How to give your kids’ mental health a boost
If you’re looking for ways to bolster your kids’ mental health in the wake of the pandemic, you’re not alone. Clare Macro, Headmistress of Edgbaston High School shares her expert advice
Clare, what changes have you noticed in children’s behaviour over the last 15 months?
Children have had to deal with a huge amount of uncertainty and disruption over the past year, but the thing I’ve noticed most is how different experiences and reactions have been. Some children have become visibly withdrawn or anxious, and some seem to be relatively unscathed, so it follows that there is no single way of helping them to heal or process what has happened. We need to be vigilant and ensure that there’s a whole range of different support tools in place.
How can parents help their children’s mental wellbeing?
Put some boundaries in place around screen time. It’s obvious, but more important than ever before. Over the past months, children have spent hours on screens doing online learning and connecting with their friends and peers. Trying to set some limits is a really good discipline because most children will not have the maturity and self-discipline to restrict themselves. They might kick up a fuss initially, but they’ll eventually thank you for it. Other than that, it’s all the clichés that everyone already knows: eating and sleeping well and taking regular physical exercise. For many people, one positive of the past 15 months has been the rediscovery of the simple pleasures in life and the realisation that slowing things down and just going for a walk can completely change your perspective and release stress. That’s just as true for children as it is for adults and, as life gets busy again, I hope we can hang on to and remember some of those lessons.
How are you addressing the fallout at Edgbaston?
For us it has been about trying to maintain the emotional well-being of girls and to manage their different concerns. We’ve made a huge effort to ensure that since returning to campus, girls are given every opportunity to take full advantage of all that the school has to offer. Swimming started up as soon as we were allowed and the girls are busy playing cricket, tennis, rounders and taking part in dance, athletics and physical activities as part of their regular Games and PE sessions. This term, all the girls also ran 5k to raise money for Cancer Research and we’ve just finished two days of PSHEE life skills activities for Years 7-10, where girls have been learning self-defence, yoga, first aid and exploring issues such as online safety. In terms of well-being, we already have a mentoring system in place, but we’ve now appointed two year 12 students to become our first Heads of Pastoral Mentoring. As well as regular drop-in sessions for students, one of the first things the girls want to do is recruit a team of student Well-Being Champions. Whilst our staff are incredibly perceptive and approachable, we know that for some students talking to an adult can feel overwhelming and intimidating. The aim is that our new student Well Being Champions will provide a vital bridge between staff and students and mean that everyone has a clear route for discussing and navigating difficult emotions or experiences.
What do you think the long term implications of the last year will be?
It’s hard to say, but a combination of positive and not so positive outcomes is inevitable. Our students adhered to full timetables in lockdown so for them gaps in learning are less of a focus than well-being and making sure that they are reintegrating, settling and managing being back in school. On the positive side, they’ve had to become very self-sufficient and take responsibility for their own learning over these past few months.That’s a really important life lesson so I hope that those skills will be a positive outcome post-pandemic. For all of us, pupils and teachers alike, there’s a palpable sense of relief at being back in school as part of a community, with social contact and peer support, and all of the benefits that those things bring.
With open days coming up, do you have any tips to help parents find a pastorally aware, nurturing school? What should they look out for and what questions shouldn’t they be afraid to ask?
As a parent myself, these are the key things I want to know:
- What are the class sizes?
- If my child is unhappy or concerned about something, what do they do? Is there an obvious route for them to follow?
- What is the school’s policy on behaviour and bullying?
- Where do the arts and co-curricular activities fit into the normal school day and after school?
- Do new students have a mentor?
- What is the school’s policy on mobile phones and internet access?
- Is there a focus on the whole child that includes social skills, problem solving, and emotional health?
- Don’t be afraid to speak to students about their experiences. Children will always tell you how it is. Ask about the lunches, what the teachers are like, what things they like about the school.
- Look around you – do staff and children seem happy? That’s a really strong indicator. Ask about staff turnover and retention – it’s another good indicator of whether it is a happy and fulfilling place to be.
Edgbaston High School for Girls is holding a virtual open day on 18 Sept. It will also be holding a small number of appointment-based tours later this summer. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0121 454 5831.
Edgbaston High School, Westbourne Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 3TS, Tel: 0121 454 5831.