Why we need to tell our children it’s all right not to feel okay

Are We There Yet? The First Fortnight mental health arts festival has lots for kids to do

Paul Timoney aka Stressed Out Steve entertains children as part of his First Fortnight storytelling workshops.

Big news in our house. I’ve started doing the washing up. I took it up over Christmas and was surprised to learn that my allergy to housework does not extend to the sink or dishwasher. The other people who live in my house thought it would be a flash in the greasy frying pan, but several weeks later I am still here, at the sink, with a smile on my face.

It turns out doing the dishes and keeping a tidy kitchen is good for me. I’ve become invested in my new role even though I’ll never be as proficient at it as the previous incumbent. I even shelled out for something called a drying mat which fits snugly under the draining board.

After only a few days as a born-again scrubber I realised something: “It’s good for my mental health to do the dishes,” I announced to my daughters who have recently perfected raising their eyes to heaven but they don’t call it that in 2018. “It’s an eye-roll, Mum,” scolded one of them. “We’ll see how long this dishes thing lasts,” said the other. The faith they have in me is precious.

My children know their mother has commandeered the dishes because for some strange reason it helps her head

I never heard the words mental health when I was a child even though my father suffered with schizophrenia and was in and out of treatment. Things are thankfully different now. My children are well aware that their Daddy needed to go back to his twice weekly yoga sessions after Christmas because it’s “good for his mental health” and they know their mother has commandeered the dishes because for some strange reason it helps her head too.


The First Fortnight festival, which explores all aspects of mental health through the arts, is taking place all over the country at the moment and grim back-to-school January is a great time to start these conversations with your children. Many of us struggle in different ways, to varying degrees – including some kids – and there's no shame in that.

I’ve found it helpful to be open with my daughters about those struggles, whether it’s my occasional need to be alone or those times when I feel overwhelmed and get even more shouty than usual. In turn, they know that being frustrated or upset is normal and that some time alone concentrating on their breathing can help. And of course there are any number of apps for that too.

And then there is music. This week when we were all a bit irritable about getting back into the dreaded morning routine, I put on the Heathers song It's Alright Not To Feel Ok. We blared it in the car on the way to school and everything suddenly felt a bit better. Because those young Heathers women are right, it is all right not to feel okay. Enjoy the weekend whatever you end up doing.

First Fortnight Festival

There are loads of events aimed at children over the next couple of weeks as part of this brilliant festival which aims to reduce the stigma around mental health issues. I like the sound of MindReading, an initiative by Jigsaw, Reading Well and Children's Books Ireland. Libraries across the country are joining with First Fortnight to shine a spotlight on mental health-related books duringJanuary. Ask for the reading list in your local library or find it on firstfortnight.ie. RhymeRag is another project where young Kilkenny writers have had their poems illustrated and you can see them on rhymerag.net. And another highlight for children during the festival are the storytelling workshops hosted by Paul Timoney (pictured).
Where: Varous venues nationwide
When: Until January 28th
Cost: Free
Contact: firstfortnight.ie

Art workshop, National Gallery of Ireland

I always seem to miss these art workshops that are regularly at the gallery on Merrion Square so I am putting this in as a reminder for myself as much as for you. This one is a free collage-making workshop for families, led by Eimear Murphy on the theme of Tearing Through Nature with Turner. But even if you don't make the workshop, the gallery is a brilliant place to be with kids – the vast spaces to run around in, the many visual diversions, the very cool gift shop and of course that lovely, light-filled cafe.
Where: National Gallery of Ireland, Merrion Square, Dublin
When: Sunday, January 14th, 11.30am-1.30pm
Cost: Free
Contact: 01-6615133

GAA Jersey January

If you know small people who'd be delighted with a tour of Croke Park you need to hear about this. All through January, if you wear your GAA jersey on the Croke Park Stadium tour you get your ticket half price. Adults and children can avail of the offer just by wearing their county colours or even their Kellogg's Cul Camp jerseys. The tour brings you on a behind-the-scenes journey of the famous venue including the VIP area, the players' dressing rooms and the chance to walk in the footsteps of legends as you go pitchside through the players' tunnel. The offer is only available to those who buy their tickets at the GAA Museum on the day of the tour and not to pre-purchased online tickets. And if you are going as a family, make sure all of you are wearing jerseys to avail of the 50 per cent reduction.
Where: Croke Park, Dublin
When: All through January
Cost: Adults: reduced to €7; seniors/students: reduced to €5.50; children: reduced to €4.50 (aged 3-12 years, under-3s go free); Family (2 adults & 2 children): reduced to €19; Family (2 adults & 3 children): reduced to €20
Contact: crokepark.ie/tours

Beauty & the Beast

The pantos are still going on, (oh yes they are) and this one is a real corker. Be their guest and see the sumptuous Beauty and the Beast story brought to life with fun for all the family.
When: Saturday, January 13th, 2pm
Where: The Everyman Theatre, Cork
Cost: Tickets €26/€28
Contact: info@everymancork.com