Promoting wellbeing through building conversations!

edu-wellbeingA guest post from @Edu_Wellbeing

Why talk about wellbeing?

Wellbeing is something that is relevant to everyone. Everyone has emotions that can make or break. When working in the Children and Young People Workforce, professionals have to be mindful of their own wellbeing, their colleagues and that of the people they are supporting – the children. People within the children and young people’s workforce have a moral duty to monitor wellbeing. Teachers have the ultimate aim of progressing a student academically. Research shows that wellbeing is one of the biggest influencers on progress and achievements – more so than parental intelligence.

A consistent theme running through the different elements of wellbeing is that everyone holds the key to wellbeing; it should not be consigned nor directed by a senior management team agenda.

Supporting children

Fundamentally, workers in the children and young people’s workforce are not in post to “fix” children. Our role is to support them with their “solutions” to coping with their emotional distress. We must help by developing more productive strategies to deal with the distress until they can either overcome it or gain specialist intervention.

Supporting children needs to be more than just a “professional’s approach”. Parental involvement and support is of great importance. Parents, significant others and carers must play an active role in their education and wellbeing. Some will need more encouraging than others. Some parents need more support with their emotional wellbeing. It is rare for children in schools to have parents who genuinely do not love and care for their children. More often there are multiple needs for the parents that have not been met – their own lack of parenting role models, support and emotional wellbeing.

Hence, there are lots of reasons why children become emotionally distressed at school, some we are aware of and some we are not aware of. Teachers may never find out the reasons, but by giving pupils a voice, we can encourage them to be more open. One strategy is to set up a reporting mechanism for pupils to have a voice. A well run school council would encourage pupil wellbeing to be closely monitored. Schools should look at a variety of methods for children to voice their concerns: from the more complicated school council, online anonymity feedback boxes, wellbeing days to the basic occasionally having lunch with pupils, spending time outside of class with them.

Developing relationships to improve wellbeing

Educating children and young people relies on good communicating. Progress would deteriorate for some, even if we are communicating the curriculum appropriately. Communication allows school staff to build trust with their pupils. As a teacher, it is important you can talk to children on a one-to-one basis as well as in the class. Without effective communication, children will not be able to reach and stretch their potential. But why do children not open up and tell us what is causing them distress. Why do we have different behaviour strategies being used by children rather than discussing such distress with us?

Very rarely do children begin a relationship with a teacher by discussing their true feelings and emotions. The single most important thing about children is they will choose who they want to talk to. Who they want to share their trauma with. Who they trust. And trust here is the key word. Although, it does happen, it is rare for someone to divulge their distress the first time you meet them. Largely because they don’t know what you will do with the information.

Therefore, there is a communication dynamic we need to be aware of. The more personal the conversation, the more risk to self a child will feel. Hence, more trust is required for a child to open up and blossom an open, honest relationship. There is a pathway that teachers need to go through to build trust, enabling relationship, productive for improving wellbeing. Most relationships start with low risk conversations; conversations centred round generic clichés.

Start with clichés

When entering new environments, meeting strangers or people we do not knew very well, we can begin to lay foundations for a relationship through non-invasive topics. Topics that are very general. Making small conversation requires a small amount of trust and limited risk to the child. Discussing things such as the weather outside does not require the child to discuss anything personal.

These conversations can then be developed through gently stretching the trust, discussing facts and information about them. Beginning to delve deeper in to their personal life can be perceived as risky to the child. However, once trust is growing between teacher and pupils, the risks are decreasing.

Focusing on facts and information

Children engaging with riskier conversations, will be able to move on to talk more about facts and information about themselves. This in itself will be a big step into conversations about the individual’s emotional distress. The child will be opening up facts and information that will allow you to be more understanding in the reasons behind behaviours. Positive phone calls home will bridge the gap between home and school, helping improve trust, wellbeing and understanding of home life.

Being open about opinions

Children need to be empowered to be open about opinions regarding to their behaviour – whether they see it as acceptable or productive for example. In their opinion, did it make them feel better? Did they get immediate gratification from it? These opinions need to be listened to and where necessary challenged and discussed further – all the time reaffirming the importance of honesty. Remember opinions can lead to judgements which poses a risk to the child. The child needs to trust that this conversation will not escalate any potential consequences. Without honesty, we cannot have honest discussions necessary for improving wellbeing.

Encouraging emotions

As you gently, subconsciously build the trust, topics involving feelings and emotions will develop. The child’s trust in you has grown to a stage where you can now have real impact on their emotional wellbeing. However, there is more work a teacher can do indirectly to promote healthy conversations about feelings and emotions. Use class time to actively encourage awareness of emotions.  While reading stories, ask children how the characters would be feeling. How can they tell? Encourage them to act out the emotion or pull a face! There sore many creative ideas for including emotions on the class and de-stigmatising them.

Ensuring emotions are transient

Above all, this process needs to be organic, not following a checklist of conversation topics!  Do not just confine emotions to a token assembly or PSHE lesson. Engage in conversation about mental health and wellbeing. Ensure they have a good understanding of emotional distress and children can relate emotions to being normal and transient. It is the “stuckness” in emotional distress which can cause the problems for a child. By developing their resilience and awareness, emotional distress will decrease. But remember, children will always have “brittle” days. So, how will you adapt your approach to meet their transient needs?

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@Edu_Wellbeing is passionate about wellbeing in education – Skills Centre Lead. SLT. Teacher. Trainer. Learner Exp. across CYP & criminal  justice workforce.

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