Your pupils can help rid their community of loneliness

Sue Mason

Sue Mason is a cognitive behavioural therapist who has developed an education programme based around techniques that are associated with this style of therapy (CBT). Sue passionately believes that in bringing these coping strategies into schools to be presented to children of approximately ages 7 – 13, and delivered in an age appropriate fashion, is undoubtedly the first steps to achieving a lifelong happy and healthy mental wellbeing.

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Image credit: Pixabay // sweetlouise. Image credit: Pixabay // sweetlouise.

Is the answer to community reinvention sitting at a school desk? In the year that the UK has appointed the first ‘minister for loneliness’, it seems that perhaps we - as members of a community - need to take some responsibility for anyone struggling within our own locality. Let’s use retirement as an example: it is often seen as a time of happiness, ‘me time’, starting new hobbies, however many issues can hamper the enjoyment - poor health, lack of money, bereavement, distant families, inadequate support and, subsequently, loneliness.

A recent study tells us that more than nine million adults in the UK are either always or often lonely - this is an issue of epidemic proportions. “When working with children, it’s all about looking forward in a positive fashion.”Scientists endlessly study to learn more about the damage that chronic loneliness does to our bodies, and it is said that it can be as bad for you as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increase the likelihood of early death by 26%. These statistics are extremely disturbing. So, how can our communities can help? As a cognitive behavioural therapist working with Primary school children, the obvious answer to this is our children and young people.

We are increasingly educating our children to be kind, to be resilient, to be mindful, to be positive, to be respectful. However, when do we see this put into practice? Maybe joining the various factions of our community together can solve a multitude of problems.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help you to manage problems by changing the way you think and behave - but most importantly, it’s very much based around positive psychology. When working with children, it’s all about looking forward with them in a positive fashion, rather than delving into their past. Therefore, undertaking CBT with children is a very uplifting, constructive and motivating experience. If we keep feeding our positivity, we can witness some gargantuan changes in a person’s wellbeing. Children, as their ability to retain information improves, will find it easier to make decisions and to rationalise. They can become generally more tolerant and pleasant people, their ability to recall information is enhanced, and consequently, their ability to learn is much improved. A positive mind really is quite a special attribute to possess.

Let’s be honest. We could all undoubtedly do with a dose of positive thinking at times. Whatever walk of life you may tread, whatever age or gender you are, whatever profession you have, we all need positive thinking at times, and this is what CBT can offer you.

Therefore, by bringing CBT into Primary schools, we are forming the positive thinkers of the future, but they need to practise, practise, practise! So let’s unite schools and education with our community. Let’s get our children (safely) ‘out there’, spreading the word, helping in many invaluable ways with the people and areas that need it most.

So, where do we start?

It’s fairly simple, let’s not over complicate this. It could be as easy as an informal meeting between a headteacher and the local church officials. Whether it be a churchwarden, pastor, vicar or priest, they will have a knowledge of their parishioners, perhaps churchgoers who are suffering with loneliness. If they were to share this information with their local school, the headteacher could consequently get his or her pupils involved. This taps into our positivity brilliantly. It enables the pupils whom are learning all those invaluable life skills to put them into practice - what better way to do this than to help the people, in their community, who are wrestling with this level of isolation?

The effectiveness of building up the relationship between a local church and school, between a lonely person and a group of children and young people, is huge and can work on so many levels.

Firstly, let’s take a look at how this can positively impact our children and young people:

  • Engaging children and young people with community.
  • Enabling children and young people to learn to effectively communicate with adults.
  • Enabling children and young people to utilise empathy and compassion.
  • Improving the social skills of children and young people.
  • Building confidence in children and young people.
  • Broadening their knowledge by hearing of experiences of an older person.

Secondly, let’s see how this may impact the lonely or isolated person:

  • Engaging the person in regular conversation.
  • Giving the person a sense of worth.
  • Giving the person something to look forward to on a regular basis.
  • Stimulating the person’s mind through activity and conversation.
  • Allowing the person to ‘feel young’ again - to reminisce.
  • Giving the person a sense of happiness and a huge dose of positivity.

In actual fact, both lists are endless - the benefits are quite monumental.

This is just the tip of the community-iceberg. Bringing various factions of the community together can consequently have knock-on effects in other areas, too. By enabling children and young people to have the realisation that there is an invaluable need for them within the community, we can increase their levels of self-worth. They may be more inclined to become involved in other areas of community reinvention.

For instance, for many there is a stigma of: “All teenagers do is drop litter and look at their phones.” If we, as the responsible adults“Make them aware that they play a huge part in their locality.” in our community, give young people involvement, responsibility and ‘a voice’, they may well be more inclined to respect the area and the people who live there. Again, we could get school leaders (Primary and Secondary) to attend church or village hall committee meetings (very Vicar of Dibley!), to bridge the gap between the different factions involved. People from various community organisations could talk to the children and young people in school. However, it is important not to preach to them; invite them into the community, make them aware that they play a huge part in the future of their locality.

What is stopping us? Surely, this is a fairly simple process to kick into action, and I don’t believe there are actually any negatives to this idea. I, for one, am going to investigate how I can become involved in my community in encouraging children to help neighbours and parents. However, I think I will begin this with my own two teenagers... “Kids could you just pop to the shop and get some milk?” (and I think we all know the answer to that) We can make it happen, for our future, for our children’s future, and so on… and on… and on.

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