With so much talk of ‘mental health, ‘me time’ and ‘self-care’ online, us big kids are finally learning how to navigate our minds a little better.
But what about our little kids? Without mandatory lessons in school, children will likely struggle to understand their emotions if they are not taught.
Yet one book series has come to rescue, flying in like a superhero to save the day. And it’s even had the Royal stamp of approval from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Written by Esther Marshall, herself a mum-of-one, the book not only addresses thoughts and feelings, but also diversity and inclusion to help parents teach their children positive messages, tackle tricky conversations, and, most importantly, make life’s lessons fun to learn.
We caught up with Esther to find out more about the book – aimed at ages 2-8 – which follows Sophie and her friends Jordyn, Jamie and Bunny, on their journey through Jamie’s feelings.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Esther also opened up about her own experiences with mental health and the difficult circumstances that led to her putting pen to paper.
Esther explained: “At the beginning of this year, I tragically lost my younger sister when she ended her battle with mental illness. There was only a 17-month difference between us, so naturally we were very close.
“While not sleeping in the weeks which followed, I used the time to write through my grief, to use it as a healing process and feel connected to my sister. Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay was written as my way of healing, with the book poignantly dedicated to my sister.
“I so desperately want the next generation to understand the importance of looking after their mental health and speaking about their feelings. The book teaches children the importance of caring for their mental health, and of others, in a creative and authentic way; as well as encouraging open discussions about wellbeing between parents and children.”
Esther continued: “The Sophie Says series aims to help children bypass harmful stereotypes before they set in, by changing the face of children’s literature.
“Our mission is to enable all kids grow up feeling equipped and empowered to face their futures. To learn more about themselves, others, and the world around them and to inspire them to achieve whatever they want regardless of gender, race, religion, or background. Our stories are for everyone and we do this by trying to represent everyone.”
Esther also credits her two-year-old son as inspiration behind her ideas, as the second he was born she was determined to teach him that girls are just as strong and powerful as boys, and that people from different backgrounds to him could teach him things.
Yet all the books she could find had either mostly male characters (even the animals), little to no diversity or representation, and no female role models he could look up to. So, Esther decided, if she couldn’t find the book she wanted to read him, she’d better write her own.
She continued: “My son teaches me every day. He teaches me the importance of constantly talking about our feelings and understanding how we feel. He has taught me that as a mum I should show him my feelings as well rather than pretend that everything is okay in front of him and that it helps him understand his feelings if I say mummy is sad, or mummy is happy.
“We have a yellow armchair that every once in a while, he says to me, ‘Mummy, let’s go to the yellow chair and talk.’ He has found his safe place to feel comfortable to talk and that has taught me to find my safe place to talk as well. It’s amazing how much they teach you.”
Speaking about how she would like to see mental health education evolve for our future generations, Esther believes that the younger we start the better chance kids will have.
She said: “If you read any behavioural science studies all the literature shows that children can understand where they fit into society by the time, they are 18 months to three-years-old.
“Therefore, I want to see a change in that children are taught, in a positive and proactive way, about these topics from as young as 18 months.
“If we don’t do this, we will continue to have to do what we do now, which is reacting to what kids have already learned through stereotypes and having to undo what they have learned. It is so much harder than teaching them positively from a young age.”
Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay is the follow-up to Esther’s debut, Sophie Says I Can, I Will, which was championed by The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and supported by The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, due to its uplifting message of diversity and inclusion.
Not only is Esther an author changing the game in the early years children’s book market, she is also the founder of sTandTall, an organisation that provides support to people suffering from abuse and bullying via an online platform and education programmes.
Asked what advice she might give to anyone struggling now, Esther said she would urge individuals to not compare themselves to anyone, especially on social media.
She concluded: “It’s all so filtered and not an accurate portrayal of life and as the Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay book says – you are enough!”
There needs to be a copy of this book in every house and classroom in the country.
To grab yours, click here: Sophie Says It’s Okay Not To Be Okay