The theme for the 2020 Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, from the Place2Be charity is ‘Find your Brave’. As parents of disabled children, we don't need to look far to find their bravery: we see it every day.
But what does 'finding your brave' actually mean? The campaign website suggests that being brave doesn't necessarily mean the same to everyone and that each act of bravery is different. For example, a child persevering at learning or tried to learn a new skill. It also suggests that not being brave is okay too. Parents sharing times when they were brave, no matter how big or small the achievement, helps children understand that adults have to be brave too.
I completely agree that all these are important and demonstrating bravery can take enormous courage and being courageous takes immense strength.
What does brave look like?
If your child or young person has additional needs, whether a learning need, a mental health issue, autism or another neurodevelopmental condition, demonstrating their bravery can take a very different approach. Our young people with additional needs face even more challenges than their peers EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every day they have to show their brave. Whether this be in the face of discrimination, bullying, hate crime, injustice, inequity or just plain adversity! This, sadly, is too often their normal daily life.
My youngest son, who is autistic, shows enormous courage and bravery every day as he tries independently to work out people’s intentions towards him. Are they friend or foe? This is a source of huge anxiety for him. He will constantly ask me what a person meant when they spoke to him. Does that mean they like him? How can he tell for next time?
This means he often become completely overwhelmed and won’t leave his room, his safe space. This is still huge progress as previously, he would make assumptions about people and situations and often misinterpret them, creating even more anxiety. He was in a constant state of worry and it was so difficult to help him. Thank goodness for the amazing school he goes to, as they have been excellent in helping him with this.
My eldest, who struggles with anxiety, fears ‘doing the wrong thing’. He worries he may misunderstand something, but feels he cannot ask. Regardless, he's getting up for work every day and smashing it, in spite of how, at times, he feels.
How are your children brave?
I asked SNJ's parent members on Facebook to tell me how their amazing children show their bravery. This is what they said:
"Bravery is keeping going with your studies after you've been illegally rejected by two colleges for the sin of being autistic and getting your A-levels via home education and going on to a degree."
"Bravery, for my daughter, is coping every single day with the fear of rejection and channelling it into looking out for others."
"Bravest of all, was her working out that a colleague was struggling with hearing loss and learning sign language. And, in case you haven't guessed, I am so proud of her!"
"Brave is getting up every day and going into school even though your heart is racing, you can't breathe and you feel sick."
"Brave is making the decision that to cope in school, my child won’t drink all day because they cannot cope with using the toilets."
"Brave is getting through the day hungry because you don't like to eat in front of other people."
"Brave is trying to complete your work when you don't understand what the teacher is asking, because they talk to fast and tell you too many things at once."
"Brave is hearing yourself called 'manipulative' because when it all gets too much you shut down and can't speak."
"Brave is making the decision to stop working and stay home to support your child who is no longer able to attend school because the system has failed them."
"Brave is hearing people say they are disappointed in you because you failed to meet their expectations."
"Bravery is continuing to ask for help in spite of everything!"
"Brave is continuing to try to go to school/college/work where all these things are happening."
"Brave is accepting that school is damaging and that you can't do it anymore."
Working out who is and isn’t trustworthy, managing inconsistency and sensory overload, dealing with impatience when there is a misunderstanding, being on the receiving end of bullying and hate, and deciphering people's intentions fast enough to reach appropriately. And all of this, every single day, while experiencing levels of anxiety that many people would find hard to comprehend. It takes enormous courage and bravery.
Sadly, children (and parents) shouldn’t have to be brave about these things; not when they're entitled to an environment that is understanding and demonstrates kindness and compassion. However, it's clear from these stories that we're a long way from this in some schools. Thankfully, as I know myself, in others there are professionals who do understand and are truly dedicated to supporting children and young people, often in difficult circumstances, lacking resources or back-up. If this is you, we are grateful for your bravery too.
What can you do to help your child be brave?
Here are a few simple ways from the Children's Mental Health Awareness Week website, that you can encourage your child to ‘Find their Brave’.
- Remind your child that bravery comes in many forms and everyone is different. What’s brave for them might not feel brave to someone else.
- Chat with your child about a time when you’ve had to 'Find your own Brave'. It might have been something big or small.
- Praise your child when they 'Find their Brave'. Maybe they’ve kept going at learning a new skill or tried something outside of their comfort zone that ultimately boosted their confidence.
- Point out examples of bravery in books and films to your child and talk about how trying out different ways of being brave will help them feel good.
- Reassure your child that not feeling brave is okay too and that there are times when it might be more difficult to be brave.
- Most important of all is to remember that bravery is often not the great voice that roars, but is the small voice or action that says ‘Tomorrow I will try again’
Find a way to celebrate your child's brave - and your own.
When every day is a struggle, whether that's emotional, financial or physical, it can be hard to isolate a particular 'brave' thing. This is true when it's your disabled child, their young carer siblings, or yourself. Our families find their brave every single day and that needs celebrating.
This week, mentally or noted down, celebrate a couple of instances when your children, you and your partner (if you have one) were brave. Remember, it doesn't have to be a big thing. Take a moment to congratulate them. Take a beat to congratulate yourself. You were brave. I was brave. I noticed. I appreciate you.
We, at SNJ, appreciate you because we know what you go through. We're there with you. A huge shout out to you and to all our children who live this and keep on keeping on. We salute you and thank you for your daily bravery.
- Children's Mental Health Week
- Young Minds
- Young People's Mental Health | The Children's Society
- Help! I’m a parent carer and I’m on my VERY last nerve!
- Staying sane in special needs parenting: Finding 15 minutes a day to be “just me”
- Autism and Anxiety: What helps?
- The emotional impact of parenting a disabled child
- How can children be traumatised just by going to school?
- Teens and mental health: being a supportive parent in a wild online world
- Stress and parenting: Don’t fall into the guilt trap
- How do people with autism experience empathy?
- Learning to cope with your child’s Pathological Demand Avoidance
- The importance of learning resilience
- A mother’s top tips for parenting your ADHD child