Children's Mental Health Week
“During Children’s Mental Health Week, parents also need to take a minute to be kind to themselves.” writes Emma Margrett, Head of the Prep School at Radnor House Sevenoaks.
As a Head of a Prep School, parents regularly stop to speak to me at the playground gate to apologise for an item of clothing or a snack pot that “they” have forgotten to bring for their child. Since the rise of working from home, it is becoming even more common to see the look of tremendous guilt that crosses a parent’s face when they realise they are unable to drop the item back into school due to an online meeting that they simply can’t shift. Children’s Mental Health Week is an excellent time to discuss the need to switch the narrative a little. Although it is unrealistic to expect a child of 6 or 7 years to remember everything they need for school without support, we can set up strategies at home, such as bag packing checklists that enable our children to take on some responsibility for their own possessions. If these responsibilities are gradually increased over time, it leads to children growing into young people who can think for themselves and who take great pride in their own autonomy.
In fact, it can be argued that parents who drop forgotten items into school before a child has even realised that they are missing are preventing their child from learning valuable skills such as negotiation and organisation. A forgotten PE kit is not the end of the world, but the skill of realising that you have forgotten yours, visiting the correct teacher to ask to borrow replacement items, organising getting them washed and returning them back to school is something that is all but lost in the passage of time because it is more often the case that parents will solve their children’s problems before they even realise there is an issue and attempt to solve it for themselves.
In our school, if a child has a piece of lost kit, they are given a kit mark, and if they have three kit marks in half a term, they are offered the chance to attend “Get Sorted Club”, a supportive environment where they are taught strategies and skills to help them to organise themselves more effectively. There is no terrible punishment, but instead, hopefully, the chance to learn and develop. Obviously, if a child has a diagnosis which makes organisation particularly hard for them, we may adapt our strategies to better meet their needs, but the aim of any intervention will always be to support a child to grow in confidence over time.
So, my message to parents during Children’s Mental Health week is don’t spend all day feeling guilty if your child has forgotten an item in the rush to get out of the door and onto the school run. Instead, see it as a valuable opportunity for them to develop personal responsibility and resilience. They may not thank you today, but your child will thank you for it in the long run!