurt. It is only by talking about how we feel that we learn to manage these feelings, find a way to overcome them so they don’t drown us, make us feel alone and unable to cope.
We hear and see lots of messages in the media about mental health, about the importance of talking and listening to each other, but it is a two way street.
If you are feeling down, your toddlers tantrums are getting too much, you are worried sick about the mounting bills, your boss is being unfair and expecting too much or you simply feel lonely, you must speak up and say.
How can your family and friends help if they don’t know - if you paint on a smile then close the door and the tears come?
In school this week, I had to teach pupils, aged six and seven, about being aware of how they feel and can make others feel.
These discussions you can have at home, even with younger children, simple discussions about playing together, not leaving friends out, sharing, kind hands, what to do if someone has no one to play with, what they could do or say if someone in their class looks sad.
What should they do if they hear someone being mean, someone being picked on, or if someone makes them feel sad, breaks their toy, paints over their picture etc.
I finished the lesson with a simple, ‘what nice thing did you do today.’ You can try this as a family at home. I had so many lovely answers, I played with Sophie, I made Jack laugh, I gave Matthew a turn of the ball, I wonder what nice things you and your children will talk about at tea time today?
It is important to remember your toddler and younger pre-school child when thinking about feelings too, talking about how you feel when they eat up all their tea, do a nice picture, play nicely with their baby sister etc. But to also talk about when they made you feel sad, when they didn’t tidy up, or cross when they shouted at you. This encourages an awareness of feelings and also enables them to learn about and name different emotions.
Simple songs such as ‘If You Are Happy And You Know It’ can also have lines such as 'If You Are Sad/Cross' etc. Looking in the mirror together and making emotional faces can be fun too. Or make 'happy' plates - happy faces on one side and cross or sad on the other and talk about what makes them feel this way. And, of course, books, talk about the characters; how did Baby Bear feel when Goldilocks broke his chair and ate his porridge, how did Spot feel on his first day at nursery?
So that’s you, your family and friends sorted, but what about the person you don’t know? I know we can’t be responsible for everyone but if we share the message that feelings matter, support mental health awareness, then we can make a difference to each other and through a smile to that other person. The person who felt weighed down and your smile bought them a little bit of happiness, a little lift in a dark day, a thought that people do care, For, in the words of Mother Teresa…
'Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.'
So IF you’ve time to listen then ask 'how are you?' If you are in a rush, say, 'sorry, I do hope you are good,' or 'sorry, you know where I am if you need me,' or 'big smiles to you' or 'let’s catch up soon - do call me' BUT don’t be in a rush every time and DO call! As for your toddlers and children and coming out of school, talk, listen, talk, listen TALK, LISTEN!
Remember talk to your doctor, health visitor or your child’s teacher if you are worried about yourself, your child or someone else and, of course, visit Sure Start which offers lots of supportive services for families with young children.
Plus many of the wonderful community services in Derry may be able to recommend a group or support service for you - just ask! You may also consider, Mental Health Service; nidirect website. Action Mental Health amp.org.uk Aware; aware-ni.org; Family Support NI; family supportni. wgov.uk Mental Health Minding Your Head;
www.mindingyourhead.info. Childline; website or telephone : 08001111.
Written by, on Facebook, Me & You @meandyoubyjenni to support the Greater Shantallow Talking To Our Babies, Greater Shantallow Area Partnership. Telephone 028 71358787 / Facebook; Talking To Our Babies / www.shantallow.net
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