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Interview: A Mind of Their Own

REFRESH | We talk to author Katharine Hall about A Mind of Their Own, which looks to assist parents to care for their children’s mental wellbeing, particularly given the seismic shifts of the recent pandemic years.

Can you tell readers a bit more about A Mind of their Own?

My latest book, A Mind of their Own, aims to equip parents to care for their children’s mental wellbeing and build the important quality of resilience in their lives. As parents, we know that encouraging children to eat their broccoli, limiting sugar and screen time, and teaching them to swim and to cross the road will help them to grow physically healthy and strong. In the same way, there are things we can do in the ups and downs of family life to encourage them to grow healthy and strong emotionally.

A Mind of Their Own is backed by solid, up-to-date research, and plenty of real-life stories ground it in the authentic experiences of all kinds of families. Each chapter gives parents practical tools to build emotional wellbeing in their children’s lives. The brilliant cartoons by David McNeill also bring a dose of humour to what can be a challenging subject!

What drew you to the topic of building children’s emotional wellbeing in a post-pandemic world?

In my work as UK Director of the charity Care for the Family, I have become increasingly aware of the growing pressures on family life today. While media reports of rising referrals for mental ill health are troubling, what has moved my heart to breaking is hearing first-hand stories from parents who feel helpless as they watch their happy, easy-going children being overwhelmed by a tsunami of pressure and anxiety.

Real concerns about the wellbeing of stressed out six-year-olds and frazzled fifteen-year-olds are keeping parents up at night. While mental ill health can occur for all kinds of reasons, I wanted to reassure parents and put practical help in their hands, so they could put good habits in place to encourage healthy mental wellbeing from the get-go.

“Real concerns about the wellbeing of stressed out six-year-olds and frazzled fifteen-year-olds are keeping parents up at night.”

The pandemic had such a seismic impact on everybody – what have been some of the key impacts upon children and issues they are dealing with, though it is still comparatively early days?

The impact of Covid-19 added another layer of deep concern to the issue of our children’s wellbeing, and the effects are likely to be part of their future for some time to come. Younger children missed the structure of the school day, and at the very time teenagers should have been flexing the muscles of independence, they found themselves in an educational limbo. The move to online learning, missed rites of passage, and disrupted exams all took their toll. Although social media meant that social distancing didn’t have to mean social isolation, screens became even more embedded in family life, with all the challenges that brings.

Many children experienced increasing levels of anxiety, and are needing to learn to trust again, while the universal rise in stress levels lit a touch paper for negative patterns of thinking. But despite this, the book gives an overall message of hope. The generation who grew up in the Second World War are not known as a ‘lost’ generation but a stoic and resourceful generation. In a similar way, these challenging times give an opportunity to build the important quality of resilience in our children’s lives.

Has this been a drastic shift in your opinion from before, or do you see it more as magnifying what was already there?

Definitely the latter! Covid has touched every area of society – not least family life. Lockdown left some people lonely and isolated and others forced to live in close proximity. Daily life was effectively put under a magnifying glass where both the good and bad things were intensified.

What are some of the core topics that the book addresses, and what key takeaways does it offer?

Each chapter in the book has a set of Action Points and a Family Activity – practical things that parents can do as well to cement the learning. An action point from the chapter ‘It’s OK to Fail’ is to ‘Encourage children to do activities that are fun, not just ones they are good at. As a family, enjoy doing things where there is a high chance of failing – crazy golf or bowling, for example!

A suggested Activity is to create a Family Worry Box. ‘Decorate a shoe box, and cut a slit in the top to make a family worry box. Encourage your child to write down or draw the things that concern them. Talk about it together post it in the worry box. At the end of the month sit down together and read them through. You and your child may be surprised to see how many of the worries took care of themselves’

Chapters cover a wide range of topics – the power of praise, helping children manage their emotions and thinking, exams, the pressure to be ‘extraordinary,’ body confidence, friendships, and the value of community, with a key message centring on building resilience. Resilience has been described as the ability to ‘bounce back’, but more recently has been given a broader meaning of ‘bouncing forward.’ In other words, not only getting back to normal after facing difficulty, but learning from the process in order to deal with the next challenge that comes along.

As parents, our every instinct is to try to protect our children from the knocks of life, but an important lesson is to learn to resist the need to be the ‘helicopter parent’ – flying in, rotor blades whirring, to save them from struggles. Instead we can give them the opportunity to discover their own coping strategies and solutions, and in doing so building the vital quality of resilience in their lives. The book also explains about the development of the teenage brain (vital for anyone in that season of parenting!) and how we can help our children manage negative patterns of thinking.

“We can give [children] the opportunity to discover their own coping strategies and solutions, and in doing so building the vital quality of resilience in their lives.”

This is one of many books you’ve written around family and relationships – are there any topics or areas you have in mind that you think warrant further exploration in book form?

Writing A Mind of Their Own made me realise the need for a new post-pandemic edition of my book Left To Their Own Devices: Confident Parenting in An Age of Screens. The pandemic changed our relationship with technology, which is, now more than ever, an integral part of our young people’s lives. The new edition of the book (updated in 2021) reflects that and gives practical help to parents navigating this area of family life.

I plan to write a third book in the If You Forget Everything Else, Remember This series – this time on parenting in the teenage years, giving practical help and encouragement to parents in what can be a rollercoaster season of family life. 

What do you hope readers take from your book?

Confidence and hope! I want parents to have not just an awareness of the issues in society and their impact on mental wellbeing, but to know what actions to take in their family lives, so that they can help a generation of children become resilient, emotionally healthy adults.

A Mind of Their Own: Building Your Child’s Emotional Wellbeing in a Post-Pandemic World by Katharine Hill is published by Muddy Pearl.