St Albans entrepreneur on importance of prevention for children’s mental health

PUBLISHED: 10:44 13 February 2019 | UPDATED: 12:13 13 February 2019

Jodie Smart. Picture: Daniel Adams

Jodie Smart. Picture: Daniel Adams

Daniel Adams Photography 2018

A St Albans entrepreneur is doing her bit to teach young children the coping techniques they need in order to prevent mental illnesses in their later lives.

Jodie Smart at Radio Verulam. Picture: Jodie SmartJodie Smart at Radio Verulam. Picture: Jodie Smart

Last year Jodie Smart set up Sunny Kids Shine, a specialist programme for the early years designed to catch potential mental health problems before they manifest themselves in adulthood.

The 37-year-old believes prevention is the best way forward, and has started to spread the word. As part of Garden Fields JMI School’s Happiness and Wellbeing Week from February 11 to 15, Jodie will deliver workshops to its pupils.

This follows national Children’s Mental Health Week, which ran from February 4 to 8, and the ongoing It’s OK To Say campaign launched by the Herts Advertiser with leading anxiety specialist Stacey Turner.

It’s OK To Say was launched on Radio Verulam on World Mental Health Day last October, encouraging people to speak out about their worries before they escalate.

Jodie giving her workshop at Garden Fields JMI School in St Albans. Picture: Michelle ColeJodie giving her workshop at Garden Fields JMI School in St Albans. Picture: Michelle Cole

Jodie said: “I support children to be able to understand and express their feelings and equip them with strategies they can use to help make big feelings child size. Teaching children from a young age that there are no bad feelings, every feeling is okay and everyone has them.

“Feelings are a normal part of everyday life.”

The workshops are made up of three stages - identifying emotions, matching them to scenarios, and learning appropriate coping techniques when they happen.

Jodie added: “I want to get across to people that education on wellbeing and positive mental health should start in the early years.

Jodie giving her workshop at Garden Fields JMI School in St Albans. Picture: Michelle ColeJodie giving her workshop at Garden Fields JMI School in St Albans. Picture: Michelle Cole

“Supporting children to grow up already equipped with healthy ways to handle their feelings and able to express themselves will help them grow up to be happier, confident and more resilient to cope with what life throws at them. It also provides greater opportunity for early identification and intervention should difficulties arise.

“Everybody has mental health and any of us can struggle at any given time. It is important that children learn what positive mental health and wellbeing looks like and the early warning signs of mental health difficulties so that there is more opportunity for early intervention.”

Jodie is a registered clinical member of the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists, and has experience in various educational roles, including supporting children with behavioural and special educational needs.

She is soon to release her specialist programme to parents and professionals alike.

Studies have shown that labelling and expressing one’s feelings will enhance a child’s wellbeing for life, she said.

Deputy headteacher at Garden Fields, Michelle Cole, said: “We passionately believe in the importance of teaching children the important skills of self care and how they can be healthy in mind, body and spirit. With increasing numbers and awareness of mental health issues, schools have a vital role in helping to teach our pupils these skills; as the Herts Advertiser campaign is so brilliantly promoting with It’s Ok to Say!

“As a school, we constantly try to balance these principals whilst helping pupils make the curriculum progress they are capable of making. Teaching children how to be healthy incorporates numerous pillars such as nutrition, exercise, gratitude and how they can manage stress and anxiety.”

During the week, the school are also hosting sessions from The Yoga Hall, The Food Teacher: Katherine Tate, and Dr Ayan Panja.

Stacey Turner said: “It’s wonderful to see a business uniquely designed to reach out to families (and professionals) to teach children how to talk about their feelings. We seem to share the notion - to change the future, we must start with the future generation!

“It’s OK To Say is for all ages and shines the light on Children’s Mental Health encouraging children to feel comfortable about talking and that it’s okay to feel the way they do. Alongside this, encouraging parents and carers to consider their own mental health and lead by example, as seen for Children’s Mental Health Week last week.”

Find out more about the Sunny Kids Shine programme at www.sunnykidsshine.com

Follow the It’s Okay To Say campaign on Facebook, Instagram @its_ok_to_say, and Twitter @ItsOKToSayUK.

A website will soon be live at www.itsoktosay.org.uk

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