'As educators or as parents, we can’t always make things right'
A school mental health conference helps parents support their teenagers through difficult times, writes Emma Hattersley from Godolphin School
Chatting to a parent in my study recently, the conversation naturally and rightly centred around her daughter. It was a discussion about her child’s anxiety, lack of confidence, her child’s body image and how she found it hard to form lasting friendships. This parent wanted to “fix it” and felt it was within their power to make things better.
The conversation was one I have heard many times before with other parents during my teaching career. I listened for some time, waiting for the right moment to respond. As a head, I think we often find ourselves in the unique position of being able to be quite frank and honest with parents. Mostly, not always, they understand and appreciate our experience, our suggestions and objective view of the situation.
So, on this occasion, I suggested that the parent needed to step back and allow the teenager to work out some of these things for herself. They should try to adopt a “love at arm’s length” approach and only that way could the child develop her independence and find the strategies from within herself to make progress. As educators or as parents, we can’t always make things right. A sticking plaster may work for a time but is never the long-term answer.
"There are no perfect solutions, but it’s how we work through these tough times that enables our children to flourish."
A parent’s concerns about their child are heartfelt and genuine but when there are problems, often parents are just not sure what to do next. They may seek support from the school or often their first reaction is to pass the blame onto the school. For many, parenting doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Whilst we all want our children to be happy, life for young people is tough, life in general is tough. That is reality. There are no quick or perfect solutions, but it’s how we work through these tough times that enables our children to grow and flourish.
We are dealing with a society that has lost its way in terms of core values and what is really important. For some, I believe the current pandemic has helped families identify what’s precious and how time spent together can be worthwhile and enriching. But the negative side of this current situation is that many young people do feel let down and betrayed by society, anxious about their relationships and their futures and as a result, they often lack self-worth. It is the duty of parents and schools to offer navigation through these troubled times.
Having worked with parents for several decades, I’ve thought long and hard as an educator about a school’s role in parenting the child. It is about the parent/school partnership, it’s about communication, it’s about being informed and being up to date with issues affecting the young individuals and their generation. And most importantly it’s about sharing experiences, problems and solutions. Ultimately, if we work in this way, the end result can be transformational.
"It is natural for us, as parents, to want to 'fix' our child’s problems."
Parents do need to be mindful of their own mental health in order to support their children and have healthy coping mechanisms and make sure that they are consistently checking in and displaying good habits in the home. It is perfectly natural for us, as parents, to want to “fix” our child’s problems but we should resist this approach if we possibly can.
It’s vital that as parents, we know where to seek help and get advice and this does not necessarily mean trawling the internet, which can be damaging and inaccurate in its portrayal of the various issues affecting young people. Sometimes it is helpful if we can identify stress in our children and acknowledge that for them. Parents shouldn't be afraid of talking about mental health and need to check in with children who seem disproportionately interested in unhealthy coping strategies.
Taking an interest and talking is absolutely key. Keeping meaningful conversation going engenders trust and confidence in family relationships as I found with my own children, particularly when they were teenagers. The emphasis of course is on us listening rather than doing all the talking.
"The emphasis is on us listening rather than doing all the talking."
Good schools look at various ways of involving parents. Tutor systems, parents’ evenings, weekly bulletins, emails and support pages on the school websites all have their place but can we be doing more? This week, Godolphin will be hosting its second “GO Parent Conference, Talking Health & Wellbeing” for parents, friends and families in our community.
The conference involves a day of informative talks from specialists in the field focusing on mental health and wellbeing in uncertain times and how as parents and teachers, we can best support our young people.
This online conference will include a live Q&A session giving parents the chance to share worries and concerns and to learn that one is not alone.
All parents are welcome to this virtual event and details can be found on our website: www.godolphin.org.
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