In the UK press recently, there has been a big campaign and much publicised details about the mental health crisis concerning children between the ages of five and 18.
Every year, the UK holds an annual mental health awareness week, aimed at encouraging schools to address the matter, as part of a daily dialogue inclusive within a school’s daily life, and for parents to encourage their children to talk to them.
As an experienced educationalist, I have often heard parents saying, “well, we didn’t have these issues in my day”, or “I don’t know how to ask my child”, and even “children these days have so much, why are they unhappy, when they have everything provided?”
However, it is not that simple. The whole world is a very, very different place. Certainly, from when I was growing up, and from when today’s parents were children. Everything now is available at the touch of a button.
Children are exposed to constant pressure through all the numerous media streams. As such, there exists an information overload, and there is certainly a lot more pressure for children to succeed and excel in all areas of their lives.
Family dynamics have radically changed in their composition. Children now are totally caught up in the data age, a time of rapid technological change that, whether we want it or not, now impacts our lives and the lives of our children every hour of every day.
As parents and educators, we must think carefully about the age that we live in now. This research shows us that the pressures of the modern world can result in unprecedented high levels of mental anxiety in our children’s lives. We must use the results of ongoing research to support our children with their mental health.
There are a number of ways that we can do this:
- Listen: let your child know that, no matter what, you are there to listen. This should be a regular dialogue, not isolated, so that it becomes natural and comfortable to talk with your child about any area of their life. It is very important that children know that there is someone always there to listen to them.
- Be involved: if you show that you are interested in your child’s life, it helps them to feel valued and allows you to see when something is not right.
- Value what they say: if a child feels that what they say is taken seriously, they will feel valued and secure.
- Offer support: if your child is having a difficult time, be there to always help and support them.
- Encourage … your child to pursue their interests and creativity.
- Establish routines: establish regular routines that enable your child to feel safe and secure in their daily lives.
- Look out … for key warning signs that might indicate that your child is experiencing mental health difficulties: changes in behaviour, difficulty in sleeping, not wanting to socialise or not wanting to follow their normal routine.
As parents, we normally know our children best. If you are worried and concerned about your child’s mental health, it is important to seek support from a professional. You can work together to help your child before a situation potentially escalates to be serious.
We must, as adults, also lead by example and check our own mental well-being and recognise and acknowledge when we are feeling low and how that might impact on our children, and take positive steps to ensure good mental health practices for our whole family.
Every day, in a hundred small ways, our children ask: Do you see me? Do I matter? Their behaviour often reflects our response!
By Penelope Best,
International Education Consultant