This week my blog post is a little different. I talked to Fiona Forman, a teacher and the initiator of ‘Weaving Well-Being’, a new mental health support programme for children between 8 and 12. She agreed to do a short interview with me about the benefits of this initiative for children and her experiences of mental health in children.
Hi Fiona! Thank you for agreeing to a short interview based on your experiences of children’s mental health in schools and your initiative ‘Weaving Well Being’.
- First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself – how did you get into the area of ‘well-being’ for children?
Hi Rena, delighted to have this chance to talk to you, thanks so much and well done on all of your great work which gives such a personal insight and really helps to open up the discussion of mental health.
I’ve always been interested in children’s well-being. I’m just entering my 30th year of teaching (which I find really hard to believe!) and I’ve seen a big change in children’s mental health over those years. The number of children dealing with anxiety issues, for example, has really increased. So, I’ve always been looking for ways to help children in this area as I believe that well-being forms the foundation for all other aspects of development and learning. Early intervention and taking a preventative approach are two ways that schools can play a huge role. Also, as the mother of two young adults, I’ve seen the challenges and pressures they face and feel passionate about equipping them with tools for life.
- What is your opinion on the state of the SPHE curriculum in Irish primary schools today? Do you think it does enough for children’s mental health development?
I think the SPHE curriculum provides a good framework for supporting children’s mental health, but the problem is that only thirty minutes a week is allocated for SPHE which is definitely way too little! Research shows that well-being in children is associated with many successful outcomes in academic, social and emotional areas so we really need to prioritise it a lot more. If we get that right, we can lay the foundation for children to flourish. I regularly use discretionary curriculum time and integration, but I think more time definitely needs to be ringfenced for SPHE.
- Can you tell us about your initiative ‘Weaving Well-Being’? Where did the idea come from?
I started a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology, which is the science of well-being, with the University of East London in 2014. It’s a 3 year, part-time course and I’m due to finish it this month. I’m just finalising my dissertation on enhancing children’s well-being in the classroom. It’s a relatively new branch of psychology which focuses on developing people’s strengths rather than rectifying their weaknesses.
The course was really fantastic and I’ve been learning so much about topics such as resilience, character strengths, positive emotions and flourishing. I started to bring some of the ideas into my classroom and I got such a positive response from the children, parents and other teachers. So, I started to develop a series of lesson plans and activities and also began collaborating with my co-author, Mick Rock. He has recently completed the same Masters and has conducted research in an Irish school using many of the ideas and interventions. We were delighted to get a publishing contract in 2015 with Conor Holmes from Outside the Box Learning Resources, a great company based in Kildare which specialises in social and emotional educational resources. We then piloted the programme in schools all over Ireland and got more positive feedback and suggestions from teachers and children.
We’ve had a really busy couple of years since then, and were thrilled to launch the full Weaving Well-Being programme from 2nd to 6th class, in Drumcondra Education Centre in April this year. We also have a number of summer teacher courses based on the programme and an online summer course in collaboration with the INTO. http://intolearning.ie/into-summer-programme-2017/
- Has ‘Weaving Well-Being’ been implemented in many primary schools in Ireland?
The programme is in over 200 hundred schools so far, so we are delighted! It’s really going from strength to strength. Our next step will hopefully be to bring it into schools on an international level, we have had some interest already so it’s very exciting!
- How would a teacher or a parent get involved in ‘Weaving Well-Being’ for their class/child?
Teachers or parents can have a look at all the information and order online on our publisher’s website, www.otb.ie/wwb. The children’s books are now available to buy in a number of bookshops, including Eason. I’m also available to give an overview of Positive Psychology and a guide to the programme to schools as part of their Croke Park hours if anyone would like more information (email@example.com)
- What are the main benefits of implementing a mental health programme such as ‘Weaving Well-Being’ in the classroom? What do the children gain from it?
I’ve been immersed in the research behind this question all year as part of my studies, so it’s great to have the chance to share it! There are many benefits to implementing an evidence-based mental health programme in the classroom. Studies show that positive outcomes include improved emotional and social skills, higher resilience, enhanced relationships and improved academic achievement too. I think a lot of teachers instinctively know that focusing on children’s well-being and mental health bring so many benefits, so it’s great to see the research backing this up. In fact, I recently read research showing that children’s emotional well-being is the greatest predictor of a successful and satisfying adult life, more so than their academic ability. We need to have a holistic focus in schools so that we are teaching the whole child and helping them develop into flourishing and caring adults. This is where well-being programmes can play an important role.
- I know that according to a new study, there are over 2000 children on the waiting list for mental health services in Ireland. Are there any other initiatives currently being developed for children’s mental health in Ireland that you know of?
It’s a shocking figure. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any other initiatives currently being developed. I recently attended a meeting of the government Task Force on Youth Mental Health where professionals from many different backgrounds gave insights and shared ideas as to how to tackle the problem. I spoke about the crucial role in prevention and promotion that schools can play. A report is now being prepared, so I really hope that that positive action will result from it.
- What do you think parents can do to help their children’s mental health?
Parents can do so much to help their children, it’s hard to know where to start! Of course, the loving, supportive relationship between parent and child is the starting point for healthy mental health. Parents are the first role models for the child, so another starting point would be to look after and prioritise your own well-being as a parent. In my training courses, I talk about replenishing our own reservoirs of well-being, through our social relationships, doing things which make us happy and give us meaning, and focusing on our strengths instead of our weakness.
I also think there is a lot of pressure on children and teenagers towards being perfect in so many areas of their lives, and of course social media fuels this. Parents can try to counteract this by reminding children that nobody’s perfect and that’s okay! It’s one of the main messages of our programme. Self-acceptance and self-compassion are two areas which parents can focus on; we need to remind our children that they are good enough just the way they are.
I also feel passionately about giving children a belief in their own abilities to cope with the inevitable challenges of life. Parents can empower their children from an early age by not overprotecting them from small disappointments and failures, but using them as opportunities to build resilience. We can’t shield them from life’s challenges but we can arm them with the tools they will need, and give them belief in their own inner strength!
Thank you so much for talking to us. I wish you the very best with ‘Weaving Well-Being’. 😊
Thanks so much Rena, it was great to have this opportunity!
As you can see, Fiona has included some links to her website on Weaving Well-Being and I would encourage everyone to go have a look at her amazing work.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoyed this post. If you have any questions feel free to tweet me at @HappyMentality or contact Fiona on her email firstname.lastname@example.org.