Child mental health: 5 ways schools can support parents

Child mental health: 5 ways schools can support parents

This second lockdown seems to have impacted students’ wellbeing considerably more than the first (schools are not counting the one in November). It is hard to say exactly why, but there are a number of potential factors:

Whatever it is, the mood is a little darker this time, but we find ourselves again trying to support students without face-to-face contact.

Again we're unable to pick up on the smaller signs that can build up to being a bigger mental health concern.Parents and friends, therefore, play an important role.

So where do schools fit into this? As leaders, we need to protect staff wellbeing. We cannot expect them to take on the responsibility of supporting entire families, but it is hard when parents ask for help.

And we really do want them to communicate with us, especially as we can address the possible pressure or have links to professionals who can help provide the answers that we cannot. This is the key message, though. That we are only teachers and not the experts.

So what can we do? We can be proactive, sharing good, healthy habits, through newsletters and communications, or setting PSHE work that can be accessed by the whole family.

Here are five points that can help provide additional support.

Schools should consider, when they are setting work for the child, that parents could also be participating and learning. Does the work encourage the child with their own wellbeing but also enable the family to support each other?

One example I have seen in a primary school is a 30-minute session called “Helping hands”, where the child has to help someone else and send in a photo every now and again.

Examples include helping mum with the gardening, making scones for the isolating next-door neighbour, making cards for the local elderly care home and litter picking on walks.

Consider sharing healthy habits through newsletters and communications. Things like sleeping routines, eating together, walking; but also tips on giving the child space.

It’s a difficult balance, but the child cannot be smothered, as this would be just as unhealthy as being left alone. Ensuring that a child has someone they can talk to when they want is key. This adult could be someone in the wider family, an uncle or aunt.

Suggesting some websites for parents and children to discuss together can help. There is some great information for the child, the parents and even friends on websites like Young Minds and Mind. 

In identifying mental health concerns in their children, some parents will feel like failures and will struggle to deal with this. They may feel judged or concerned that their child will get a label. 

Encouraging the parent to get support themselves is often something we forget as teachers, because we are focused on the child.

Some parents will see the school or the teacher as their own support system and can spend time offloading and communicating. Although we will listen and want to help, we need to look after the wellbeing of our staff.

If things get very serious then schools need to know when to suggest that professionals get involved.

School leaders need to be aware of the thresholds and when to make referrals to doctors, child and adolescent mental health services or social services. There are a wealth of other services as well, and it can be overwhelming. The experience and knowledge of the safeguarding lead and pastoral staff will be key here.

Ceri Stokes is assistant head (DSL) at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire. She tweets @CeriStokes