Teaching kids to say NO!

Having explored teaching safewords with young people I think it is clear we also need to practice our NO!’s. Lesley Kerr Edwards of Image in Action recently showed us the Speak out stay safe  resources from NSPCC at a SEF meeting. She had a great activity with threatening to spray kids with water from a spray bottle and they had to communicate No to her (nobody got wet!) where the NO! was broken down into three parts:

  • verbal– loud strong clear confident NO!
  • facial– a stern/frowning unsmiling face
  • body– A hand firmly put up as a barrier signalling STOP!

I think even with teens it is worth breaking down the communication of NO! into parts so we can unpick where ambiguity and potential issues around consent can arise.

Other techniques to practice saying No include “broken record technique” or exploring passive/aggressive/assertive No communication.

What other techniques do you use for teaching No?

Teaching safewords in SRE teaching about consent?

So the brilliant Alan McKee was talking about teaching safewords (video from about 6.03) when teaching about consent.

Safewords are a word used in sexual activity (generally in BDSM) that if used the sexual activity should stop immediately.  At this point the partners should move to different form of relationship interaction, a caring, nurturing role where the following questions should be asked:

  • What happened?
  • Are you okay?
  • What do you want to do now?

Young people often find it hard to talk about and communicate about sex and consent, so I think that teaching the option of using safewords to cause a STOP followed by a shift into caring communication about what happened could be really useful.

Given the potential daily mail sensitivities around “teaching safewords” in sex education then this could simply be taught around using the word NO. If this word is used at any point then your partner needs to check in using the questions above.

What do you think? Would you teach safewords in your classroom?

A new approach to SRE. Let’s DO… it!

Start of a new term and time for me to share with you a project I have been working on since April 2015  with the fabulous BISHUK and loads of other amazing bods from NAHT, NAT, Brook Charity, FPA, RSE Hub

We have worked together with the lovely folk at Durex and Hive Health  come up with DO… which is a new approach to sex ed. New because it doesn’t just focus on pregnancy, plumbing and prevention, but actually starts where young people are at and takes them on a journey through who they are, their identity, relationships, society, gender roles, consent, sexuality and so much more!

BONUS: All the resources are absolutely 100% FREE!!!!

There are loads of resources for schools looking at adopting the whole school approach (Clue: for sex ed to have an impact it HAS to be a whole school approach). Plus an incredibly useful Self evaluation tool for signposting the most crucial info personalised to your schools needs.

DO… also offers an ace teachers CPD section for skilling you up before you start.  Then there are 6 ace easy to use lesson plans and associated materials.  If that wasn’t enough soon we will also be offering training!

So anyhow, it is a project I am incredibly proud of and absolutely love working on so I wanted to share with you all.

Hope you like it and find it useful!



My Wellbeing Toolkit- A free resource for those working with young people.

So recently I learned how to use Google Drawings and at the same time this post from the awesome friend @PookyH  inspired me to think about wellbeing action plans. So this afternoon I started to have a  play with google drawings (partly because I was having a play for my own Wellbeing Action Plan- you need to practice what you preach after all!) and I came up with something that if printed on A3 might be useful for those working with young people.


My Wellbeing Toolkit (1)


It is adapted from the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and I also added some explanatory info to help young people with filling it in. It is probably aimed at secondary aged pupils due to some of the language but when I get a mo, I will look at doing a primary version.

Notes on Completing My Wellbeing Toolkit (2)

Anyhow I hope you find this helpful and I provide the PDF for printing on A3 here MyWellbeingToolkit: and the explanatory notes here:Notes on Completing My Wellbeing Toolkit

Any feedback, I would love to hear it. I am still learning with Google drawings and I am no designer but I am finding it a really easy to use and fun tool (and Google docs in general is awesome for collaborative work!).

Happy Educating!



Emotion Coaching for Parents/Teachers and well everyone really!

So I have been working on a Mental Health project with Young People in Somerset for the last eighteen months. A sister project to my project is Emotion Coaching which works with parents and professionals working with young people to support them to deal with their emotions, (coaching them through their emotions- hence the name!).

