Family psychotherapist advises parents on how to discuss their child’s mental health whilst at school
Family psychotherapist, Fiona Yassin of The Wave Clinic, offers parents five suggestions on how to discuss their child’s mental health with their school teachers:
1. Explain to the teachers how your child’s needs may affect the school day and what hours they are in. Could there be a need for time off school? Are there appointments to attend? Does your child need to attend therapy sessions during the day? Might your young person arrive late because they need to have additional help with supported mealtimes? Are you concerned about high energy activities or sports that may be counterproductive to structured eating disorder treatment? Being upfront with the teachers about all these elements will ensure that plans can be put in place, and you are always on the front foot.
2. Ask the school about any available resources at school or within their network to understand what the set-up is like and how they might be able to help. For instance, you might wish to check whether they have links with a child and adolescent psychiatrist who can visit the school? Are they able to offer term time counselling and links to private therapists? You may also wish to check if they have quiet spaces that the children can go to if they feel overwhelmed? Talking with the teachers about how they will deal with any additional needs during the day can be very reassuring.
3. If your child may ned to attend residential treatment or hospital admission, talk to the school and include the treatment team in any correspondence. Your school may be able to provide online access to education which will help your child feel connected as they progress in treatment. Remember your child’s mental health is the priority here. School work, exams and the return to education will follow.
4. Discuss any medication that your child is prescribed, especially elaborating on any side effects and timings the medication should be taken. Ask the school for information on bringing medication into school and how medication is administered during the school day. Often, medication is held with the school nurse and dispensed in the medical area. Find out how your child will be reminded to go for their medication, especially if they are not able to remember themselves. Never leave you child with medication in their bag or locker, for the safety of both your child and indeed the other young people.
5. Talk to your child’s school about trauma focused care. Find out how your school helps young people to work through the big feelings that they might have and what support is on offer.
Yassin explains: ‘Your child’s teachers will need to fully understand the full extent of your child’s difficulties in order to be as helpful as possible. Of course, it may feel a little uncomfortable to share some aspects of your child’s behaviour or in-depth details about your family history, but remember that teachers are there to do their very best for every child and, as such, understanding your child’s situation will help them to help you.’ Yassin concludes: ‘If there are problems within the family, it can take a great deal of courage to reach out and speak up. But it is always in your young person’s best interests to do so. If you are in a home where there is frequent volatility, unhappiness, arguments, violence or alcohol or substance use, talk to you school pastoral care team, the head teacher, or another member of the team that you feel comfortable with. Children and young people can experience emotional and behavioural difficulties in the classroom when there are life events, changes, or unhappiness at home and the very best way to help deal with this is an open dialogue between parent/carer and school.’