Children’s mental health has been in the headlines once again.
Statistics are showing that the numbers of referrals from schools asking for mental health support for the children in their classes has risen by more than a third. And the ages of those children are getting younger, many of them at the Primary stage.
So what’s going on?
Although the statistics are based around requests coming from schools, it isn’t necessarily the case that schools are the cause of the decline in children’s mental wellbeing. But it has to be acknowledged that the pressure on children to achieve educationally at younger and younger stages in their lives is a major contributing factor.
A tight, target-led curriculum does put stresses on everyone, not only on the children but also on the adults around them. Many parents and teachers desperately want the kids in their care to achieve on track with national targets, for various reasons, and can inadvertently communicate that to the children increasing their anxiety about educational achievement. Anxiety is not conducive for good mental health.
Other factors that impact on children’s wellbeing include the amount of love and support they receive, their relationships with peers, and their ability to achieve both to the satisfaction of themselves and their significant others. (Discussed in this post here)
These factors reflect upon the child’s self esteem and self esteem is cited as one of the most influential elements of mental well being. So it’s important we do our best as parents to nurture self esteem and build on it.
To do that we can:
- Be encouraging, supportive and positive about the things they do
- Avoid statements that negate their efforts, appearance, or put-downs like ‘that’s wrong’, and use things like; ‘that might not work because….but you could try this way’ which is more open ended.
- Avoid attaching any stigma to mistakes, rather see all mistakes as being useful pointers to getting it right
- Make sure they know that no one is perfect and everyone has flaws as well as good points
- Use praise often, but wisely. Kids soon see through empty compliments. Praise is far more effective and supportive when they know it’s deserved
- Always listen and encourage an open dialogue about their work, relationships with others, about who said what, why they might have said it, what responses are appropriate. This will make the children feel they can come to you with things that are troubling them.
The Family Lives website is a good resource, with plenty of tips on how to help your children’s self esteem.
And the Childline website has lots of tips for the youngsters themselves.
They’re worth exploring, for the better the child’s self esteem the better equipped they will be to deal with any mental health issues they may have to overcome.