I have finally had time and space to go through the course materials and try and get to grips with the process a little more. I think it is something I will need to practice (watch out daughters of mine!) but to help me get my head round it I drew a ‘pretty’ (yay for Google Drawings- so easy to use!) diagram of the Emotion Coaching Process which I wanted to share:

Emotion Coaching Process (1)


Hope this helps people who might be interested in Emotion Coaching and go check out http://www.emotioncoaching.co.uk/ for loads more information.

Happy Coaching.

Tips for supporting mental health during unsettling times.

I felt it might be helpful to quickly blog some tips for use in the classroom with young people who might be worried about what leaving the EU means for them, as well as for ourselves for looking after our own mental health during these somewhat unsettling times for our country.

Tip #1 Connect with the people you love.  Feeling connected, loving and being loved help us feel happy. Hug your family, invite a mate over for a cuppa (and a rant if needed), phone a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Perhaps its even time to extend your circle and make some new friends? Just connect! This is particularly important if some of the people you love voted differently to how you did. As Jo Cox said we have #moreincommon than that which divides us so its time for all of us to reinforce our connections.

Tip #2 Get the self care basics right– food, exercise and sleep can all affect how we feel about things. If overhauling all of these seems too much right now, how about just getting an early night tonight? If you stayed up all night watching the referendum you will probably need to catch up on some sleep!

Tip #3 Connect with nature. Step outside and listen to the birds sing, watch a squirrel dart up a tree, smell the grass just after the rain, feel the sun on your skin. Our green and pleasant land is still just that despite whatever is going on politically. Make sure you take the time to get out there and enjoy it.

Tip #4 Take breaks from the internet and the news. Nothing is going to happen immediately, and unfortunately the ensuing consequences of this decision are going to go on for years and years. We are early days into this and sadly clicking refresh won’t help your anxiety levels and unfortunately won’t change anything for the moment.  This is the one I find the hardest to follow myself but I hope by writing it down I might try harder to stick to it!

Tip #5 Aim for positive but boundaried activism – There are so many feelings around a result like this. Think of things you might want to get involved in locally or politically that will help you feel more engaged in your community and beyond as feeling like you are doing something to make a positive difference can really help you feel better about things. However, that comes with the caveat that you have to put your own mental health first, and if something becomes too much or too draining for you on a personal level it is fine and important for you to be selfish and take a step back.

Tip #6 Develop your own toolkit of mental health support strategies that work for you. For me, writing is therapeutic (insert obligatory plug for book here), hence me writing this blogpost right now, but I also know that I find things like mosaic making, colouring in, card making and knitting very therapeutic activities (and need to find time to do more of them!). Jot a list of the best therapeutic activities that work for you. One young person I work with has a self care box in which she keeps a pen, note paper, some emergency chocolate, her favorite blanket, her favourite smells and a letter from her nan that makes her smile.What would be in a self care box for you?


What other tips would you include to help us all look after ourselves and each other during these unsettling times?

I have also written this list into a young people friendly version for use in the classroom available here:

Tips for supporting mental health during unsettling times


For info: for the last year I have been working with groups of young people across Somerset developing tips (or as the Yoof decided to call them- LifeHacks) around supporting their own mental health and their friends mental health. They get launched in July so I will be able to share them then (can’t wait as they are BRILLIANT if I say so myself!) but in meantime I hope the list above might help. 


Teaching empathy for Refugees- a lesson plan

PSHE and Citizenship teachers may currently struggling how to address the current refugee crisis in lessons. I, like so many others have been deeply affected by the situation at the moment and the devastating loss of life at sea, and I am desperate to help in any way I know how. So I wanted to share this lesson plan as I think it is one of the most incredible exercises for building empathy with refugees there is.    I used to work in a school where so many students (interestingly who were mostly 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants themselves) were constantly complaining about “bloody immigrants” and I found this lesson really helped them “get it” and develop their empathy and understanding skills as a result. But bewarned it is a TOUGH lesson to deliver and recieve. It is crucial you explain to students beforehand (and possibly parents/wider school community if required) that this lesson maybe upsetting and seek their consent to participate, and don’t force any student to paticipate if they don’t want too. You need to know your class very well before you deliver it and be mindful of any students in your class who may have had experiences such as the lesson situation creates or who have been bereaved.  If you see students getting upset do go an support them individually and make sure you do proper debriefs and icebreakers at the end of the session to break the mood. If possible it is very useful to have one or two other adults present to escort any student who needs to leave the room and make sure you have tissues at the ready. Have to admit I once made 17 students in a single lesson cry by doing this lesson (there was an element of group hysteria too!) but all of them were properly supported and debriefed and many still mentioned the lesson years later as a lesson they would never forget.

REMEMBER This exercise is extremely powerful and has potential to be very upsetting. 

 Aim: To explore how it might feel to be a refugee.

Ask the class to work alone and individually, all they need is paper and a pen.
Tell the class:

“When you get home from school today there is a note on the kitchen table saying you must leave in half an hour.

You do not know where you are going, but you know it may be a long journey.

You do not know whether you will return or how long you will be away.

You can only take a small rucksack.

You need to decide on 10 items to take with you. They can be either personal or useful, your choice, but no pets.”


Play gentle music playing (ideally a slow sad instrumental tune as can help create a serious sombre mood- Ludovico Einaudi is great for this) and allow students 5 mins to write down 10 items

  1. Continue scenario.

“Also on the kitchen table are 4 tickets. Decide and write down which other 3 people will come with you.

Music playing – 3 mins for writing down who is coming

  1. Continue scenario.

“You are now told that you need to share the rucksack. It is not possible to take all 10 items. You can only take 3 items. You need to cross off 7 items from your list.”


Music playing – 3 mins for crossing off items. Students often really struggle with this bit “but I need my ipad and my passport!? What about food!?”


  1. Drama Activity – Teacher in role (playing the role of a refugee possibly called Meena)

Props : shawl or covering to change appearance whilst in role and chair (and teacher preparation as to the backstory to the role and situation for refugees and asylum seekers.

After a short introduction to the character, the children are allowed to ask questions to find out more about Meena.

Remind students of the need to be sensitive. Not call out, but wait for Meena to acknowledge before asking question.

(not possible to be teacher while in role so important to remind students in advance of your ground rules, the students will respond really well to this activity if you prepare well and take your role seriously, you can get some really fabulous genuine questions. )

Brief introduction about herself by MEENA, a refugee.

Possibly backstory- Previously a nurse in her home country, She is currently living in a refugee camp in Calais with her 2 young children. Her husband was shot and she had to flee for her life. She has other relatives and friends still in her home country, but apart from her children she is alone here. She has been at the camp for a couple of months. She relies on charities for food and clothing. She is hoping to come to England where she has a cousin.

10 mins question and answer time- The students will often ask really fantastic questions, sometimes they can try and ask insensitive or “testing” questions but a response of “I find that question too sad or difficult to answer” usually brings them back to taking the role play seriously again.

When the questions have dried up the teacher needs to exit the room for a moment to remove the “prop” and re-enter the room as the class teacher.

Continue scenario.

“There is bad news. It is not true that there are 4 tickets. There are only 3. You need to leave someone behind, you need to choose who cannot come and write them a letter saying goodbye, explaining why they cannot come and expressing how you feel etc.”

Continue to play the music allowing 5 to 10 mins to write letter in silence.  At this point it is important to be vigilant for students getting upset as some will. Understandably they will, a supportive quiet word about how this isn’t a real activity for them (although is reflecting a real situation going on in the world) and permitting them to stop if they feel they need too is important.

Sharing activity.

Stop music. Explain next activity as follows:

Students close eyes (music very quietly)

Teacher to tap one child on shoulder.

Child reads out their letter (or not if they prefer). May need to encourage, but important not to force.

Sometimes two reading concurrently.

