I am an acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist, and in my work emotional and physical health are very inter-related. I see the fast paced, technologically driven world of ours as both a gift and a challenge, especially for our children. I am also a mother of two and I started developing the beginnings of these kits when I was pregnant with my second child and 2 year old daughter started really lashing out. She was clearly nervous about the changes to come and I wanted to assist her to name and understand her feelings, have some tools for the tricky moments and recognise all the great things around her. Around the same time within my work I noticed I was seeing more and more adolescents with anxiety. One common theme was, they couldn't easily answer what brought them joy. They were smart, driven, they knew what to eat, how to exercise and how to work hard. They came from loving families, but somehow in the busyness of life, joy had got lost. In our fast paced life we don't always afford the time to ponder joy, practice optimism and develop resilience.
As a mother I desperately want these skills in my own children. I want them to have the same education about taking care of their emotional health as they do of their physical health for now and for the future. I know first-hand through my work that prevention is better than cure. I started thinking of ideas to give children and their families a way to prioritise their emotional wellbeing. The idea of a kit was appealing to me, because I love the notion that most homes have a first aid kit, why not have an emotional wellbeing kit too? I wanted to build something that was grounded in research, that would be accessible and fun. I walk a lot and on each walk I found myself imagining and creating what this kit would be. One morning, I was on one of these walks, dreaming up the concept, with a huge smile on my face. I looked up, running towards me was another human, with a huge smile on her face too. It was my dear friend Alice, and I realised I had found my partner in crime to help this dreaming become a reality. The rest is history and thus the laughter and hard work began.
I have a background in public health and worked as a primary school teacher for 7 years. I’ve been lucky enough to teach in a mixture of mainly low socioeconomic schools as well as in some private and alternative primary school settings. The thing about poor mental health though, is it doesn’t discriminate. We can be the most prepared teachers in the world, with dazzling lesson plans and state of the art resources, but if we aren’t explicitly teaching social and emotional skills in a holistic, sustainable way that connects with families, we are potentially letting our students down.
This lead me to return to study and I now specialise in teaching mindfulness, brain awareness and compassion in schools. What I teach is grounded in positive psychology research. I love what I do because when you ask parents what they want for their kids in the future, the vast majority answer: for them to be happy. When I teach kids about happiness, I adore sharing with them that people are happiest when they are performing acts of kindness. I also love sharing with them, that life is actually not about being 'happy' all the time. In fact, our greatest growth can come from times of challenge and sadness. I have taken such joy in informing parents also that we all need to shift the focus from chasing happiness to instead building resilience and learning the skills to flourish. Throughout my teaching I stumbled across stressed out, time-poor teachers that wanted an easy, whole school language to embed social and emotional learning on a daily basis. I could see the need for consistent, beautiful and playful resources for schools, teachers and homes.
I knew I had the concept of a story, animals that represent the brain. I would take my little bag full of toy animals and stories to various schools and teach the students about their mental health using these analogies. Fast forward to May 2017 and I was lucky enough to team up with the amazing Kristina Freeman. Those few schools have grown into over 120 in under 2 years time.