Author Mollie Watkins CAL Practitioner

This year’s theme for Place2be’s Children’s Mental Health week growing together is encouraging children (and adults) to consider how they have grown emotionally and how they can help others to grow.

We grow physically from the time we are born and continue to grow as adults, this growth is visible and is easy to see, however, we are also growing emotionally. Emotional growth is harder to see and it is not always visible to those around us but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, in fact it happens gradually all the time.

The same applies to dogs; as puppies they are completely dependent on their mothers, they physically grow much quicker than humans but they too are growing emotionally, learning to be more independent as well as being taught valuable skills such as socialisation, walking on the lead or learning a new trick. Dogs will need help and support to learn and they too can find things challenging, but with perseverance they will have learnt a skill for life.

In order to grow emotionally we need to be prepared for challenges and setbacks along the way as they can help us to grow, we can learn from these and make adaptations to allow the continuous growth. These challenges help us to learn how much others can help us and we hopefully become more confident in reaching out for help.

Over the last 3 months, School Assistance Dog Indie has been working with a young person to help their confidence around dogs. The young person would often walk away from dogs in the park and get scared when they barked, slowly over time Indie has helped to show them that not all dogs are scary. This work began in an open space to allow them to feel safe whilst getting to know Indie. They now engage with Indie, benefiting from therapeutic touch during emotional regulation sessions in school, as well as enjoying supported walks in the local park. They have even told their friends all about Indie and will bring them to say hello to her.

This emotional growth took time and the young person learnt they needed to ask for help and be open to receiving support in order to achieve this goal. There were some step backs along the way when another dog was barking loudly in the park which frightened them, but they came to the next session and persevered. This reminded them that not all dogs are loud and scary and we spoke about how barking can be a way for dogs to communicate to other dogs, just like we communicate to each other. This was an important part of the growth and now they are much happier to be in a park with dogs they don’t know and even found the confidence to walk a friend’s dog with their family.

This shows that emotional growth can come at any time, that there may be times you will be out of your comfort zone, but challenging yourself and asking others for support allows more possibility and potential.

Can you think of a time when you grew to be able to do something you couldn’t do before, or supported somebody else’s emotional growth?