Mental health in children - review of 'The Huge Bag of Worries' by Virginia Ironside
A bit of a coincidence occurred today. On the same day that the world has lost one of it’s great actors and comedians, the great Robin Williams, to depression is the same day that a book arrived on my doorstep – ‘The Huge Bag of Worries’ by Virginia Ironside. I guess it wasn’t a coincidence – I ordered the book from Amazon a couple of days ago, but reading through it this evening rang a lot of similarities to what I have been reading in the press today. Williams’ death highlighted the need to address mental illness and what a toll it can take on peoples’ lives.
This doesn’t just apply to adults, but to children too. Think back to when you were a child – what things worried you? I hope for your sake it was things such as ‘I haven’t done my homework’, or ‘my friend called me a bad name’. For some of you, though, it may have been a lot more. ‘I wish Mum and Dad would stop arguing’, ‘am I going to get any dinner tonight?’ or a lot, lot worse. Children can have so much thrown into their little lives. As adults we do our best to protect them but can we ever really give them as care free a life as we would like to? Hopefully the little people in our lives won’t have a lot of worries as they grow up, but if they do we need to teach them how to deal with these.
That’s where this book comes in. ‘The Huge Bag of Worries’ is a book aimed at children aged 7 - 13 about a little girl, Jenny who starts off happy but begins to have a few worries. These worries grow and grow until she ends up carrying them around as a huge ‘bag of worries’. She tries throwing them away but they just keep coming back. In the end an old lady helps Jenny deal with the worries.
I first stumbled across this book when I did my teacher training in a special school. There we used it with a small group of children who weren’t having an easy time at home. Since then I’ve shared it with my whole class of mainstream children and bought it for a child I know who was having a really hard time. All of whom have been engrossed in the book and engaged in brilliant discussion afterwards, sometimes sharing some really important stuff.
But I also bought a copy this week for when my little girl grows up. She’s only 15 months and as far as I can tell doesn’t have any particular ‘need’ above those of a usual toddler, but I fully intend to share this book with her when she’s older. As much as I will try to be superMum I won’t be able to keep all worries from her as she develops in her life. It might not even be healthy to do so. But what I will try to do is to give her the skills to deal with her worries. This book teaches children to share their worries. It teaches them that just talking about them can make some of them easier, and it also teaches them that some worries are just not for the child to deal with – my favourite line describes how the old lady dealt with some of the worries: ‘some she sent packing because she said they belonged to other people’.
We can never fully protect our children from all concerns in life but if we can give them the skills to deal with them then hopefully we can make some small step towards them having a healthy mental state when they are older. In fact, reading this book today helped me a lot. Maybe adults should be reading it as well. Well done Virginia Ironside!
You can buy the book here: