We are constantly bombarded with information and statistics around pupil wellbeing and the strain on the mental health of young people today. While this is a very real and concerning issue, there is far less reporting around parent wellbeing and how this can add to the anxiety children face. Understandably, schools have focused their efforts on pupil mental health and wellbeing over recent years. Most now have dedicated staff, counsellors, wellbeing centres, proactive mentoring schemes and more.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been growing concerns that pupils are suffering from detachment from school and lack of socialisation as well as the anxiety surrounding COVID and mitigating measures. Interestingly, what many schools fail to recognise, is the wellbeing and mental health of parents, even though this has a direct result and impact on their pupils. Many parents have been under huge strain, both mentally and financially. Add to this prolonged home-schooling periods, furlough and the changing face of the workplace, and the pressure can be huge.
Why should schools care?
Unless schools support parents in tackling these issues, they are ultimately, not doing the best for their pupils. Schools pride themselves on being close knit, supportive communities. Therefore, school leaders have a duty of care to everyone in that community, and whilst it is absolutely right that children and staff are the priority, parents, extended family members and carers should also be part of our focus.
Schools want and expect parents to support the school in all areas of teaching, learning and pupil development; they cannot operate successfully in isolation. Close relationships with parents is a must as is a true open-door policy. Schools should be supportive of parent needs and have empathy for their varying situations and circumstances.
School exist to teach children, so it is easy to overlook the wider community despite it being instrumental to pupil development, accomplishment and success. For some schools it is easier to see the negatives in those parents who want to be over-involved in their children’s schooling or to view parents as professional complainers if they don’t support the school’s values or decisions. We must fight these defensive instincts, manage this effectively and always remember that parent concerns and anxieties can take many forms. It is up to us to provide a structure of support that works. Ultimately, we are all working towards a common goal – ensuring our children are happy, safe and making good progress.
What can schools offer parents to boost their wellbeing?
Independent schools are well placed to boost parental wellbeing and provide support and mentoring. Parents should feel that the school cares about them and that they are always welcome onsite. This aspect has certainly changed drastically since the start of the pandemic, and we must aim to rekindle elements of the community, which were so valued pre-COVID.
Mutually beneficial parenting workshops are an obvious starting point. They allow schools to explain how they manage child development and how parents can support their work, while providing much needed continuity between home and school. Teaching and learning workshops give parents the opportunity to see how schools teach during periods of lockdown and blended learning. Many of our parents are far more invested and aware of how their children learn and the progress they are making.
Parent and staff choirs, onsite swimming sessions, tennis and netball clubs are also great ways to engender a feeling of community, as is opening an onsite coffee shop at drop off and pick up times. These occasions allow for relationships between parents and the school to be strengthened, for any issues to be raised, and for the establishment of a cohesive community.
Surely this means more work and more cost for schools?
There will always be issues in busy schools when extra work is suggested. Parent wellbeing is not something that can be ignored, it has to be non-negotiable with additional resources provided by the school to make it work for everyone. This might include extra funding and extra time from staff to support various initiatives. Provision may be relatively small to begin with, but in the long run it will be money well spent.
Initiatives such as in-house parenting workshops, will be relatively inexpensive. In the case of professional support and sports clubs, parents will usually be happy to contribute towards these kinds of activities if necessary. The biggest cost to schools will be staff time and this may be insurmountable for small schools while perfectly manageable for others. The question schools need to ask themselves is whether they can afford to overlook parent wellbeing when managing their annual budgets.
The benefits of promoting parental wellbeing:
- Engenders a stronger, more cohesive community between school and home
- Increases investment from parents in their children’s learning and progress
- Improving parent mental health will have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing
- Social activities strengthen relationships between parents and staff
- Many in-house initiatives are inexpensive to set up but can make a big difference
More about the IET World Mental Health Day campaign
About Windlesham House School