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How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

17 September 2019

Starting secondary is a significant milestone in a young person’s life – new schools, new friends, new teachers and indeed new challenges altogether. Whether you’re a parent, teacher or practitioner, helping a young person through this transition can be one of the most impactful things you do for them. But how can we support them? Here our practitioners, team and friends share practical ways we can help pupils deal with such challenges.

1. Developing an identity

Fitting in, asserting an identity or gaining peer acceptance becomes even more prominent in a secondary school context. This undeniable reality can often lead to a dip in academic progress or intensify challenging behaviour.

“My challenge at school was a struggle between being a good student and getting the grades everyone (including myself) expected of me and wanting to be independent and assert my identity; who I wanted to be in this world and who my friends were,” says Sandra, Intervention Practitioner at Kineara.

Helping young people to express themselves authentically and take advantage of extracurricular activities is just one way of facilitating healthy social exploration. Sandra adds that it’s also important for parents and teachers to try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are instead of just trying to change it.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track,” she adds.

2. Bullying and peer pressure

Whether its physical, verbal, social, or online, bullying can take many forms. For parents, identifying any changes in your child’s behaviour, asking questions, and building meaningful relationships with their teachers can all make a difference.

Strengthening relationships between the parent and child, parent and teacher, and teacher and child, is one aim of M2E. “I was lucky that I had a good upbringing with parents who gave me a strong sense of self-worth that made me realise my potential. Without it I may have ended up in more serious trouble that would have been harder to return from,” says Sandra.

During the transition, it can be helpful to try to increase your child’s circle of friends by encouraging them to invite home their friends or participate in group activities. Educating pupils and their parents through assemblies, class discussions and workshops can also help to challenge stigma and raise awareness about the challenges that pupils are facing.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Mel, Comms Lead at Kineara, highlights the importance of having quality support. “For me the main thing was going from a very small school where everyone knew each other to a school with hundreds of kids in each year; this was a bit intimidating at first! The key thing for me was that I had a close-knit group of friends that formed pretty early; they were my peers who I went to for support and we took each other through the whole secondary journey.”

“For pupils who are feeling shy or lonely, we often involve their peers by bringing them into our sessions to participate in group activities such as cooking and baking, which develops the child’s confidence and broadens their friendship circle,” says Gail, Kineara’s M2E lead.

3. Mental health and wellbeing

With 1 in 10 children and young people experiencing a mental health issue at any one time, it is important that we are clued up on the challenges of dealing with mental health, and how we as parents, teachers and practitioners can support pupils. What’s more, a recent Government Green Paper (2017) stated that appropriately trained teachers and school staff can make a difference in addressing mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety and conduct disorder, comparable to those achieved by trained therapists.

In delivering M2E, we’ve found that teachers and school staff can support pupils by  developing their understanding of mental health through relevant training such as MHFA courses, as well as receiving support with their own wellbeing. We have also seen how a school benefits from adopting a joined-up, wraparound ethos that focuses on wellbeing just as much as academic outcomes. As part of the culture, schools could consider activities that have been proven to help pupils manage high levels of stress such as mindfulness, yoga and relaxation/breathing exercises.

The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support must be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

After taking part in M2E, one pupil who was struggling to manage his temper said about the programme: “I enjoy having better relationships with people in school. I use my breathing techniques when someone is annoying me, and I listen to my relaxation before bed and no tech for one hour which helps my sleep.” In this case we found the main outcomes to be significant improvements in the pupils’ overall stress and behaviour, followed by an improvement in concentration and emotional awareness.

There are a plethora of online resources exploring different areas of mental health and wellbeing, from exam stress, eating disorders to responding to traumatic events. We have also written about the real impact of exam stress and why schools need to  focus on supporting mental health during this difficult time.

4. Hidden or complex challenges

For some, personal, hidden, or external challenges will take a toll on social and academic progress through secondary school, including the impact of educational inequality, a lack of adequate support for SEND pupils, family breakdown, or issues with housing. One way of supporting pupils through such a challenge is looking at the ‘whole-person,’ offering empathy and being emotionally available.

“The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support has to be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable,” says Maria, “When you’re talking to someone, it helps to see that person as a system – in that system is a person, their needs, background, parentage, education etc. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

Maria explains that not everyone offers holistic support, neither does everyone have to.” As a school, for example, it’s about recognising that there are other organisations that can support with intervention on a holistic level. It’s about partnership,” she says.

