Nurturing and building resilient, confident young people is now a major focus in schools and teaching children how to care for their mental health is seen as a key to wellbeing.
It’s been found that good mental health matters for individuals, families and communities – and as the World Health Organisation has said: “without mental health there can be no true physical health”.
The ‘Kidsmatter’ program, supported by the Australian Government, Beyond Blue, Australian Psychological Society, Principals Australia Institute and Early Childhood Australia, is now an important strategy in engaging Catholic Education Office Sydney Primary students and their parents or carers to promote good mental health for children.
‘Kidsmatter’ has been officially launched at its first Catholic Primary school, Our Lady of the Annunciation Catholic Primary School Pagewood, and with that the winner of the school’s ‘Kidsmatter’ art competition was announced.
The “Every Face Has a Place” winning entry by Armani Audisho in Year 4 will promote the program next year, it’s third year at the school.
“We adopted the program two years ago – students wellbeing is part of the Catholic Education Office’s strategic plan and next year there will be a major push in our schools,” said Principal Deborah Buchanan.
She said her school had a whole school approach to improving children’s mental health.
At a parent briefing, school leader of ‘Kidsmatter’, Peta Mirto, said there were four components to the program: creating a positive school community, social and emotional learning, working with parents and carers and helping children with mental health difficulties.
“The program is founded on respectful relationships and a sense of belonging and inclusion,” said Mrs Mirto, who is also Year 5 Teacher and Coordinator.
“It’s about bouncing back and resilience,” said Mrs Mirto.
Other approaches to mental health are being developed, too.
At St Patrick’s Catholic Primary School Kogarah children are encouraged to meditate and teach themselves how to relax and move their minds away from stress.
The school’s Wellbeing Group meets teacher Julie Lloyd every Tuesday at 1.30 p.m. for relaxation.
Mrs Lloyd also uses the ‘Go Noodle’ program where students imagine their worries are in a balloon and they can simply let it go.
She said last year she ran a resilience course for parents. This year she’s focused on the students using the ‘Bounce Back’ program. Mrs Lloyd also teaches the children positive affirmations and distributes relaxation prayer cards.
“They are encouraged to have a smiling mind, and they can share the meditation and mindfulness with their parents,” she said.
“If you are not a happy person – how are children going to learn?” asks Mrs Lloyd.
Here’s a sample of the written feedback she has received from her students:
- “I now can always be happy no matter what”
- “I feel like I am a happier person more often”
- “I have courage and I feel happy and very calm”
- “I feel safe and calm and good”
- “I feel changed because of Mrs Lloyd’s amazing teaching”
- “I feel not afraid anymore and I can stand up for my friends”.
Andrew Wicking is Research Manager at Resilient Youth Australia. He told the ‘Good Grief’ conference for Catholic educators that young people feel happiest when they are valued, valuable and giving.
The conference was linked with the international Seasons for Growth program, which is run in CEO Sydney schools. The program can be used for children, youth or adults to educate them about loss or change.
Dr Wicking said his extensive research had found that a sense of purpose, positive identity and having confidence in social skills empowered youth.
“Safety is a key gateway to empowerment,” said Dr Wicking.
Dr Wicking said connecting with spirituality, or God, or a political ideal were other assets for “getting on and doing it in the world”.
He and his team had researched young people across Australia through a confidential resilience survey since early 2013 asking them 99 questions about what’s real within themselves and what’s real for them in the world.
“To date we’ve administered 59,150 resilience surveys… over hundreds of schools across the country,” he said.
“We feel we really get to the thoughts and feelings of young people,” he said.
He said the positive findings from the surveys were that young people had good role models, adult support, they’re hopeful and had family belonging.
However, the negatives were that they were sometimes stressed, lacked concentration or sleep and were concerned about confidence in their social skills.
“Other findings were the importance of transitions. Young people need to know that they can make a difference in the world,” he said.
Dr Wicking said the biggest issue was sleep deprivation. The distraction of social media didn’t help with students in Years 11 and 12 who self-reported they were texting twice per night (between 10 pm and 6 am).
He said a question that asked students to measure their strengths or “assets” showed they were mostly fair at 33%, with low 30%, good 30% and excellent 7%. Asset levels peaked in Years 6 or 7, then usually picked up again in Year 11 and 12, he said.
Girls generally showed higher “assets” results than boys, except in the category of self-esteem.
“Girls get their self-image from outside, boys not so,” said Dr Wicking.
“A lot of our work involves taking our results back to the schools for each year group, back to the kids themselves,” he said. Working with the schools, he said, helped and empowered the children.
Dr Wicking said the survey was a really rich multidimensional measure of resilience.
“Getting children involved in this way, contributing and giving – is very powerful,” he said.
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