According to government figures and Beyond Blue, one in seven children between the ages of four and 17 experience a mental health condition in an average year – that’s around 560,000 young Australians.
Anxiety and depression are common mental health issues among young people and schools and families play an important role in helping them develop protective mechanisms so they are better prepared to face life’s challenges.
One protective mechanism is having a strong sense of self, which means young people knowing that it is OK to be themselves and to respect who they are.
“Young people need to be encouraged to feel positive about themselves and to accept themselves. Being kind to yourself and moving away from unhelpful self-criticism brings so many benefits,” says Maria Bailey, Haileybury Director of Counselling Services.
Haileybury’s new Student Code of Conduct places respecting yourself top of the list, followed by respecting the people around you and the school. The Code emphasises looking after physical and mental health, and encourages young people to be proud of who they are and to strive to be the best version of themselves.
“If you respect yourself, you can be your natural you. When you are comfortable in your skin, the best will come forward,” says Diane Furusho, Haileybury’s Deputy Principal (Student Wellbeing, Respectful Relationships & Consent).
So how can children be encouraged to be their true self and to have strong self-respect?
• Encourage young people to celebrate themselves and minimise negative unhelpful self- criticism or comparing themselves to others. Let children know that we all have things we are good at or find easy, but there are some things we find challenging. This is normal. No one can be great at everything and that is OK.
• We need to have conversations about the fact that we are all different – and that different is OK because it makes the world a better place.
• Talk to kids about the things that are great about their personality – teach them to be their own personal cheerleader. Acknowledge positive things about a child’s personality, for example, the kindness they show to others, their resilience and the empathy they show to their friends. Teach them to be their own personal cheerleader.
• Remind children what you like about them and ask them what they love about themselves and see as their strengths. Talk about the things they highlight in greater depth.
• Reiterate that, when they do their best, young people should be proud of that and celebrate it.
• Ask children open questions to cultivate more questions and explore issues more deeply. Questions like ‘what do you mean by that’, ‘what do you think about that?’ ‘that must be challenging for you…’ ‘can you see how that would work for you?’ Let them find their own answers.
• Parents need to have time for themselves and to build their own self compassion. They need to love themselves for who they are as a parent and to role model positivity and being their own cheerleader.
• Think about the conversation you’d like to have around respect – don’t do it on the spur of the moment. Think about how you approach a topic in line with a child’s age and developmental stage. You might say you were listening to a podcast and heard this, or you watched a movie a few days ago and saw this and it made you think. Provide opportunities for a child to share their thoughts and feelings.
• Provide a space of no judgements and a place for calm conversations.
• No matter how challenging a particular day is, encourage a child to think about three positive things that went well, or three things they are grateful for and encourage them to pay themselves a compliment.
Image by Anna Shvets