Why we should all spread a little kindness

Posted on: 02 Feb 2017
Posted by: Mark Ronan

Ahead of Children's Mental Health Week next week, Mark Ronan, Head at Pocklington School, urges everyone to be thoughtful, spread kindness and make a little extra effort when communicating.

Next week’s 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.

Even, or perhaps especially, as teachers we can all make a conscious effort to review our own behaviour and make that extra effort. 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, however small, 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.

Many of us have experienced the feeling of being lonely in a crowded room; and children and young people feel that particularly acutely. A good teacher will pick up on that and, particularly if the class size is small, build bridges of communication through a peronalised approach.

Today is Time to Talk Day, aimed at getting the nation talking about mental health, and those little acts of kindness can forge connections and open channels of communication, which is key to nurturing wellbeing.

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.

Half of 16-18 year-old boys in the UK (49%) say they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to their dad about mental health (including issues like stress, anxiety and depression), and 33% of young men struggling with depression choose to keep it to themselves.

Sometimes the signs that someone is having a hard time are not always visible. As teachers, we may consider ourselves adept at spotting the children in obvious distress and providing the support they need, but how good are we at noticing subtle signs of a child suffering mental turmoil through stress or anxiety?

Our most important job as educators is to protect and cultivate the wellbeing of those in our care. Key to that is establishing and encouraging 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 have a designated pastoral care team; and well-being support for pupils and staff led by two clinical psychologists. But all colleagues, teaching and support, make themselves available to listen to pupils about anything that might be troubling them. Not all of them may consider themselves “experts” in the field of mental wellbeing, but they know the most important thing, in the first instance, is to make the time to listen.

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. Next Tuesday is another national awareness day, Safer Internet Day, aimed at promoting the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

Our pupils have sessions on internet safety and the “real life” impact of social media and online activity, and our 2nd Years will spend much of Internet Safety Day off-timetable. But one of the main messages I want all our pupils to come away with is the same as above: the importance of 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 over the next week or so, it’s that we should all be more thoughtful – and kind – in the way we communicate.

16_03 Mark Ronan Pocklington Head

About Mark Ronan

Mark Ronan is Headmaster at Pocklington School, a co-educational school in the picturesque rural setting of Yorkshire.