Children need to manage, not ignore their emotions

15 November 2017
Greg Whitby is Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta.

Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Year 12 students and their parents will be breathing a sigh of relief with the conclusion of the final Higher School Certificate exams last week. The HSC and NAPLAN have been linked to high levels of anxiety among students. Many are now asking whether the exams are worth the stress.

Over the past decade, schools have been paying greater attention to the emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of students and staff. Research shows that emotional wellbeing is an important factor for success in learning and life. We know now that social and emotional skills need to be introduced as early in life as possible. Schools play a big role in developing these skills.

Some schools have introduced programs aimed at encouraging boys to share feelings and seek support. These programs challenge cultural norms and stereotypes of Australian men and the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. For some boys, things in their lives aren’t right, which makes them more vulnerable when it comes to talking about their feelings. More often than not it is the girls who  shed tears, or seek out someone to talk to.

As a society, we need to be sending the message that it’s acceptable for boys to talk about their feelings and it’s okay to cry. It’s important that boys in particular see their fathers, grandfathers and male teachers expressing their emotions openly. These are normal human emotions, and asking for help when things get tough is never a sign of weakness.

Most teachers are now trained to recognise the signs of mental and emotional issues in young people and how to find them the support they need. There are also programs designed for secondary schools that teach students how to recognise mental health issues among peers and when to notify adults that someone needs some help.

As always, talk to your child’s teacher or your family doctor if you have concerns about your child’s emotional and mental well-being. There are great resources available through organisations like Beyond Blue and the Black Dog Institute that address mental health challenges in young people.

The more we can teach all children to manage not ignore their emotions, give them a vocabulary and opportunities to talk about their feelings at home and school, the healthier our communities will be.

Greg Whitby

Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

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