We at Public Health Scotland (PHS) were interested in exploring children and young people’s mental health from a public health perspective. It led us on a path to the concept of relationships and to a point where we want to share the power of good quality relationships at every opportunity. Thankfully, here at PHS we have many wonderful partners who also agree that it is all about relationships!

How it all started

We started with a question: “what do we need to do to improve children and young people’s mental health?” We put this question to our experts by experience, children and young people themselves, and we also asked those who work with them what they thought. We heard insights, expert opinions and fantastic suggestions. These were almost always followed with “but… really… it’s the simple things that make a big difference”. What were these simple things people kept talking about? They often said them with a hint of uncertainty. Were these things too simple? We wanted to hear more. Examples of simple things included: smiles, hugs, compliments, having fun. Children and young people confirmed that simple things were indeed very important. They told us they love it when the adults are nice: when they welcome them, when they use their name and give compliments. It turns out simple things are actually examples of incredible relational practice. People were minimising these ‘simple things’ and not seeing them as a core part of their practice. They didn’t realise the incredible work they were doing and the lives they were enhancing through these simple actions.

image saying always be a little kinder than necessary

We need a film

At the same time, our partners at Barnardo’s Scotland and Education Scotland were having similar conversations. We got together and agreed that we needed to share a message – It’s all about relationships. Writing about it wouldn’t do, we needed to show people what it looked like, allow them to feel it and connect with it. We agreed to unashamedly make a film about ‘simple things’ and give relationships a platform. We wanted to let people know that simple things build relationships and relationships improve mental health, respect Children’s Rights, support recovery from adversity and much more. Good quality relationships are a basis to understanding and tackling inequalities; they have the power to change lives and save lives.

So, with our partners and some incredible schools we made the It's all about relationships film (external website). In it, we look at good practice in education settings and hear from education staff and pupils about why good quality relationships are so important. The film has captured the hearts of many and continues to shape conversations, practice and action.

An update from the experts

As we’ve now reached the second anniversary of the initial lockdown, and our children and young people have experienced another school year during the pandemic, we’re reflective on what they have been through and how relationships have never been more important. In The Year of Childhood (external website) last year we got together with our partners and Children’s Parliament and found ourselves wondering, ‘If children and young people could give us their top tips to building good quality relationships what would they look like?’ And so we developed 10 Top Ten Tips to relationships, an infographic from a child and young person’s perspective. The tips include things like: “always give me a warm welcome” and “let me know when I am doing things well.” Children and young people remind us to never underestimate a “hello, it is lovely to see you”, a high five, a sticker or a simple “well done”. It turns out children and young people are the ultimate experts, they remind us that we don’t need to use big words or complicate things too much, they remind us that simple things are so important.

Graphic reading: Relationships are at the heart of creating environments which support good mental health and wellbeing for our children and young people

Next steps

We’re on an exciting journey with our partners in sharing the power of good quality relationships and the appetite for these discussions is huge. The message is simple – if you prioritise children’s rights and you work to build good quality relationships then you are part of the public health workforce. We are planning to make another film where children and young people will be centre stage and we are very excited!

Read our Ten Top Tips in supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Last updated: 21 September 2022