Oct. 18th 2018

How Tangled Feet are tackling anxiety in children

A report from the Children’s Commissioner at the end of last year found that there is an ‘epidemic of anxiety’ in young people. The number of children seeing psychiatrists has risen by a third, with the highest increase – 31% in a year – seen in those aged 9 and under. It’s a shocking rise. (Thanks to Flossie Waite from Children’s Theatre Reviews for digging out the statistic).


It was this sort of news that prompted us to make Butterflies, a Co-Production with Half Moon, that used anxiety in children as a starting point for a show for 3-8 year olds. We first started making the show in 2017 and did some test performances at Half Moon. This year we have developed the show and it’s touring until Nov 24th.  Alongside the tour we have launched a Mindfulness programme to run in four schools in 2019.

The performance of Butterflies depicts a journey of three characters as they encounter various anxieties.  We developed ideas for the types of anxiety they would feel through research, development rehearsals and some workshop sessions with a group of young people who refuse to go to school due to extreme anxiety (part of our Dramatherapy programme in Croydon). We focused on anxieties that are often deep rooted in our hearts and minds (separation anxiety, the dark, loud noises, heights) alongside ones that are learnt or developed as we socialise and grow up (anxiety over failure, public perceptions of us, not knowing what might happen next).


For children all of these anxieties are keenly felt. Anyone attempting to get a young baby to sleep in their own room or be ok at the morning drop off knows how strong the anxiety over separation is felt (by both parties). We all have these and are often born with inbuilt triggers to make us worry in order to survive.  Even the very young have ‘butterflies’ We recently did a workshop for under 5’s who were seeing Butterflies the following week to discuss the feeling of ‘butterflies in your stomach’ or the fear over not knowing what will happen next and these are feelings that are strongly experienced at that age.


As we grow up and start to socialise and go to school the anxieties grow and become more complex. The worry over changing year groups or a whole new school, getting things wrong in class or in life and the perception of you by your peers and elders. There is an anxiety to trip you up everywhere.


In Butterflies and our Mindfulness programme we highlight that a small dose of anxiety is vital to help us get through the day unscathed (not run into a road, jump off a wall, to be ready for an exam) – it’s when the anxiety starts to take control – when it slips into the driving seat of our lives- that’s when its debilitating and can make you ill.  With the show and workshop programme we want to look at how we can live with or ride with small levels of anxiety and when there is a surge then friendships, creativity, talking and practical exercises can help.


Our school years require so many skills, in particular how we adapt, how we cope with change. Imagine in your adult working life having to change your boss, your work setting and your aims and targets every 12 months. Now apply this to when you were 5. Transition is difficult and for some children it can feel impossible. Through our discussions with teachers across all key stages and our own experiences in schools it had become clear that there are two particular years were the transition for students was a bigger jump. Year 1; where students move from the free flow play model of reception to more structured learning, and at the other end of the spectrum year 12; where the move from GCSE to A Level requires a more independent learning model.  Teachers have reported that at these transition points symptoms of anxiety were more prevalent and mental health, particularly at year 12, started to suffer in some students. A report released today from Action for Children finds that 1 in 3 teenagers are suffering from anxiety. This is something that absolutely needs addressing nationally and it seems that this is becoming more apparent to Ofsted.


“Good mental health is the foundation to young people achieving their aspirations. There have been changes to the Ofsted common inspection framework, and these are centered on emotional wellbeing.”  Innovating Minds. To be outstanding schools must enable students to be able to “make informed choices about healthy eating, fitness and their emotional and mental wellbeing”


Tangled Feet’s mindfulness project is being funded by the Luton Arts Fund supported by Luton Borough Council & Luton Culture. It is aiming to create a safe space where students can explore their feelings physically and verbally, work with them, talk about them and also learn specialist tools that they can utilise when they feel that panic building.  We are working with a mindfulness teacher to create a programme of bespoke sessions for each of the 4 schools involved in the pilot project. The objective is to give students the ability to take more control of their emotional wellbeing, achievement and happiness in school and beyond. 


When Butterflies opened at Half Moon theatre earlier this year it was reviewed by Flossie Waite at Children’s Theatre Reviews. She was extremely candid in her review and noted that her anxiety had been felt since childhood, continued today and the experience of watching Butterflies when younger could have been transformative:


“There’s so much to be anxious about as a young person now, from social media to the general instability that we’re all currently living through, but levels of anxiety seem to be rising alongside levels of awareness. As someone who has had anxiety for as long as I can remember – certainly from the age of the young audience sat around me, captivated by the show – seeing Butterflies 20 years ago would have been a truly transformative experience, though watching it now is powerful enough. Ultimately, however, this show is for everyone – from those who only occasionally feel a flutter in their tummy to people like me whose belly is basically a butterfly tent – speaking compassionately to those who suffer, and showing ways to be supportive for those who don’t.” (Flossie Waite https://childrenstheatrereviews.com/2018/09/23/butterflies/)


Although it was sad to read about Flossie’s battle with anxiety it affirmed the shows importance to start conversations in school, in friendship groups and in families. Our mindfulness programme will follow up that conversation with creative activities, discussions and mindfulness exercises.


If some of those children who are statistics of the Children’s Commissioner report or Action for Children Survey find themselves within the Mindfulness Programme in 2019 we hope we leave them with tools to help them in the future. We aim to expand the programme after the pilot year.


Nathan Curry (Co-Director) & Emily Eversden (Participation Director)


Butterflies tours until Nov 24th /productions/31-butterflies


The Mindfulness Programme runs in four Luton schools from Jan-May 2019 and was funded by Luton Council, Luton Culture, Arts Council England, University of Bedfordshire and Capital Regional 7




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  • The most accessible and original theatre company working in the UK today”

    The most accessible and original theatre company working in the UK today”

    The Stage
  • Tangled Feet offer a glimpse of magic”

    Tangled Feet offer a glimpse of magic”

    Lyn Gardner, The Guardian
  • For Tangled Feet, theatre is a contact sport”

    For Tangled Feet, theatre is a contact sport”

    The Stage
  • Tangled Feet, the masters of physical theatre”

    Tangled Feet, the masters of physical theatre”

    The Independent
  • They are defining the future of theatre”

    They are defining the future of theatre”

    The Edinburgh Guide
  • An astounding spectacle..a uniformly excellent ensemble…stunning”

    An astounding spectacle..a uniformly excellent ensemble…stunning”

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