What a year it’s been. What a year it’s been for our kids. In school; out of school. Parents/carers working from home; some not working at all. Playdates, sleepovers, hugs and high fives from friends – all put on hold.
How can we shield our kids from the worries of the world? The simple answer is we can’t.
But what we can do, especially with World Mental Health Day happening on October 10, is talk about worries and anxiety openly with our kids, family and friends – and not shy away from it.
Why is this important? The latest statistics from Kids Helpline show that across Australia, there has been an increase of 24% more children and young people attempting to contact this essential 24/7 counselling service since March compared to the same time last year. Mental health remains the key concern – up 36% between March and August 2020 compared with the same period last year.
Why is this important to me? I’ve lived with severe anxiety myself, and watched my two young daughters go through their own challenges requiring professional help. One was due to an anxious personality that had intensified to unhealthy levels. The other due to a school bomb scare that had rocked her confidence and resilience.
It’s hard to watch as a parent. And hard to know what to do. They were both quite young at the time, and there were limited resources for my wife and myself to call upon to help start up a conversation around what they were feeling.
Luckily, through my own lived experience, I knew how important it was to speak up about these worries. Like many men, I covered up what I was going through for many years and saw the negative impact of this on myself and my family. Our kids wellbeing is too important not to help them talk about their worries and if required, seek the additional help of experts.
So when my severe anxiety led me to leaving my own business for a period of time, I decided to do something positive and write a picture book for kids dealing with worries. I wanted to create a resource that family, friends and teachers could use to start up conversations with kids, and remove the stigma around talking about mental health.
I started Why Worry Wally? in 2015. Self-published it at the end of 2019. I never could have predicted the importance of such a book in 2020.
My aim was to use Wally and his worries to normalise anxiety. It’s important that kids feel like they are not alone or weird for having these thoughts, and that there’s things they can do that can help. Like simply talking about their worries – with a parent, a friend, a teacher, or a doctor. Thinking positive thoughts. Or breathing and exercising.
Kids Helpline, who have endorsed Why Worry Wally’s message, has undertaken 120,893 responses to help children and young people in the first eight months of this year.
“Young people shouldn’t feel ashamed to seek help,” explained Tracey Adams, CEO of yourtown who run the Kids Helpline service.
“As an expert in the field of early intervention services, Kids Helpline acts as a ‘safety-net’ for children and young people in a broader social support system, having a unique position of being the only national free and confidential 24/7 counselling service available to those aged from 5 to 25 years of age.“
There’s also plenty that parents and carers can do. An article published in the Australian Journal of General Practice addressing COVID-19 and kids anxiety, suggested parents/carers can minimise negative psychological impacts for their children by:
- looking after their own mental wellbeing
- providing clear, age-appropriate information
- reassuring their children that they are at low risk and that there is a plan to manage the overall risks of the virus
- reducing exposure to news and social media reporting related to COVID-19
- maintaining routines
- assisting children and adolescents to maintain social contacts via internet-based means
- involving children in a family plan to mitigate risk and promote positive mental and social wellbeing.
Through supporting services such as Kids Helpline and other community initiatives, my hope is that Why Worry Wally? has a life outside of the pages through the impact it can have on kids lives. I’m also planning to design a program for schools where the book can be used by students and teachers to talk about worries and ways to deal with them.
It’s been an incredibly unsettling time for kids, and for all of us. But we shouldn’t hide away from this. The more we can open up conversations around mental health challenges and the way we’re feeling, the better off we all will be. I’ve seen first hand the importance of making kids feel they can talk openly about their worries, and I’d love Why Worry Wally? to play a part in helping with this.
If you need to talk to someone there are many groups ready to help including:
Kids Helpline 1800 55 18 00
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36
About the author:
Rick Foster is a Melbourne-based Dad and author of Why Worry Wally?, a picture book that helps kids and parents talk about and manage their anxieties. Why Worry Wally? is available to purchase through his website www.rickfoster.com.au and at a range of independent bookstores. A percentage of profits from every book sold goes to supporting the wonderful work of Kids Helpline.