Wednesday Wisdom

November 03, 2021

Mood Medley

By Dr Kathy Weston

Mood Medley


Anyone else feel the need for a holiday after half-term, or is it just me? As we leave pumpkins and Halloween havoc behind, and winter sets in, that positive autumnal optimism may dampen somewhat.

Some contributory factors to melancholy at this time of year may include the fact that November is a month dedicated to remembrance, darker evenings, dreary weather, news items warning of climate catastrophe and a sense of nervous anticipation ahead of another busy school term.

Family finances can feel particularly stretched at this time of year too. Who hasn’t been concerned about the energy price hikes on the horizon? There is a lot going on, we lead hectic lives and challenges evolve and change in ways that aren’t easy to anticipate. In ‘tooling up’ for winter, we need more than a few logs by the fireside; a mindset shift is required that can equip the whole family to make the very most of the last stretch towards Christmas.

It’s at this time of year that I like to lay out the next few weeks in black and white. There are a mere 52 days, roughly 7 weeks, until Christmas day. Where are the stress points for the term ahead? How can you anticipate and address them? Where do you need to have brave conversations? Who can help you to work through your main worries constructively? Aside from proactive problem-solving, how can we inject joy into the wintery weeks ahead? What can we look forward to on a weekly basis as a family? What achievable goals can we work towards? What are your family mood-enhancers and how can we amplify access to them?


My youngest is uplifted by rock music, my eldest by being outside. I love being in the company of friends. We are all partial to a winter fire. Have you ever wondered why children are so mesmerised by fire?

My active teen will stop and spend long periods of time gazing into it, adding to it, fiddling with it, contemplating it, asking questions about it and engaging with it. It draws our gaze in with its unpredictability. We need to stay mindful around it; we can’t drop our concentration. The sounds that emanate from it can puzzle, soothe or alarm us. We congregate around fire in ways that can enhance connections between us.

With Bonfire Night imminent, I have been reading a beautifully niche book about children’s relationship to fire, by the criminologist, Joanna Foster. The mere title of the book was thought-provoking for me. I had never previously contemplated my own ‘relationship with fire’ and started reflecting on how important the hearth fire and associated smells were throughout my own childhood. Fire functions multi-variously: comforting us, warming us, entertaining us, frightening us or intimidating us. Children need to be taught fire safety in an equivalent manner to road safety.

For some children and teens, the relationship with fire can be rather more complex. Joanna’s book focuses on why people (specifically juveniles) might set ‘unsanctioned’ fires, without permission or the supervision of a responsible adult. In her book she addresses fire-setting as a form of communication in children and conveys this through fascinating case studies that highlight the various factors that can contribute to this behaviour.

For those of us approaching Bonfire Night, Joanna’s age-appropriate fire safety messages might come in handy. For children under the age of 7, the message should be a broad brush ‘stay away from fires’. Between the ages of 8-11, ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ fires could be a useful conversation to have as a family. Over the age of 12, Joanna suggests children learn ‘fire science’ and engage in healthy debate about the logic and reasoning behind fire rules. She maintains that ‘shock and scare’ tactics remain ineffectual; the important thing is that we bring children and teens along with us.


As families, maybe we can all think a bit more about fire in the run up to November events.

Why not familiarise yourself with the laws around firework purchase, use and misuse. Talk to your children more broadly about fire and fire safety. If you are still in half-term, perhaps contemplate a virtual visit to the London Fire Brigade Museum (currently closed for redevelopment, but online exhibits are open) or watch some interactive lessons on the Great Fire of London. Fire children’s imaginations with a visit to the National Emergency Services Museum in South Yorkshire or get them to experience working within a Fire and Rescue Unit at Kidzania.

Schools could invite a fire safety officer to pay a visit or ask families to complete this home fire safety checker. We could also all use the time gazing at November bonfires to talk about the science behind them.

Lastly, but by no means least, you can join me in conversation with Joanna tomorrow night to learn more about children and fire.

Are you a Tooled Up member?

If the subject of fire fascinates you as much as it does me, don’t forget to sign up to tomorrow’s webinar with Joanna Foster. Her book is packed full of interesting facts, advice and case studies, and it’s sure to be a thought-provoking chat. Why not also encourage some family discussions about the science of fire with our brand new fire quiz?

There are only a few places left on our series of Mental Health Education Week webinars, which we are holding exclusively for Tooled Up members. Book today, so that you don’t miss out. Starting on November 15th, you have the opportunity to find out more about anger management strategies with Dr Anna Colton, self-harm with Professor Ellen Townsend, the importance of sleep for mental health with Joanna Kippax of Wye Sleep, OCD and anxiety with psychiatrist, Dr Anna Conway Morris and the role of clinical psychologists in supporting young people’s mental health with Dr Tamsyn Noble.

Tickets are on a first come, first served basis, so don’t delay.