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Children’s Mental Health Week 2018: Belonging

Dame Benny Refson DBE

Dame Benny Refson DBE

Benita is the Founder and former Chief Executive of Place2Be. A qualified counsellor and school governor who has supported children throughout her career, she was awarded an OBE for her services to children and families in 2007 and a DBE for her services to education in 2016.

To celebrate Children’s Mental Health Week 2018, Place2Be President Dame Benny Refson DBE shares her thoughts on our theme ‘Being Ourselves’. 

“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” (Brene Brown)

This year’s Children’s Mental Health Week focuses on ‘Being Ourselves’. Why is that important? It starts to become clear when you learn that 8 in 10 of the children who receive one-to-one support from Place2Be are affected by low self-esteem.

It takes courage to really identify and acknowledge who we are, our roots, our personality, our history, and arrive at having an objective view of ourselves. With these in place we build up our confidence and find the inner strength to cope with life’s challenges.

It’s also deliberately ‘Ourselves’ not ‘Myself’. Social support and community is particularly important for wellbeing and can have a significant impact on health. By helping children learn to celebrate the unique strengths and qualities of the people around them, schools have a huge opportunity to build resilience and teach children vital coping skills for life.

In November last year, I joined a Place2Be event, kindly hosted by our supporters at Mishcon de Reya*, for around 80 children and young people aged 8 – 16 to share their views on important issues that have an impact on their wellbeing. Some of the young people explained just how difficult ‘Being Ourselves’ is today. 

It is hard enough to accept yourself as you are, let alone to point out good things about yourself Year 9 pupil

Another added:

I think it is very easy to look at yourself in the mirror and not look at all the like good things. You just pick out all the imperfections and just constantly play that over and over in your head until you think that you are such a bad person and you are like ugly or whatever... When you look at your friends you will probably look at all the good things about them, not the imperfections.”

Undoubtedly the social media is also having an impact – as it’s all too easy nowadays to compare ourselves negatively to others, especially online. A year 10 pupil commented:

Our generation we kind of base ourselves… on somebody else, somebody on Instagram, somebody on Snap. So it is easier to say ah you look pretty or something to somebody else, but when you see yourself in the mirror you are thinking oh… I look bad.”

But as well as acknowledging the challenges, I also heard some inspiring positive attitudes from young people at the event. A year 5 girl shared her own experience of becoming comfortable in her own skin:

I used to think that I wouldn’t fit in if I didn’t put my hair up in a ponytail… but now I know that I just need to be myself… I thought for one week I wear my hijab and one week I don’t. It’s my choice.

And a year 7 pupil gave us this challenge:

Be yourself, stand out, don't be scared to like different things.”

As adults, it’s important that we are positive role models for our children when it comes to ‘Being Ourselves’. So perhaps it’s time we all told that negative voice inside our heads – “you don’t belong.

View advice for parents and carers on building your child’s self-esteem.

*This event is the latest initiative in a long standing relationship between Mishcon de Reya and Place2Be – together we aim to ensure that children's voices and views on key issues are heard. In 2016, Mishcon de Reya and Place2Be produced 'Splitting Up: A Child's Guide to a Grown Up Problem' – a book written for adults by children on the topic of parental separation.