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Thriving young minds: Supporting students’ wellbeing

Discover tips and advice from Haileybury's wellbeing team on how to support your child's mental and emotional health during their journey through school.

NEWS 30 May 2024

The journey through school is a significant part of every child’s life, with all kinds of incredible opportunities and rewarding experiences along the way. It is also a journey that is not without the occasional challenge or pressure too — from forming their first friendships in the classroom or playground, to working their way towards their Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR). These experiences can impact students in many ways when it comes to their health and wellbeing, with no two students ever having quite the same journey.

As parents and carers, we can all play a vital role in supporting their mental wellbeing. Whether it’s knowing what signs to look out for, knowing when or where to get help, or navigating specific stresses or challenges, we can create a school and home environment that promotes an open and optimistic approach to mental health. This will ensure students are not just surviving; they are thriving.

Recognising the impacts on student wellbeing

As a society, we are collectively more aware of mental wellbeing than ever before. We recognise just how important it is — and how it can affect our day-to-day lives, regardless of age.

So, what are the signs your child is thriving in a positive mental state? As Neringa Smith, Haileybury’s Director of Counselling Services says,

“A positive state of wellbeing is when students are flourishing. When they feel satisfied with their life, form deep social connections and feel that they have meaning and purpose in important areas of their life, such as in their learning and studies. They may experience positive emotions such as happiness, and have good resilience, or the ability to bounce back when they face setbacks or challenges”
Neringa Smith, Director of Counselling Services

Signs that your child is experiencing these benefits of a positive state of wellbeing are if they are engaging in their everyday activities, have at least one friend that they engage with on a regular basis and experience positive emotions most of the time. However, it is important to recognise that children, like adults, can’t always be in this state. As Diane Furusho, Deputy Principal – Student Wellbeing says,

“We want our children to thrive and be happy, but it will never be 100% of the time. We need to know this as parents, otherwise we’ll always be in a state of anxiousness.”
Diane Furusho, Deputy Principal – Student Wellbeing

This is where it is important to know how signs of wellbeing issues might take shape. They could include persistent displays of sadness, anger or anxiety, or a change of behaviour that occurs suddenly or without reason. This could present as a normally sociable young person withdrawing and no longer wanting to spend time with friends or family, no longer wanting to engage in or participate in activities that they used to enjoy, being more irritable or angry, or spending more time online. A change of sleep or eating habits can also be a sign that it is time to intervene and provide the necessary support.

De-stigmatising discussions around mental health

We have come a long way when it comes to talking openly about mental health, but there can still be a degree of stigma, uncertainly or embarrassment around the topic. It’s important that adults and role models create a safe space for young people to express their concerns or share in moments when they might be struggling — so that they know it is okay to talk things through or ask for help without judgement.

There are number of ways this can be achieved both at home and school. These include encouraging an open dialogue about emotions and emphasising that seeking help is a positive step. Neringa notes that parents role modelling good mental health and wellbeing strategies can also foster an environment where children feel comfortable to speak up and ask for support. “Talk about and acknowledging when you (parents) are feeling stressed or overwhelmed and what they do to help themselves when this happens,” she says.

Other opportunities for open discussion — and in turn, the chance to provide appropriate support — include taking an active interest in your child, by asking questions and listening without giving opinion. You might also choose to praise them when they demonstrate resilience and useful coping strategies, or when they show good problem-solving skills. They are all ways to collectively remove some of the stigma that might still be lingering around mental health in the home environment — and help to create an environment where everyone feels safe to share how they are feeling.

Supporting young people through feelings of stress and anxiety

While we strive to make every student’s experience at Haileybury as positive as possible, it is understandable that certain times during their schooling — particularly exams and assessment periods — can be a source of stress and anxiety. For Senior School students particularly, VCE exams and the approach of their ATAR can have an impact on their wellbeing.

Haileybury offers a range of resources and supports to help students navigate feelings of anxiety during their time at school, which can be enriched by the steps parents take to support their children at home. You might sit down and work with your child to work out a timetable, which includes study and any extra-curricular activities, so they feel more in control of their time and how to make the most of it. You can help them build their confidence by being more organised and using effective study strategies, while encouraging them to find time to relax and recharge as well.

Neringa also suggests demystifying the idea that exam and assessment periods should be entirely stress-free.

“Talk to your young person about mindset and reassure them that most students find exams stressful, and that some stress is okay. We all need some stress to perform at our best”
Neringa Smith, Director of Counselling Services

Understanding school refusal

In some cases, a child’s wellbeing relating to their school experience may reach a point where they refuse to attend school entirely. This kind of school refusal could be caused by all kinds of factors, including friendship issues, academic pressures, or simply feeling that being home is a more comfortable environment than being at school.

Knowing how to support a young person who is refusing to go to school can be challenging for parents, but the first step should always be to reach out to the school for support. Haileybury is always willing to work with parents to identify the underlying causes of school refusal, while supporting parents in strategies to guide their children back to school.

“It’s also about building trust with your child so they will be comfortable to talk to you. It requires patience and to be non-judgemental and to accept this is how your child feels”
Diane Furusho, Deputy Principal – Student Wellbeing

Empathy, understanding and open conversation are all essential tools you can call upon in the home environment to guide young people back into school without too much time away from the classroom. If a young person feels as though they are being heard and supported, the pressures on their mental wellbeing can start to shift in a positive direction.

Overcoming loneliness and building social connections

Feelings of loneliness or struggles with forming social connections can have a significant impact on a child’s mental wellbeing during school. At Haileybury, we provide all kinds of extra-curricular activities and school-based community events to support the friendships that are being formed in the classroom and on campus. Parents can support this dynamic by encouraging their children to participate in activities, clubs or events where interpersonal connections can take shape. “Find the passions of your child and look for like-minded children with similar connections,” says Diane. “Be open to try different things.” 

Outside of specific activities, encouraging younger children to have regular playdates, or letting older children invite friends over, offers a more unstructured way to let social connections flourish. Try to make the home environment feel inviting and social too, so young people are less likely to feel lonely or isolated, even in times when forming connections at school is proving challenging.

Every child matters every day at Haileybury. If you are concerned that the ups and downs of being a young person and forming friendships are negatively impacting your child’s wellbeing, make sure you reach out to the school for support.

As adults, we all play important roles in supporting young people’s mental wellbeing while they are at school. By recognizing the signs of both positive and negative mental health, providing support and sharing empathy towards aspects of the school experience they might find challenging, we can create a positive environment both at school and at home that brings out the very best in young people, so they can keep flourishing into their best and brightest selves.