Again some students may get upset at hearing some of the letters being read out, so it is important at the end of the activity to completely change the mood of the session before going into a debrief.  Putting on some silly music and striking poses or playing simon says can help break the mood. Very important to bring the session back to the present, the here and now where the students are safe and those situations are not real.

Allow time for a plenary session to discuss issues around asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants and the current refugee crisis and how the lesson has affected them. Also try to make sure you allow 5 mins to relax and talk amongst themselves before moving on to next session to help breakdown the heightened emotions of the session before their next class.

Additional ideas:

Explore this website which shows the contents of refugees bags and shares some of their story.

Introduce some newspaper items and headlines about people coming to the UK to see how you feel and what you think in the light of the drama experience.

Useful to research some facts re: numbers, legal system e.g benefits and right to work, health provision, time taken to process applications, routes into UK, and so on. (either beforehand for teacher to be informed or as homework activity for class).


N.B. This lesson is adapted from one delivered by Liz Peadon who worked for Traveller Education Support Service in Cambridgeshire in 2005. I am no longer in touch with her and not sure of the exact origins of the lesson but it remains one of my most powerful lessons to teach to this day and I think one worth sharing.

Explaining Party Politics to a five year old using sweets.

To explain her politics to her kids, a friend of mine used the analogy- “Tories are like the big kids with all the sweets and they won’t share any with the little kids.”

I thought this pretty much summed it up, and to take it some steps further, since the Tories are now in:

If you slip on a sweet wrapper and break your ankle there may not be a healthcare system to help you unless you have enough pocket money to pay for your treatment.  If your broken ankle also means you can no longer do chores or your paper round there won’t be a welfare system to support you, you will be on your own, this may mean relying on foodbanks or worse. Food parcels don’t tend to have sweets for kids.

Labour really do want to share the sweets out fairly, but don’t always seem brilliant at counting and sometimes they don’t get shared out well enough so some of the little kids miss out.  Sometimes they seem to want more controls on the lovely sweets from abroad which is a real shame (seriously this could make Haribo including Maom’s under threat and no kid wants that!)

Lib Dems will cosy up to whoever has the most sweets and sacrifice many of their values and principles for the sugar rush and being with the big kids. Most people now don’t like the Lib Dems because of this kind of behaviour.

UKIP will only eat bullseyes, humbugs and lemon sherbets and other traditionally british sweets. They are against all foreign sweets (probably especially Haribo because they are German) and they probably aren’t very good at sharing.

Obviously Greens don’t actually eat sweets, they eat organic raisins but are more than happy to share them.

Amongst the smaller parties- the Scottish National party obviously they mostly prefer Highland Toffee and so long as all the Scottish kids want to eat the Highland toffee, then all will be shared, erm, with the Scottish Kids, not sure about the other kids, probably depends if they like you or not.

Plaid Cyrmu, these kids are actually partial to a bit of Welsh cake (Yum!), but sadly most non-Welsh kids wouldn’t recognise a Welsh cake if it hit them in the face, so the little kids are less keen on sharing with them as they don’t offer the same yummy sweets as the big kids. Likewise DUP- mostly they only ever have (Irish Whiskey) fudge, alright in small doses but way to sickly if you have too much.

British National Party basically was just a single horrible kid who ate all the sweets and  came to a sticky end much like Augustus Gloop.

FUKP- This kid doesn’t eat sweets but when you are old enough he will serve you a lager or fruit based drink for the lady.

Have I missed any out?

So there you go. Politics explained easily so a 5 year old can understand! Obviously this is a parents biased comedy effort and not a serious suggestion for a primary citizenship lesson!

So how do you explain party politics to five year olds?

Children as young as four can learn about serious mental illness including schizophrenia and psychosis.


A new book launched last month aims to explain serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia to children as young as four.  The story Pretend Friends, written by Alice Hoyle, illustrated by Lauren Reis,  and published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, uses the analogy of imaginary friends to explore the differences between childhood imaginary companions, and adults who hear voices or have other hallucinations or delusions as a result of mental illness. The author is donating all royalties to the charity Rethink Mental Illness.

