ToolKit & Resources – Talking to Parents – Full description
Talking to parents about their mental health or their child’s mental health can be a very emotional and sensitive subject to approach.
These conversations canhappen when a parentapproaches you about their own or their child’s mental wellbeing, or as a teacher you might begin the conversation around this topic.
Schools are faced with the challenges of engaging and supporting parents and carers with their child’s mental health needs, providing resourses and strategies to support them at home and fostering a culture within schools that helps parents and carers to understand the difficulties they may be facing.
It is important to keep in mind that parents may be worrying about the school’s perception of them or worrying about whether they are at fault for a child’s mental health difficulties or experiences at school. Parents and carers may be experiencing feelings of anxiety and worry about their child, confusion about their child’s behaviour and self-blaming. The difficult feelings faced by parents and carers can result in behaviours such as being defensive, or reluctanttoaccept support, and they may be tearful, angryor have emotional outbursts. It is important to keep in mind that teachers and parents both have their child’s best interests at heart.
Parents may struggle to talk to their children about mental health, and schools can be paramount in opening up conversations between families and their children, fostering an open and honest approach to developing mental wellbeing.
Children spend the majority of their day in the classroom with teachers with whom they build strong relationships, making schools a critical source of information for families about their children, including information about their mental wellbeing. As school teachers and staff may be the first people to notice changes in a students’ presentation, they are in a key position to pick up on changes to behaviour and to provide early interventions or referrals that could prevent the development of future difficulties for a child or young person.
Changes to a young person’s learning, general functioning and emotional presentation can be communicated to parents in order to start a conversation around mental wellbeing, and support young people and their families. Effective communication of concerns or changes can help provide families with the information they need to support that young person at home or provide their family with the support they need to open up about difficulties they are facing.
The early identification of concerns and effective collaboration with parents and carers can help to improve academic and social performance and avoid future mental health difficulties. So, it is important not to delay conversations with parents, as it is usually easier to help the young person when they begin to struggle, rather than allowing wellbeing issues to continue.
What can teachers do to support?
Before opening up a conversation with parents or carers about mental health it is important the time is right for you and them. If you are dealing with your own difficulties or feeling upset or vulnerable it may be best to pick a time when you feel able to talk without being overcome by emotion.
If you are finding that approaching a parent or carer is particularly difficult for you then seeking the advice of a colleaguebefore approaching the parent, orasking a colleague to be present during the conversation might be helpful.Discussing any continuing concerns with a colleague after speaking to a parent may also be beneficial.
Parents and carers may feel sensitive about sharing their concerns and may require a space where they can discuss this discreetly;try to identify a quieter space to talk. You also don’t want a parent or carer to feel rejected or closed down and therefore offering them enough time and an appropriate space to discuss their concerns is vital.
During these conversations safeguarding procedures will still apply and it is important to seek the support of your safeguarding lead if you have any doubts or worries about the safety of a child or adult. It may help to outline your professional obligation to share any concerns you may have with the parent, as to outline the remits of the confidentiality of your conversation.
Parents or carers may meet this conversation with resistance or denial; they do not necessarily have to agree with you. Acknowledging the positives the parent and the young person have displayed may help to open up a conversation.Discussing the facts of what teachers or staff have noticed and giving some examples of worrying behaviours such as ‘I have noticed that Emma has been withdrawn’ or ‘I have observed that Chris was tearful in the mornings’can help the parents understand where the concern has come from and they may have noticed similar behaviours but felt uncomfortable to share these or ask for help.
As teachers, you will already possess the skills to help parents to feel at ease. During difficult conversations bear in mind the importance of validating parent or carers feelings, to listen actively without judgement, checking the details of the conversationare clear and allowing time to talk. Communicating calmly and with respect can help to convey compassion and maintain the family’s freedom of choice. Remember, you don’t need to have all of the answers, but may bein a position to give them information about further support or strategies they can try at home to help the child or young person.
As with all matters of wellbeing taking time to focus on areas such asemotional intelligence and social confidence helps to build an outlook that feeds into the interactions a teacher has with the young people they support. Whilst we are preparing ourselves to help others we must also look after ourselves, we’ve got some advice and guidance on this in the teacher wellbeing section