Celebrating children for who they are and helping them to develop skills for life are the keys to their wellbeing, says Nicola Baldwin, principal of Dolphin School in Wandsworth
In the words of William Wordsworth, “Bliss it was that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven”. Indeed, how joyful it would be for all pupils if life was a blissful experience, a celebration of being alive and a taste of heaven. Sadly, all too often this does not reflect the experience of school pupils or their state of mind.
As educators, we are increasingly aware of the mental health issues prevalent in today’s society that have a serious effect on the wellbeing of our young people. We are assaulted with worrying facts: half of all mental health issues start before the age of 14; the “addiction” to social media can be as strong as a cocaine habit; cyber-bullying can drive pupils to suicide; not following the latest trend can result in social ostracism. Troubled youngsters struggle with their self-esteem and their mental health can fracture.
Despite all the prophecies of doom that abound, we can help our children to look after their mental health and develop the strategies needed to deal with life as it happens. In school, teachers are in loco parentis so, just as in their families, young people need to be known and loved for who they are, not who they will become one day.
From that starting premise, we can enable children to be questioning and curious, to make mistakes and know that this is a vital part of the learning process. We can encourage them to show kindness to others, to be passionate about our world and to know that they matter and that they can make a difference.
In this type of learning environment, pupils develop skills that will support their mental wellbeing. They learn perseverance when the challenge gets tough, and resilience for when life does not go the way they want. They learn the value of relationships, the benefit of collaboration, and the importance of being true and dealing honourably with others. They will still experience the frustrations, the friendship fall-outs, the challenge of life as a young person, but they will be empowered to keep trying, to talk about their anxieties, to laugh and to cry. They develop the resilience to pick themselves up and try again.
On the journey of education, knowing the skills to have in your kit bag is more important than knowing where the journey will take you. Supporting and encouraging our pupils on their journey is the key to helping them develop robust mental health. At Dolphin School we do this through the Life Education programme. The benefits of a healthy diet, fresh air and exercise are well known. Taking care of our mental wellbeing is now being recognised as equally important.
Schools aim to work in partnership with parents and a key way in which parents can support their children is by spending time with them, using language that celebrates effort, allowing for failure, and valuing them for the young people they are today. Take delight in your children because they are unique – tell them so.