Nursery well-being programme aims to prevent mental health problems

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A well-being programme developed specially for pre-school children is expanding into nurseries across the country.

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The myHappymind programme teaches children about resilience and setting goals, such as learning how to tie your shoe laces

Founder Laura Earnshaw first set up the ‘myHappymind’ initiative in primary schools, drawing on her own experience of teaching Harvard business school leaders resilience and well-being.

The programme is now available in nurseries for two-to four-year-olds and early years practitioners.

Ms Earnshaw told Nursery World that the idea for myHappymind came to her after her son Oscar experienced difficulties settling into Reception.

‘When my son was four he started school and found the transition very difficult,’ she said. 'The school told him to “man up” and have a stiff upper lip.’

She realised that some of the techniques that she had been using to teach leaders could be adapted, such as mindfulness, and how to develop a positive sense of self to build happiness.

‘A few months later the school asked what I was doing with Oscar. I explained that I’d been teaching him coping strategies. They said they had other children, who were not suffering with a major mental health concern but were children with mild anxiety. They asked if they could use some of the tools with them.’

About three years ago myHappymind was launched in primary schools and is now in schools from London to Scotland. The primary school programme runs from Year 1 to Year 6.

Ms Earnshaw said, ’I really wanted to introduce it into early years and bring it into nursery. It’s all about prevention, so that children won’t need mental health support when they are older.’

Large nursery groups, such as Kids Allowed and Kids Planet have signed up, as well as small settings. ‘We’re starting to get more and more nurseries signing up.’

The programme for nurseries is available for all children and for the nursery staff as well. ‘It’s as much for the staff as for the children,’ she said.

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Founder of myHappymind Liz Earnshaw

The children’s programme consists of five modules. Each module covers a different area, with the science of happiness and wellbeing is brought to life through animation and stories.

MyHappymind is delivered via the online learning portal and also has supplementary physical resources including a journal, soft toys, and books. The programme has three elements: teaching, which is delivered through the course content; habits, which are reinforced through activities and rituals regularly at nursery  or school and at home; and an app, which is free to download for parents.

THE FIVE MODULES

Each module is based around a story, with activities and games. There are key points in the stories to help children to develop sustainable habits.

Meet your brain - This module is focussed on giving children a foundational knowledge of the brain and teaching them how they can look after their minds. They learn how their brains work, how to help their brain to be its best and how to relax the brain when it is stressed – they do this through 'happy breathing' (mindfulness).

Celebrate - celebrating a child’s individual character strengths, for example, curiousity and kindness. This module teaches children that we all have different character strengths and that by understanding what they are and then using them as much as possible, we can be at our best, described as children’s 'super hero powers'. This is not about what we are ‘good’ at e.g. football or maths, it is about who we are.

Appreciate - the science of gratitude. This module is all about teaching children about gratitude and how to develop what we call an ‘attitude of gratitude’. They learn the science of what happens in the brain when we give and receive gratitude and different types of gratitude and different ways to show it.

Relate - Building positive relationships. Focuses on helping children learn how to listen and understand other perspectives. They focus on developing both of these skills by using some of what they have learnt in previous modules.

Engage - teaching children about goal setting and resilience, based on evidence that people that set goals are happier. For example, this could be learning how to make a daisy chain, or how to tie your shoelaces. Children learn how to set goals and why this is important and also learn strategies to cope when they don’t meet their goals.

Parents are also given some of the activities to do at home with their children, for example some of the mindfulness exercises, to develop the bridge between home and school.

Nursery staff are able to access the programme online. They are given a private login to access different modules to work through to teach the the science of wellbeing, to help them with goal-setting and reflection.

‘It’s totally focused on building a better understanding of themselves, which in turn will lead to benefits to their practice in nursery,’ Ms Earnshaw said.

From this week parents are also able to access the myHappymind Families programme.

Kids Allowed introduced the programme last month and plans to roll it out across the nursery group.

Founder and chief executive Jennie Johnson said that myHappymind’s mission ‘chimed immediately with the Kids Allowed approach which looks at the “whole child”. 

‘We’re only a few weeks in but already we’re all really excited about the impact it’s having on the children and their parents and we’re making plans to roll it out across the group.

‘The story-based techniques include “happy breathing”, “brain growth moments” and the celebration of each other’s individual characteristics and help children understand themselves, build resilience and ultimately thrive as older children into adulthood.

She added, ‘My generation grew up in a much simpler world. And while the developments that the internet and social media represent are, in the main, positive, there’s no denying, life is more hectic than it’s ever been for young people. We’ve got a duty as carers and parents to do all we can to arm our children with the right tools to cope.

'If we can introduce these kinds of healthy habits at nursery age, I believe the knock-on impact could be game-changing. Just a quick look at statistics on mental health and the NHS shows there’s an enormous problem. Just as enormous is the opportunity to help solve it.’

Research last week by the NSPCC found that more than half of referrals from settings in England for mental health treatment in the last three years were from primary schools.

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