ACCORDING to Place2Be, a national children’s charity, one-in-five primary school children will experience a mental health difficulty at least once and many adults with mental health issues can trace their symptoms back to childhood.
As a consequence, head teachers across England have placed pupil wellbeing among their top concerns.
“The needs of Armed Forces children and young people can sometimes be overlooked and AFF has seen a rise in enquiries on how best to support Service children,” said Jilly Carrell, AFF Education & Childcare Specialist.
“Separation anxiety, the ability to form attachments, complex support needs at home and frequent moves can all impact on a Service child’s wellbeing and this, in addition to the other pressures young people face growing up today, means that navigating childhood can be even more tricky.”
Change, especially for Army families, is to be expected. We can’t avoid it, but we can help children to cope with it.
Jonathan Wood, head of service at Place2Be, said: “All children have ups and downs, but Service children can face additional challenges.
“Sometimes these can be as upsetting as divorce. It’s important to acknowledge the change in a child’s circumstances, not to try and gloss over it.
“Schools can think about organising friendship groups for affected pupils, as well as awareness-raising in assemblies or class work. This could cover coping with difficult feelings when a family member goes away, loss or anxiety – as part of the school’s wellbeing agenda.
“Helping children to develop a language for their emotions and getting them thinking about coping strategies will help them to develop the skills to cope with life’s inevitable challenges.”
Emma Leeson, parent and pupil support worker at The Avenue School in Warminster, told us that it is important that children are given the tools to explore their feelings through different mediums such as art, music and drama.
She said: “We encourage children to talk by ensuring that we promote an open dialogue, which allows them to speak freely in a comfortable, non-judgemental environment.
“We have a ‘talking tin’ where children can place a slip of paper with their initials and class, giving our emotional literacy support assistants the opportunity to catch-up with children and give them time to talk.
“We find that teaching mindfulness and breathing techniques helps and prepares children for their day. We also promote extra-curricular activities to ensure that those endorphins are released!”
Hilary Taylor, head of the lower school at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, said that her school has become increasingly aware of the impact of mental health issues on young people.
“We are now more likely to recognise signs of anxiety or depression and have developed a range of ways to support students,” she explained. “Peer led sessions by year 12 students to younger pupils are now underway. We hope these will dispel myths about mental health and help reduce the stigma still attached to it.”