Learn more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact, Research
How self-determination can impact wellbeing

How self-determination can impact wellbeing

25 July 2019

From poverty to income inequality, and rising mental health concerns to the housing crisis, many of the core challenges we face today stem from an economic system that maintains inequality and often hits the most vulnerable hardest. However, studies show that feeling engaged and in control of our lives can elevate our wellbeing and development, despite our circumstances.  

Self-determination, which refers to the process by which a person feels in control and empowered over their own life, can significantly improve mental health and wellbeing, according to growing research.

Psychologists posit that self-determination can lead to more positive, sustainable outcomes, including in mental health and emotional wellbeing, resilience, and healthy social and psychological development. In fact, the capacity to make the right decisions for one’s wellbeing and feeling empowered to do so, can result in people leading longer, healthier and happier lives.

Alternatively, feeling a continued lack of self-control and uncertainty in our lives can have far-reaching consequences for our mental health and wellbeing, from the way we respond to and address challenges in our lives, to how we operate in our community and broader society.

At the individual level, people who feel they have lower control over their day-to-day lives are more likely to experience a chronic stress response; their ability to cope suffers and feelings of insecurity about the world often heighten.  This stress response can lead to poorer mental and physical health, which are experienced at a greater rate by disadvantaged and vulnerable communities.

Although the link between poorer health and socio-economic factors such as low income and educational inequality is well established, the ‘perceived’ lack of control on a micro or individual level, can too, lead to feelings of disempowerment, and in turn, poorer wellbeing outcomes. This is often marked by poorer mental health including depression and anxiety, which in turn, influences health damaging choices like smoking or increased alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that those who exercise control over their lives and make decisions in their best interest, even small day-to-day decisions, are more likely to cope better through stressful situations.

The impact of poverty and structural inequalities

A recent report by George Bangham at the Resolution Foundation suggests there’s more to life than economics, but that it still really matters. Crucially, the report identifies the need for safety, security and stability, particularly in housing and employment.

Bangham presents several examples highlighting the need for security in life, including housing tenure being strongly associated with higher wellbeing and that whilst a job may increase wellbeing, the well-being drop from losing a job is bigger than the wellbeing gain from getting into work.

Among its findings the report concludes: “The best prospects for policymakers targeting future increases in national wellbeing lie in raising job quality, raising incomes, particularly at the lower end, and policies to improve security in the housing market.”

Further studies show that poverty– which today may likely include continued low income and in-work poverty levels – has an impact on the brain and its development due to chronic stress causing toxicity. This, in turn, can impact decision making and cause a perceived lack of control over one’s life.

Notably, those who feel they have little control over their circumstances tend to find greater outer rewards in money and grades, while those who feel in control are motivated more by the inner sense of mastery and satisfaction, according to psychologist Richard deCharm. This highlights the causal nexus between poverty and a perceived lack of control, and those with a perceived lack of control finding greater reward in external conditions such as job and housing security or higher income.

Developing self-determination

With the proportion of people experiencing ‘deep poverty’ in London having increased in recent years and many workers still trapped in precarious jobs and insecure housing, we believe developing resilience and self-determination to address and work through the daily challenges is more important than ever.

Whilst there are things that we can’t change immediately like the socioeconomic context in which we live, there are things we can change. By focusing on what we can change including our responses to situations and the decisions we make, we can support our own wellbeing and positively impact those around us.

Having the right support is also key. Studies have demonstrated that having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your mental and physical health, whilst social isolation are loneliness lead to a greater risk of poorer mental health and wellbeing. On a broader level, while policy changes are essential, it is also important that vulnerable people have access to the right support. Findings from a landlords’ focus group conducted by Kineara, found that 80% of landlords believe their tenants would benefit from financial support and mediation, and 60% say their local council does not provide, or could provide further adequate support for tenants.

Holistic practice means understanding how these things intersect; using a holistic, strength-based, person-centred support enables Kineara’s practitioners to meet the needs of the individual or family and build on their strengths to maintain positive outcomes. By working 1:1 starting with where people are and working towards goals that individuals and families choose and aspire to achieve themselves, the tailored approach recognises the importance of strengthening the individual, the family unit and the community, whilst also taking their socio-economic situation into consideration.

Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, adds: “We know that homelessness can affect someone’s mental health, we know that poverty can affect someone’s mental health, we understand that. So, it’s important for us to recognise those things because it can be a barrier for someone moving on, finding a job, it can be a barrier in so many ways. There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Developing a level of self-determination is vital for self-development. Being able to guide the course of your life, despite the circumstances, takes focus, proactivity, self-confidence and a willingness to work through adversity. Recognising that you and only you have the power to change where you are in life: mentally, emotionally and practically, is a constant pursuit and a powerful tool for change.

Posted by kineara in Community, Latest, Research