It’s the end of a school day and you stand at the school gate waiting alongside the throng of parents, grandparents and caregivers. You spot your child. A brief hug and a dozen questions later, it’s back to the daily grind, your child’s piano lesson, homework, you know the drill. Some days are good. Some can be better, but you get by.
Then one day you receive a call that brings everything to an abrupt halt.
It’s your child’s school counsellor. You rush to school to find your child in tears and nothing makes sense to you. You sit there dumbfounded. You look into a pair of kindly eyes and a gentle voice reassures you that it will be alright.
And no, it wasn’t about failing a test. You’ve just discovered from the school that your child, yes, your sweet, bubbly child who jumps into your arms every day, just had an emotional meltdown in class.
The Challenge of Mental Wellbeing
Later that night, you wonder why or how it happened. In hindsight, you begin to see those subtle signs that came and went…
Before you start blaming yourself, or your child, here’s what you need to know:
- When children act up, they are usually struggling with something in their lives.
- Growing up in this day and age is complex; students face a host of pressures from school, home, peers, and the online world.
- Your child may be fighting battles completely unbeknownst to you, or to anyone.
Discovering what your child is struggling with can come as a shock. Oftentimes, children don’t reveal their true feelings to their parents for many reasons – fear of letting them down, embarrassment, or simply missing the opportunity to do so
It’s important to know that you aren’t alone. What many parents don’t realise, as shown in a recent poll by the Asianparent, are schools’ efforts to promote Mental Wellbeing and the support system that is available for parents and students alike. Many parents are unaware that MOE and educational institutions are actively addressing Mental Wellbeing in children.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) recognises the challenges. Recent times have brought about a focus on the importance of Mental Wellbeing in students. While stress is normal, we need to take care of our students’ mental well-being and teach them how to identify and manage negative emotions, as well as how to develop positive mental habits.
Your Village – The School
You know the truth in the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, and it’s at times like these that the village comes into play. With caring teachers, professionally trained counsellors, friends to share experiences with and, crucially, lessons on Mental Wellbeing in the daily curriculum, students don’t stay in a black hole for long.
MOE believes that Mental Wellbeing is an important component of 21st-Century skills that our students need to have, to thrive and to complement their learning. Mental Wellbeing modules are explicitly taught through Character & Citizenship Education (CCE) programs as well as across subjects and whenever the opportunity arises for “teachable moments”. These are some of what you can find in schools today.:
Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)
SEL is an umbrella term that refers to students’ acquisition of skills to manage themselves, relate to others positively and make responsible decisions. These are the five domains of social and emotional skills that are covered:
- Self awareness
- Social awareness
- Self management
- Relationship management
- Responsible decision making
MOE firmly believes there is a direct relationship between SEL and mental wellbeing for it leaves a child better equipped and able to manage people-to-people relations, stress, disappointment and so on.
The Internet can be a major contributor to emotional distress in students. Because of this, MOE aims to give students an understanding of online behavior as well as awareness of how to protect yourself in cyberspace. Students are also taught how to be a positive role model online and to advocate positive online behavior such as standing up for peers and reporting cases of cyberbullying.
Another important yet often overlooked aspect of Mental Wellbeing in students is understanding the changes going on within themselves. Many students experience anxiety or insecurity as they approach puberty. To aid them, sexuality education lessons help students understand the physiological, social and emotional changes they are going through.
In addition to these lessons, Mental Wellbeing is also promoted by teaching students the importance of getting enough sleep, having a healthy self-image, and developing resilience. These are covered through Character and Citizenship Education in schools.. It will bring you comfort to know that as these lessons are conducted, schools keep a close watch for students who might be struggling with emotional issues, and the teachers are trained to identify distress signals and render timely support to their students. MOE teachers put in efforts to build good teacher-students relationships (TSR) and as such, many students do approach their teachers when they are in need.
Further Emphasis on Mental Wellbeing
On Mar 4 this year, as reported by Channel News Asia, Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah mentioned in parliament that “one key challenge our youths face today is mental well-being.” Going forward, Mental Wellbeing and peer support will be given more focus in schools. This includes added emphasis on efforts like building a positive school learning environment and classroom culture and as always, positive TSR.
Students will be taught to develop the mindset of “I am, I have, I can” to teach them to appreciate their strengths, harness positive beliefs about themselves and tap into peer and family support.
Helping Students with Mental Wellbeing
In addition to these efforts, schools also go the extra mile to help students who are struggling emotionally. When students have outbursts, act up, or even if they are uncharacteristically quiet, schools are mindful about possible deeper underlying problems.
To prevent such students from falling between the cracks, there are extensive measures to render support to the child and to work hand in hand with parents. Sensitive details are always kept confidential during counselling, and efforts are made to minimize stigma and shame so that students are more willing to seek help.
One of the parents we spoke with shared her experience of finding out about her child’s struggle with expectations and pressure. Natasha,* recalled the time she received a call from her child’s school counsellor. Her usually bubbly child had an emotional outburst in class. It came as a shock to everyone for it was completely uncharacteristic of him. His form teacher immediately recognized it as a distress signal. After calming him down and having a talk with him, she referred him to the school counsellor who was in a better position to help him with his issues.
“I was shocked to find out that my son was suffering with low self-esteem. Little did I know that he had taken it as a comparison when I often referred to his older brother. To me it was just a normal thing to do. I had no idea that the extra commitments he had taken on, such as being a prefect and CCA leader were mainly to prove to us that he is as good as his brother. It was really an eye-opener for us.” . She added that her son had always appeared cheerful so naturally she was under the impression that he was coping well with his studies and other commitments. ”
It was only through the school intervention that Natasha found out that her son had kept her in the dark for he felt inferior to his brother and wanted to ‘prove his worth’, so to speak. He had been harboring feelings of anxiety and inferiority for some time already. That day, an innocuous remark from his classmate triggered him to release everything that he had bottled up. Together, parents and school counsellors were able to work with the child to rebuild his confidence and self-esteem and to manage his expectations of himself.
So remember, if your child displays distress signals, or if you find yourself in that room with your child and the teachers, it’s not the end of the world. Rather, it’s the beginning of a journey to delve deeper into your child’s mind and to set his world right. And you’re never alone in that journey for the school walks with you every step of the way.
The most important thing about school life is not a stellar report card or a collection of accolades. It’s a journey of self-discovery for your child, and one that leads your child to a path of happiness, confidence and resilience!
*not her real name