My youngest child brought home a letter this week informing me that she will shortly be participating in the National Child Measurement Programme (the height/weight check for Reception and Year 6 pupils). I immediately thought of all the current focus on healthy eating, exercise and the rise in obesity in children, but then also considered whether as much attention is focussed on improving the mental health of our children (and indeed ourselves).
I have experienced first-hand the multitude of mental health issues which children, and those who work with them, can experience. I myself left the teaching profession because I was aware that it was having a negative impact on my mental health and affecting my family life at home. I have seen colleagues leave the profession or need time off because of the stress and anxiety of working in education. My own children, and others I have met during my career, have exhibited a range of mental health issues. I have seen lack of self-esteem, uncontrollable anger, despair, grief, anxiety, eating disorders and socialisation difficulties. What I now realise is the frequency with which I noticed these issues, on a daily basis, which makes me wonder what the wider picture is.
Today our lives seem busier than ever. Educators juggle the demands of their career with family life and have their own ongoing battle to care for their mental health. Meanwhile children are reacting to pressure from peers, trying to please, care for, or rebel against parents (whilst undergoing constant academic assessment). There seems to be opportunity to share problems or take time out to listen, speak or help.
We assess academic achievement, we measure children’s height and weight, but do we ever check children’s mental wellbeing. If tests could be carried out nationally, what would it tell us?
Perhaps just as many schools have adopted ERIC time (a slot when everyone takes time out to read) there should be a move to have a slot each week when everyone has chance to share their troubles, check up on each other, or just to celebrate being happy.
I think I’ll try it at home, a weekly family mind time, and see how it goes!