Emotional wellbeing and good mental health is something we all strive for – not just in ourselves, but in our children too. Yet according to Parentkind’s latest annual survey, three in five parents worry about their child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health at school, and significant proportions report that their children have experienced stress relating to homework (42%) and exams (41%). More than a third say that their child has suffered from anxiety (38%) and bullying (33%).
The picture remains sketchy in terms of how parents feel their schools have dealt with mental health issues. For example, around one in five parents say their child suffers from depression; more than a quarter of this group, and a third of those who report their child as being bullied, say they aren’t satisfied with the way they’ve been helped by their school in addressing such issues.
According to these parents, schools are reportedly better able to help children with other serious mental health concerns such as self-harming, eating disorders and substance misuse – which the parents say affect around one in 10.
The pressures faced by our children and young people today are certainly of concern. Whether it be a school’s high expectations of its pupils (as highlighted by over half of the survey’s respondents) or pressure felt by children to constantly engage with social media as a result of something that’s happened at school (reported by nearly a quarter of parents), schools have a responsibility to work with parents on finding a solution. It’s simply not acceptable that any young people be left to fall through the net.
Parentkind believes that school leaders and business managers can play an instrumental role in driving change, and should adopt a proactive approach to listening to parents’ concerns and taking steps to address them. By putting in place an effective parental engagement strategy, every parent’s voice can be heard with the result that serious issues relating to children’s mental health may be identified earlier. Bringing parents into decision-making processes concerning their child in school will help teachers ensure that the right professional support is put in place as soon as possible.
Mental health and emotional wellbeing should also be prioritised in budget discussions, alongside the implementation of appropriate funding strategies that will ensure sufficient investment is made in school-based services. At the same time, schools should provide parents with access to timely and up-to-date points of advice and resources.
Charities such as YoungMinds, MindEd and Place2Be, for example, offer a range of resources that children and parents will find helpful. Making these known and easily obtainable will be an important step in getting them the support they need. Building resilience and grit is part of growing up. Understanding how to bounce back from a knock is a critical life lesson. But if we’re to fully address the growing mental health pressures our children currently face, parents should be encouraged and supported in forming partnerships with school leaders.
Together, both groups can establish positive strategies that will enable every child to achieve their potential – but not at the cost of their mental health and emotional wellbeing.
Michelle Doyle Wildman is acting CEO of Parentkind.