Supporting Children’s Mental Health
Reflecting on Place2Be’s Children’s Mental Health Week (3rd to 9th February 2020), we would like to take some time to explore the vital issue of child wellbeing and mental health.
Resilience and Bravery
The theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week was Find your Brave. This is how Place2Be explain this on their website:
“Life often throws challenges our way. Bravery isn’t about coping alone or holding things in. It’s about finding positive ways to deal with things that might be difficult, overcoming physical and mental challenges and looking after yourself.”
This is so important. Children need to find their own coping mechanisms and build up resilience, but the adults close to them can obviously help them too. Parents play an important role in supporting their wellbeing, but so do educators.
At JK Educate, we constantly deal with children as they face the somewhat scary, stressful situations presented by school entrance tests and external exams. Even quite young children often have an awareness that how they do in exams will impact their futures and we need to handle that carefully. Our tutors are all trained to deal with their students with kindness and reassurance, whilst keeping a watchful eye on how they are coping.
Sometimes a book can provide children with some useful tools to build their resilience, when they don’t know how to – or are reluctant to – talk about what they might need. Books can also provide the starting point for conversations between parents and children that might otherwise be tricky to begin. The School Reading List have gathered together a very useful collection of books about resilience and confidence. Specific book titles we have found to be popular include Matthew Syed’s motivational book You Are Awesome and The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy.
“Mental Health Epidemic”?
Today’s children are faced with myriad pressures and distractions. They feel the expectation for them to succeed in exams at all levels, whilst being bombarded with messages about the climate crisis and gloomy economic forecasts in the news, that suggest their generation’s overall prospects aren’t bright. They also often feel enormous pressure to be constantly available and visible online, and alarming numbers of children are being diagnosed with mental health disorders.
According to NHS data, as quoted by the Young Minds website, 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder; that’s roughly 3 children in every classroom. Even taking into account the possibility asserted by BBC’s Reality Check team that these numbers may be amplified by proportionately more children seeking help than before, this is an alarming number. It is also a huge challenge to educators and parents alike.
Even a quick think about the factors affecting our children’s wellbeing might yield a long list of negative influences. Here are just three of the key areas of concern:
- Online Life
The ubiquity of online technology is often cited as a threat to mental health and the number of children constantly connected continues to grow. A recent Childwise report, based on interviews with over 2,000 children in the UK aged 5 to 16, shows the pivotal place of the mobile phone in young lives. It reveals that an increasing number of children feel lonely and that a quarter of 9-16-year-olds would like more time away from their mobiles.
The BBC have reported on these findings, noting that over half of children keep their mobile phones beside their beds overnight, 42% never switch off their phones, and 44% feel “uncomfortable if they are ever without a phone signal”. This is a worrying statistic, with its implications of dependency and extreme fear of missing out. It’s perhaps not surprising to anyone who’s heard “What’s the WiFi code?” being the first thing children say as they arrive at friends’ houses and coffee shops around the country. It’s not easy to encourage children to unplug occasionally, but it could be an important step towards reclaiming some family time and improving their sense of wellbeing.
- Unsuitable Content
The OFCOM Children’s Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019 has involved conducting around 3,500 interviews with children and parents nationwide. The findings included that children are now more likely to see hateful content online, with half of 12-15-year-olds who go online having seen hateful content in the last year, and 45% seeing content which might encourage them to harm themselves.
OFCOM have highlighted parents’ rising concern about children seeing unsuitable content online at a young age. This can be difficult to deal with emotionally and can lead to mental health difficulties in the years that follow such exposure. And this is without even mentioning the sometimes-overwhelming daily pressures of social media: to ensure any photos they look perfect, to gather Likes and to always have a witty comment to add.
What can parents and teachers do? The OFCOM digital protection guide for parents is a useful resource for parents trying to protect their children from any negative effects of being online. Global initiatives such as the Safer Internet Day on 11 February also provide information and support to both parents and educators. Other valuable information about staying safe online can be found on the Thinkuknow and NSPCC websites.
- Academic Pressure
In addition to the pressures of modern life and technology, there are of course well-documented effects of mental health problems arising from the pressures of modern schooling and exams. The NSPCC have reported a surge in the numbers of children contacting them because of exam pressure they feel is coming from their school, their parents and even from their own high expectations. Recent reports have included high stress levels felt by primary school children facing SATs, but numbers peak with GCSE and A Levels. The NSPCC figures show that Childline gave 2,795 counselling sessions about exam stress in 2018/19, most commonly with students who were preparing for GCSEs.
Some children are seeking help, but many don’t know how to ask for it, or might not realise that feeling depressed or anxious about their work isn’t how everyone feels. It is therefore sometimes up to parents to identify that their child is already suffering or is at risk of being overwhelmed by academic life. This is where parents can help, by asking their children how they feel and listening carefully to their responses. Parents can also direct children to resources such as Childline’s advice for exam stress and pressure or perhaps seek some professional support for their studies and the pressures arising from them.
Parents don’t always have the expertise, the time or the patience to help children who are struggling or to understand why they don’t seem to be working effectively or working “enough”. JK Educate’s education consultancy services have been designed to support families in many scenarios including this one. What we offer is constantly evolving to meet clients’ needs in this and many other areas.
Our mission statement underpins everything we do: Your child. Our priority.
We always put the child first. Everyone has individual needs and therefore everyone needs an individually created programme of support to suit them. This is not just about academic content but also the broader support needed by young students and their families, from general advice to specialist referrals when required. Our in-house experts offer mentoring, help with study and revision skills, work planning and revision timetables. We also often arrange short-term tutoring in the one element of one subject that is causing a lot of unnecessary worry.
Our support can be ad hoc rather than weekly, can be for a short period, an intense block of sessions, a one-off or take the form of some ongoing support. It’s important that the help you receive fits your family and your child’s emerging requirements at any time.
We aren’t mental health experts, but we sometimes see children and families struggling and always try to offer our support and signpost to experts who can help. We know of course that there is no magic formula to prevent mental health disorders, but parents and educators can still do our best to enhance children’s general emotional wellbeing where we can. We know that by thinking ahead in anticipation of upcoming pressure points, it is possible to offer timely, tailored support. This individual support can often lower anxiety levels and boost self-esteem in the face of exam and deadline pressures.
The February half term is a good time to take stock and decide if any extra help and support is needed, from tutoring and study skills tips through to considering some talking therapy if the need is there. An early intervention, however small, can often prevent a lot of stress and unhappiness further down the line. We care about our families and want to provide the best possible support to them. Remember that we are always available to chat with our clients and offer our support with free advice and recommendations.