A Guide to a Healthy, Happy Child

Dan Wood, Head of PE and Games at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School Offers His Top Tips on Promoting Positive Wellbeing in Children.

Did you know that an NHS report on the mental health of children and young people in the UK found that one in eight children in England are living with a mental health disorder? This is particularly saddening as our childhood years should be some of the most carefree of our lives. So what might be causing this decline in mental health? As a teacher in a preparatory school it has become clear to me that there could be a number of factors such as: increased screen time in terms of playing games, lack of sleep, the pressure of exams particularly in year 6, social life issues or even just day to day stresses. It is vital then that those in a position to improve the wellbeing of a child such as schools, teachers like myself or their parents makes it a priority not just because a child with a good sense of wellbeing grows into a confident adult with healthy behaviours but because every child deserves to be happy. Here are some tips on how to promote positive wellbeing in children.

A great way for a child to re-balance and regain inner calm after a stressful day is through exercises such as yoga. Tina Verma, Head of Languages at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, became interested in incorporating yoga practice into schools after working in New Delhi. Teachers in India told her that yoga is a philosophy rooted deep in Hinduism and that with regular practice, one is led to heightened spirituality. For children, this means that they gain an awareness of their bodies and minds. Yoga gets their breath moving and blood flowing to help them build strength and stability. Simple breathing techniques that can be incorporated into yoga sessions include ‘tiger breath’ which is taking in a huge breath, filling the lungs and then exhaling loudly, realising everything like a tiger. With yoga’s approach to breathing and moving, children learn strong coping skills to combat the pressures they face. After yoga lessons pupils will comment saying “I feel happy, more relaxed and lighter!’ says Tina. Although it may seem as though yoga classes are only for adults, there are many classes in London for children as well. It can also be practiced at home with the use of instructional DVDs or online tutorials.

Another way to reduce anxiety in children is through subjects which encourage self-expression such as art. As Leah Bancroft, Head of Art and DT at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, says ‘art helps emotional wellbeing, because in lessons, it is about slowing pace down, the opposite of academic subjects which expect a fast turn around and speedy thinking. Therefore in the class environment a calm and relaxed atmosphere is expected’. Art doesn’t just have to be practiced in school. With a few basic supplies such as paper, pencils and colouring pens children can easily do this at home. There are also colouring books which are specifically designed to help de-stress and focus the mind which are suitable for older children. There has even been a surge of popularity in these amongst adults in recent years with many buying them to ensure they have a few minutes of mindfulness in a busy working day.

Music also provides children with an escape from the stresses of day to day life. Anyone who has tried to play an instrument or to sing will know that it requires our whole attention. As athletes often speak about being ‘in the zone’ when training or competing, it is the same for musicians. Mark Batten, Head of Music at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School says: ‘in my experience, the level of concentration involved in interpreting the notes on the page, alongside the control of the instrument leaves little space for any other thoughts. This complete level of focus takes our thoughts away from any distractions that may be on our minds. When the music making is finished, I find myself able to return to my other thoughts with a renewed sense of perspective. I’ve often felt this is similar to the benefits of meditation’. Music lessons are often on the school curriculum and so are easily accessible for children. Children can also be privately tutored at home.

Another great way to ensure children are healthy mentally and physically is through exercise. As Head of PE and Games at Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School I get to see the positive benefits exercise has on children daily. When you exercise a hormone called serotonin is released which is known as the feel good hormone. This combined with the obvious physical benefits such as a lower heart rate, breathing rate and more efficient systems results in a happy and positive mind set and a heightened sense of wellbeing. Ultimately it helps children cope better with negative aspects of life such as stress and lack of sleep as their body is in a better condition to handle the problems.

Access to outdoor space is also widely regarded as having a positive effect on mental health. At Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School we’re very fortunate to have a private 2 acre garden which pupils will be able to enjoy during break and lunchtime. We’re also right on the doorstep of Hyde Park and Imperial College Sports facilities which is of great benefit to my PE classes in particular as I can ensure that children spend a lot of time exercising and participating in a wide variety of sports.

Prince’s Gardens Preparatory School, a new independent school in Kensington for boys and girls aged 3-11 is opening in September 2020. https://www.princesgardensprep.co.uk/