One reader, Joe Hayman CEO of the PSHE association, stated “One of the most important books I’ve read in some time” and described the story as a ” must-read – brilliantly-presented, touching, poignant, insightful and very important”. Another reader with lived experience of schizophrenia, Katy Gray said ” I love the idea of introducing young children to the concept of severe mental illnesses, to help them learn not to be afraid of adults living with one. Hopefully if children can learn about mental health at a young age, they will grow up into understanding adults, less likely to have stigmatising beliefs about mental illness.”

Some parents might be concerned that children don’t need to learn about serious mental illness, in case it upsets or scares them, but as the author points out “One in hundred people will experience schizophrenia or psychosis, therefore there are children in families who will have friends or relatives living with such conditions, who are desperately searching for a tool to help them facillitate the conversation with their children. In a world where mental health stigma is one of the biggest barriers to seeking help and recovery, then it is important to educate the younger generation about mental illness and mental health stigma so that they grow up into supportive accepting adults.”

She went on to state “The story has been very carefully written to be a gentle non-scary introduction to serious mental illness. The main character Little Bea finds out about how we can support adults living with mental illnesses in their recovery, but it is also made clear that she is not expected to try and make things better. This was very important so that a child reading would not feel worried or upset or that they needed to take on caring responsibilities if they found out someone close to their family was hearing voices. That job is for adults not children.”

Nigel Campbell, Associate Director of Communications for Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We’re delighted to have linked up with Alice for the launch of Pretend Friends, and we’re very grateful for her generosity in donating the royalties to Rethink Mental Illness.

“Mental illness affects every family in some way, but it can be difficult for parents to know how to talk about it with their children. There is still a great deal of stigma and misunderstanding around conditions like schizophrenia and psychosis, which makes them even harder to discuss.

“The book is a really imaginative and fun resource, which will help children understand what life is like for people who are experiencing symptoms like hearing voices, or seeing things that aren’t there. As they get older, hopefully it will help children become more aware and accepting of others who are affected by mental illness.”

The story is available now from JKPFoyle’s or Amazon or in all other good bookshops with all royalties going towards Rethink Mental Illness.  Let us know what you think about using story books to talk about mental illness with children in the comments below.

Language and mental health stigma #antibullyingweek

Do you ever challenge people for using language that propagates mental health stigma? Or do you often use it yourself without thinking about it, because no-one has ever challenged you?

I’m talking about words like “crazy, nuts, pyscho, nutjob, bonkers, schizo” etc etc. I have to hold my hand up and say I have been guilty of using such terms in the past and probably still do use some of the words on occasion when I don’t catch myself, because some of these words are so common and we don’t really relate them to any effect on mental health stigma, but as this study suggest such language creates negative attitudes towards mental illness and then may reduce liklihood of people seeking help if they need it.

So this week for Anti-Bullying week I am asking you to think about the language you use and if you are a teacher in a classroom, do think about challenging your students to think about the language they use and the effects it can have. Whether the words are used perjoratively or not, I think it is worth being mindful of the potential effects of the words on bystanders.  That isn’t to say I want to see any of these words banned  (I secretly rather like the adjective “bonkers” when used affectionately!) but to encourage a critical and reflective approach to the power of language.

Just to highlight how tricky this can be some might argue this post is a classic example of:

“Political correctness gorn mad!”


But unpicking that statement is in itself a challenge of language. What do we mean by “gone mad”? Is that statement stigmatising to people with mental health issues? Is ‘political correctness’ such a bad thing?.

I don’t have the answers but what I am asking you to do is to be mindful of the langauge you use even if you think it doesn’t matter it probably does, and if you are a PSHE teacher to think seriously about increasing your lessons on mental health education to support young people to support themselves and each other.


P.S As an aside for those of you that don’t know- I have written a book for children explaining aspects of serious mental illness (psychosis). It’s called Pretend Friends and it’s out in February.  So expect many more posts on mental health in coming months. But don’t worry I am not moving away from my core work of relationships and sex education, after all healthy relationships helps healthy minds (and vice versa)!