As part of my series where I talk to inspirational business women, I am delighted to share an interview with Michelle founder of Happy Tokens which many parents find help their children set and achieve goals whilst maintaining great mental health.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Michelle Westgarth-Graham 45, married to Mark Westgarth-Graham and mum of five smiley faced rascals! There is quite an age range (7 – 20) so they all keep me on my toes and life interesting.
I am a champion of Child Mental Health and I do a lot of voluntary work in the local community around child mental health. I run two Parent Support Group for parents of children with Mental Health issues and I am part of the Parent Participation Group at our local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. I also have my own business called Happy Tokens which deals with child behaviour and development in a positive and nurturing way.
What led to you setting up your business?
I am a natural solution seeker and love a challenge which being a mum of a larger family certainly brings. But it was finding out my son had additional needs that led to the development of Happy Tokens.
Realising my son was different led me to Google, which led to research, which led to study and I pretty much fell down a rabbit hole of knowledge seeking. I felt the more prepared I was the better I could parent. I learned so much on that journey (and continue to do so) and armed myself with knowledge, facts, statistics, theories, case-studies. I discovered how important child mental health is and noted how little attention is paid to it.
Ultimately, I wove together all the strands of information I had collected from Neurodevelopment to Mental Health Disorders and designed a resource that I could build an ethos around that would help me be the parent I wanted to be. Thus, Happy Tokens were born.
Tell us about your business products
Happy Tokens are a unique way to aid and support parenting. A set comes with a personalised clear acrylic tube with a design finish of choice and the child’s name in your colour of choice. It also includes two sets of ten tokens (disk shaped faces much like a coin), one set has a happy face cut out and the other has sad faces both in a colour to be picked by the child. Each set is to be a colour picked by the child. Finally, each pack has a special gold token with a happy face on it too.
Very simply the family set some goals for the child to attempt (not too many or too difficult to begin with) and each time an effort is made, or the goal is achieved a Happy Token is awarded. This does not exclude showering our children with Happy Tokens for all the other wonderful things they do or try.
So, you will be left with a stack of coloured tokens in a tube – highly visual which works extremely well for SEND. And the awarding of a token and allowing the child to place it in the tube adds on some basic level, to the sense of achievement and receiving recognition.
Some parents use the tokens to coax children to try new things, settle into a new routine, build confidence or self-belief or indeed reinforce great behaviour that is already established.
Control lies with the parent as to how often tokens are counted and how to qualify for an end reward but for the reward themselves, I always encourage parents liaise with children for ideas for the best results.
The sad tokens are a controversial inclusion into the packs and it is this that makes the system even more unique. Frequently parents mistake the sad tokens for use as a punishment which is absolutely not the intention nor recommendation at all. Given this system was designed by me for my children it includes my beliefs and parenting goals, one of which is to teach my children resilience, consequences and challenges. The Sad Tokens is my attempt at that (where used correctly).
If you meet with a challenge that prevents you from reaching your goal or makes it a struggle, let’s not ignore that, lets acknowledge and discuss that, lets learn from it! So, a Sad Token is ‘awarded’ at those times and the issue can be discussed, strategies are formed, solutions found and a Happy Token follows this problem solving approach.
By using contrasting colours, children can clearly see obstacles they have overcome, they can be encouraged to keep up with their great progress and it can reveal patterns in mood that can be useful too.
The Gold Tokens are for the days you or your child may struggle (and we all do). Find something, anything and just watch their face light up. Whether they have gone above and beyond or simply kept on going or given something new a try -the Gold Token is as versatile as the rest of the system.
Since beginning my business I have added to this basic pack by including a range of Kindness Tokens, Teamwork Tokens and Positivity Tokens as well as a range of Healthy Choice Food Tokens and even Tech Tokens.
In the SEND department I have developed PECS, a visual timetable, Emotion Tokens and so much more!
Happy Tokens now provides to parents worldwide and school house systems nationally.
What tip would you give to someone who wants to set up a business but lacks self-belief?
My advice is if you think it’s a good idea there are bound to be others that do too but do your homework, research and network. If you don’t go and fulfil your dreams someone else will, no one can do it for you but you may find yourself working to fulfil someone else’s dream.
Who supported you as you set up your business?
Setting up I did receive a loan for a rather costly piece of equipment and my rather wonderful husband help me set up a building to house it in. But honestly the ongoing interest and support I get from friends and family is the best kind of support you can find. I find women and mums in business exceptionally supportive of each other in general and find answers in groups that I belong to on social media. There are lots of groups and each has a slightly different vibe and suits different businesses and people but find some that fits and you can make friends for life.
What do you do in your free time?
What free time? The only free time I have is when I sleep 😉