In this Essentials episode of School Behaviour Secrets, Helena Kulikowska shares practical insights on supporting children affected by their parent's mental health.
She reveals the power of simple interventions and student-teacher empathy that can make a significant difference in their lives - and shares practical strategies that can make a profound difference for pupils affected by this issue.
Click here for the full interview from episode 34.
Visit the Our Time website for more ideas and resources: https://ourtime.org.uk/
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Show notes / transcription
Helena Kulikowska 0:00
We've got so many stories of more young people that have gone on to do amazing things and wanted to stress that, you know, teachers have so much to do, and they're already under so much pressure. So this can feel like another issue or another thing that we are asking them to do, but it's a small intervention can can make a huge difference for these young people. And when I say intervention, that doesn't mean a specialist, detailed or long sort of approach. As I said, it could just be taking notice and being someone that cares about that child and make it known that you're, you know, available to them if they ever want to talk and that can make a huge difference in a young person's life.
Simon Currigan 0:48
Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural Special Needs whole school strategy and more all with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear their latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast. Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to another essentials episode of school behaviour secrets, where I share with you one important strategy or insight from an earlier interview episode that can have an impact for the students that you work with in your school or classroom. In this essentials episode, I'm going to share a section of my interview with Helena Kulikowska. Helena is development director for the charity at time, who supports children who are affected not by their own mental illness, but by the mental illness of their parents. And this is a much overlooked area of need in our schools. I asked her what we need to develop practically to help support those children in our classrooms.
Helena Kulikowska 2:10
Teachers will say to us, but I'm not a social worker. I'm not a counsellor. I'm not a mental health expert. How can I support this issue? So that's the number one thing we say to teachers, you don't need to be a mental health expert in order to support these young people. And you also don't need to have all the answers and you don't need to fix it. So what I would say it's about taking notice and being open and inquisitive, asking questions, if you notice that a young person is withdrawn or seems preoccupied with their thoughts is under a lot of stress is not being their usual selves. Ask questions and listen to what they have to say, don't force the young person to talk but be consistent with your interest. And it can be quite a general question. You could say I've noticed you haven't quite been yourself recently, I've noticed you've been quite tired or preoccupied? Is everything okay? At home, is there something that's on your mind, don't put too much pressure or force on the young person to talk if they don't want to, because they might be very afraid of that. And they won't necessarily initially trust you. But it's important to be consistent with your interests. So maybe make an effort to check in every couple of days or once a week, or however frequently feels appropriate in the context of the situation. And then if the young person opens up to you ask them what they would like to happen next. And you might provide some suggestions, they might only be talking about it with you for the first time. So they might not know what they want to do or what they want to happen. So that could be a suggestion of finding out more information about the particular thing they've asked about, or it might be helping them to access some young carers support or support for themselves or their family confidentiality is a question that often comes up. And it's really important to be upfront about this. So inviting outside intervention or intervention from social services is something that the young people really fear, they worry about getting their family into trouble, or they worry about being separated from their parents. So it's important to be clear about the confidentiality you can keep. So as a general rule, we say that the conversation you have with the young person is strictly confidential and you respect that confidentiality. However, be upfront that if there is anything that they disclose to you, which means you would be worried for their well being or that would make you think that they are at risk, then you have a duty to report that obviously other things that you can do. It's up out creating space being compassionate and not punitive. When we work with schools and teachers, we say it's about creating a safe space or a safe environment within the school where the young person feels supportive. So that could be they don't have their homework on one morning because of something that's been going on at home, it might be that they're allowed to go to the library to quietly get on with that and catch up, they might have an agreement with you that if it's not a good day, they can go to a space or have time within the classroom to quietly get on with their work or do some reading, or whatever might be appropriate if the young person is late, and you're aware of a difficult situation at home, be compassionate and understanding and not punitive, or punishing as that might isolate the young person further, a really important thing, if you haven't yet mentioned is don't target the young person. What I mean by that is because they already experienced a lot of stigma, or might experience a lot of stigma, and don't necessarily want to be noticed when you're having these conversations, make sure it is in a confidential space where they're not singled out amongst their peers, when a young person is singled out. And I'm sure this is obvious to listeners, you risk isolating them further. And also it sends a signal that there is something wrong with them that they are the issue or that it's them that have the problem. And it singles them out from their peers from whom they might already feel quite isolated.
Simon Currigan 6:43
Your charity supports children by helping the local community set up things like workshops and providing training and advice to schools and other stakeholders. Can you tell us about the experiences of one of your children and the difference that approach is made to their lives.
Helena Kulikowska 6:58
There's so many examples, but I've picked out a few. So one of them is actually my best friend who I've known for many years. And she was a trustee for the charity for for some time. And she grew up in a household where both parents had a mental illness. And the family never received any support. There were hospitalizations of both her parents throughout her childhood, because they came from the outside looked as a wealthy middle class family. And both her and her sister went to private schools, you know, from the outside, people thought everything's fine, and nobody really stepped into intervene. But what my friend has told me on many occasions, is that it was in fact, the teacher at her school. Notice that something wasn't right, she noticed that my friend was very quiet and withdrawn and quite ostracised from her peers, sometimes bullied. And so what this teacher did is she noticed and when my friend came in, and a teacher could tell it had been a you know, a bad couple of days or a bad evening, she would let her go and do her homework in the library and also give her books to read something else to focus on that can offer the young person a bit of quiet time and a positive distraction. A lot of our young people tell us that they often retreat to the world of books or music or something to calm their mind and distract themselves. So that is a good example. Because it's not anything particularly profound. This teacher didn't give mental health advice. It was something incredibly simple, just creating time and space, and taking notice and saying I see you and I can see that you're having a difficult time and being supportive in that way. And that can make a huge difference. And it's something my friend has said that was the only person when she was young at that time that took notice and did something and now she runs her own publishing PR company so that books were her inspiration and one of our other trustees who now actually works in the mental health field with both children and adults. She attended our multifamily workshops since she was a teenager. And she also said it was a teacher at school that notice so she had quite a traumatic experience with her parents who had a mental illness. And when she was a teenager, she started getting into trouble at school. So her grades suddenly started slipping. She was disengaged and you know, changed friendship groups and started behaving sort of inverted commas sadly, and it was a teacher that noticed this and actually took her aside and spoke to her and said you know what's going on? This isn't you and that really helped her get back on the right track. And then finally another example We'll have a boy or he'll be grown up now but who attended one of the schools which we work with, there's a video of him on our website where he said before his school undertook our programme and started raising awareness of mental health and mental illness. He said previously, he had no friends, he couldn't talk about it to anyone. But being able to talk about it at school and with his peers not only helped him to understand his situation and not be embarrassed about it or ashamed about it, it helped him to cope and feel less isolated and more supported. There. We've got so many stories of our young people that have gone on to do amazing things and wanted to stress that, you know, teachers have so much to do, and they're already under so much pressure. So this can feel like another issue or another thing that we are asking them to do fat, it's a small intervention can can make huge difference for these young people. And when I say intervention, that doesn't mean a specialist detailed or long sort of approach. As I said, it could just be taking notice and being someone that cares about that child and make it known that you're you know, available to them if they ever want to talk and that can make a huge difference in a young person's life.
Simon Currigan 11:25
And that was Helen Kulikowska, talking about what we can do to support children affected by their parent's mental health needs. If you want to hear more, head back to Episode 34. I'll put a direct link in the episode description. And I'll also put links to the Add Time website for more ideas and resources. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do, it prompts the algorithm to recommend school behaviour secrets to other listeners, and that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents. And while you've got your podcast app open, please remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening today. And I look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviours.
(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)