We had the opportunity to participate in this sharing session with networking opportunities attending The Student Mental Health Well-Being and Suicide Prevention forum. This forum addresses the issues related to mental health and well-being among students and educators. We delved into topics of identifying early warning signs of mental illness, suicidal tendencies, how to instill positive education in curriculum to strengthen mental resilience.
There are several key topics that were highlighted numerous times during the forum and have been adapted to display relevance to caregivers. The fundamental question that was answered was how do we approach mental well-being, mental health and mental illnesses with children and youths and how do we help those struggling with it?
- Normalising conversations
It is imperative for all educators and caregivers to encourage proper understanding of mental health and mental illnesses. In our society, mental health stigma is still prevalent, possibly fuelled by myths and media portraying it in a negative manner. With that said, caregivers should try to normalise conversations about mental health and illnesses and at the same time, build a positive and empathetic culture by either checking in regularly with people around them, or create a learning environment whereby children comprehend the how and why of such issues.How should we communicate with the children about such issues?
We should respond with patience and practise the use of active listening. We should also provide them with affirmation, social validation and a sense of belonging so that they are able to accept any differences they may have. We should also initiate such conversations about mental health and illness comfortably, allowing the children and youth to understand that talking about such issues is less daunting than expected. It is important for adults to note that modelling is key when approaching such issues.
As caregivers and educators, we should not dismiss negative emotions and respond to these emotions with false assurance. Such positive toxicity can form dire consequences as it teaches our youths and children to invalidate their negative emotions.What should we do instead?
We should be authentic and be in the present moment when speaking to youths, especially when talking about important issues like mental health. We need to listen carefully and be mindful of our body languages when speaking to them. They can feel our genuinity and our reactions will definitely affect how the child may then react to such emotions in the future.
- Develop emotional resilience and healthy identities
A vital need to develop healthy identities in these youths will allow them to recognise and embrace their own emotions, good or bad. They will then learn to accept responsibility in their own decision making and improve in social awareness.What are the different ways to improve the children’s emotional resilience?
a. Strength-based approach
The use of strength-based approaches is through acknowledging their hard work, skills, capabilities and engaging in positive learning dispositions. The nucleus of this approach is to first leverage on what the student can do and as educators, we help them develop further with these skills. For instance, complement and support their existing strengths and capabilities. It is very crucial that the child remembers the pleasant feeling a person makes them feel.
b. Growth mindset
Having a growth mindset helps children and youths focus on a learning goal rather than a performance goal. A growth mindset views mistakes in a more positive light. They regard mistakes as valuable rather than negative or embarrassing, and they take the time to learn from them. It is entirely acceptable to make mistakes and use them as a learning experience.
c. Caregiver responses and use of language
Asking questions like “How can I help?”, “What do you think will help to make this process easier for you?” will allow the children who are struggling feel supported, and at the same time, accept that they can still be better. It is apparent from the points above that the reactions and responses by caregivers and people in the child’s lives are detrimental to the child’s mental well being.
- Well-being of caregivers and support from Community
Last but not least, the wellbeing of caregivers is something that is often overlooked and neglected but is not any less important as any of the points stated.Mindfulness includes the concept of slowing down and noticing. It can take the form of anything, including random acts of kindness, expressing gratitude and taking some time for self-care. Mindfulness can help in regulating emotions, improving attention and cognitive development and ultimately, decreasing stress and anxiety. As mentioned above, our actions and reactions are often reflected by the children and thus it is exceedingly vital for caregivers and educators to practise as we educate them and ourselves on mental wellbeing.
As members of the HEAL team, we are striving towards establishing a culture of care, kindness and empathy amongst teachers and students. We envision a mutually supportive community at DAS where students and employees feel supported and comfortable in opening up about struggles or difficulties that they might face. Teachers play an important role in building emotional resilience and positive coping strategies through positive interactions and role modelling.
Our curriculum framework has recently included mindfulness as part of the lesson due to its profound benefits. This allows teachers to take the time to check in with the students before the start of the lesson to build connection and assess their mood for the day. There can be activities and lesson materials that cater to younger learners to encourage and educate them to talk about their feelings and being able to identify and express their emotions.
As educators, we want to take a holistic approach in a child’s growth, besides providing intervention on their learning needs. We hope that we can continue to shape and make a positive difference in the lives of dyslexic children such as instilling their confidence, having a positive sense of self and establishing their overall well-being.