On the occasion of Children’s Mental Health Week, the Aga Khan Health Board (UK) explores the importance of supporting young people to pay attention to their emotional wellbeing, and shares some advice for children on being healthy, inside and out. We encourage you to read this article with the children in your life.

When we think about being healthy, we often think about food and exercise, maybe about sleep, but only sometimes about feelings and emotions. For Muslims, the human mind is one of the most important parts of the human body. The mind allows us to learn more about Allah’s creation, about each other, and about ourselves.

We often hear about what we need to do every day to look after our physical body. We know why we have to do this: because good food, regular exercise, keeping clean, and getting enough sleep builds strong, healthy, and energetic bodies. 

It is also important to make sure we look after our mind. We need to look after our feelings, to pay attention to see if we have thoughts that may make us uncomfortable — like if we feel sad, anxious, angry, or worried. All these feelings and emotions are natural and it is ok to feel them. If we feel uncomfortable or worried we need to ask for help by talking to someone. 

Did you know that some things we do to look after our bodies also can help our minds?  For example, children and young people who sleep for at least nine hours on a school night are less likely to have worries that get in the way of school work and more likely to cope well with worries overall. Younger children need even more sleep, around 10 to 11 hours per night. 

When we choose to be healthy inside and out, it helps us to feel good, do well in school, at sports and activities, and deal with things that happen which might make us uncomfortable. 

In a recent survey of 10- to 15-year-old children, 56% said they worry about something all the time.- That means nearly 6 out of 10 children are always worried!

Place2be is a children’s mental health charity that suggests some tips on how to be healthy inside and out: 

  • You could pick something that you already do to look after yourself and try to notice how it makes you feel.  For example, eating fruit, playing in the playground, or reading a story at bedtime. When you do it, how do you feel? Happy? Full of energy? Excited? Calm? What makes you feel like that? 
  • Ask yourself “how do I feel today?” and then tell someone! It could be your friend, an adult, or even a pet — but it’s great to talk about how you feel. 
  • Ask your family, friends, and teachers about what they do to look after themselves. Do they have any good ideas? Why do they do these things? How do they make sure they keep doing them? 
  • Help someone else — sometimes it feels really good to help others. Why not ask the person you are sitting next to how they feel today? If they are worried about something, see if you can talk about it? Or you could talk to an adult. 
  • Choose one new thing you can do to look after your body and your mind. It doesn’t have to be big or tricky. Can you find a friend to do it with you? For example you could play a game, do five jumping jacks in the playground, or do something relaxing to help you sleep better. Write in your diary or make a blog about how it makes you feel. If it doesn’t work, it’s okay to try something else. 

Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect body or mind and no one is perfectly healthy. We are often tempted to compare ourselves to others — especially on social media — but it’s important to remember that everyone’s bodies and minds are different and that is something to celebrate.  People might choose different things to help them feel healthy inside and outside, and that is okay. 

It is important to find out more about how we can create positive mental health in ourselves and others. We hope that Children’s Mental Health Week will be the start of a journey to focus on our health inside and out.