Did you know that when it comes to predicting which children will lead satisfying adult lives, one the best indicators according to research is their emotional health as a child? Schools play a huge role too, as you can imagine. In fact, the same research shows that the school your child attends affects their happiness nearly as much as it affects their academic performance.
All of this underlines why wellbeing — helping our students understand how to look after their physical and mental health — is at the heart of everything we do in our schools. We spoke to Vicky Saward, Head of Training for the Schools Division at the Anna Freud Centre, a children and young people’s mental health charity that works closely with our schools. And here’s what she had to say about child health and wellbeing.
We often describe wellbeing as “children and young people feeling good, feeling that their life is going well, and feeling able to get on with their daily lives.” The idea of wellbeing is definitely not new, but more and more people are recognising its importance, including the vital link between physical and mental health and the need to speak openly about issues that affect all of us.
Wellbeing touches every part of our lives, whether we know it or not, so getting under the skin of why you feel or act in a certain way can help you make informed decisions and changes.
At the risk of stating the obvious, if you understand how to look after your wellbeing from an early age, it’ll help you lead a happier, more fulfilling life. Young people who feel safe, secure, and happy go on to achieve more, take greater risks, and are better able to realise their ambitions.
As educators, we need to give young people the skills and attitudes that set them up for future success, and it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of wellbeing. Research from Nord Anglia shows that Gen Z (18 – 25 year olds) know this all too well, so it’s important we listen and respond accordingly.
Parents and carers I work with often ask how they can talk to their children about their wellbeing, including how to protect their mental health and teach them to cope with stress. If you’ve asked yourself this, you’re not alone.
Because it’s so important, we’ve been delighted to work with Nord Anglia schools to make wellbeing a cornerstone of their entire education strategy.
If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to families, it’s to be a role model. Not just in the traditional sense of the word, but being a role model in authenticity, risk-taking, and open communication.
But how can you be a good role model for your child? Start conversations about mental health so that your child is more aware of their own feelings and knows how to talk about them. It’s important to demonstrate that life is full of challenge and ups and downs. It’s OK for your child to see when things go wrong or you make mistakes; you’re showing ‘failure’ as a step on the journey to success rather than a destination. It’s good for children to see your resilience and ability to overcome challenges.
Part of being a role model in authenticity is normalising the kind of conversations that can sometimes make us feel vulnerable. Having regular conversations with your child about broader topics — their personal life and opinions (How do you like that teacher? How are you getting on with that subject? How are your friends doing?), often means they’re far more likely to mention issues they’re having. Having these kinds of open conversations will help your child learn how to recognise issues and emotions as they arise and feel far more comfortable in expressing them or seeking help.
Children can flourish when they are surrounded by those they trust and can open their minds to. Create opportunities to spend time with extended family, friends, or neighbours as well as the wider school community to build your child’s social and support network. This also applies to your contact with your child’s school by ensuring parent and school communication lines are open.
Whether that’s for a walk, to the shops, or for a meal, being out and about with your child is a great opportunity to chat and share about life. I know that for a lot of us, getting our kids out of the house can be a difficult challenge, but once it becomes a normal part of your routine, it makes for wonderful and open conversations. Funnily enough, I find car journeys can make communication easier — maybe it’s the lack of eye contact!
Keeping healthy and being active is so important for a young person’s sense of worth as well as the increased endorphin levels that exercise releases. It could be a bike ride or a long walk, just as long as they’re moving and having fun. Encourage your child to exercise for how it makes them feel, either during the activity or afterwards.
Your kids will probably have smart phones, and even if they don’t, they’ll definitely have access to the internet. Internet filters are easy to get around and it’s likely that your child will come across harmful content online. As a parent, the best thing you can do is continue that theme of open communication and talk about the potential risks of certain materials. Find more resources from the Anna Freud Centre’s Keeping Safe Online Toolkit or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
Ultimately, it’s our role as parents and carers to create a space where our children feel at ease to express how they’re feeling or to seek support, should they need to. No matter which of these suggestions you try, you’ll be helping your child feel good and creating a home environment where positive communication is the norm. In doing so, you’ll help your child thrive.
The Anna Freud Centre is a world-leading mental health charity for children and families, and has developed and delivered pioneering mental health care for over 70 years. Nord Anglia Education is working closely with the centre to provide our teachers with the training and tools to improve students’ wellbeing.