The headteacher column with Mark Ronan

Pocklington School headteacher Mark Ronan.
Pocklington School headteacher Mark Ronan.

This week’s (6-12 Feb) Children’s Mental Health Week is urging us to spread a Little Kindness, with the message that small acts of kindness can make all the difference.

A small gesture can indeed make a huge impact, even if it’s just opening a door or helping to carry someone’s bags. Not only can it brighten their day, but studies show that being kind can make you happier and less stressed – another reason to give it a try.

Children's Mental Health Week.

Children's Mental Health Week.

It’s easy to forget how even the smallest of words and actions can impact those around us. One of the key benefits of being on the receiving end of an act of kindness is the feeling that you have been noticed and that you matter.

For children, as with anyone, the sense that they don’t count, that they’re not valued, can be the most hurtful and harmful of all. Statistically, one in ten young people will experience a mental health problem. But nearly three in four young people fear the reaction of friends when they talk about their mental health.

Sometimes the signs that someone is having a hard time are not always visible. Our most important job as educators is to protect and cultivate the wellbeing of those in our care. Key to that is nurturing lines of communication, whether by one of those simple acts of kindness, or just showing you’ve noticed something’s not right and asking a pupil if they’re okay.

We recently welcomed mental health campaigner Dick Moore to the school, who spoke to our pastoral care team about how to spot signs of mental health issues in young people, how to assess their wellbeing, and the next steps to take. One of the points he made, which is particularly relevant this week, was: “Be aware how negative remarks have three times the impact as positive remarks.”

Unfortunately, one of the main causes of anxiety, stress and depression among children and young adults today is social media. Earlier this week another national awareness day, Safer Internet Day, promoted safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people. Once again, I believe the key to achieving this is kindness.

As adults, I imagine we’ve all pressed the “send” button and realised – all too late - that we didn’t get the tone of an email quite right. Young people, too, are particularly prone to firing off messages in the heat of the moment without due consideration.

Particularly when egged on by friends, they can forget their online pal is the same person they sit with in class – and the unintended result of a careless insult or criticism can be devastating to the recipient. We always stress to pupils that they shouldn’t say anything on social media that they wouldn’t say to someone face to face. They are encouraged to show the same respect online as in school.

So if there is one message we all should take from the numerous awareness days this week, it’s that we should all be more thoughtful – and kind – in the way we communicate.