Psychotherapist Fiona Yassin on how parents can discuss their child’s mental health with teachers and administrators.
As children get back into the routine of school, you may well be wondering how to approach your children’s school or teachers about any concerns if something comes up to do with your child’s mental health.
Family psychotherapist Fiona Yassin of The Wave Clinic says, “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.”
Here are Yassin’s seven suggestions to make things go more smoothly.
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.
This will help them accurately describe their situation to others, leaving them feeling empowered and as if they are a key part of their treatment journey. Talk to your young person in age-appropriate language and with clear explanations of any big words or diagnoses.
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.
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.
Find out how the teachers or your child will be given the opportunity to share (or not share) information about your child’s additional needs to the wider classroom or their peer group. In other words, what can be said and when.
Especially elaborate 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.
Yassin adds: “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 your 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.”