This blog first appeared on headstogether.org.uk, and can be read here
Moving to a new school, or up a year at an existing school - with new friends, teachers, subjects, rules and expectation - is a big deal for young people. All of us who are adults remember how daunting it was, but we sometimes take it for granted that children will be able to cope with the change.
The truth is, for many young people, the changing schools or starting a new academic year is really difficult to deal with. Catherine and I have young children who will be going through this themselves in a short period of time, and like all parents we will want to make sure that our children are not just able to achieve their academic potential at school but are also happy and emotionally supported.
Catherine and I are today going back to school at Stewards Academy in Harlow, Essex, a school where the emotional health of children is regarded as highly as the students' academic performance. We are looking forward to the students showing us how the school provides a supportive, nurturing environment, aided by the charity Place2Be and by an atmosphere of openness about asking for help.
What Stewards Academy practices is the belief that children should be comfortable with admitting if they ever feel overwhelmed (it is very normal to feel like that, after all) and that children should know that they can ask for help. The sooner children learn in life that asking for help is okay, the better. It better equips us for adulthood - just as much as good academic results. Catherine, Harry and I are proud to be heading up a campaign called Heads Together, which is about getting people talking about difficult times that many of us will experience at different times in our life; and then accessing expert help if we need it.
Talking can make us realise we are not alone. Sometimes getting something off your chest to someone else is an important step in coping - so you know that you're not alone, you're not failing, and that it is perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed or sad at times. Everybody does. If we could end the old fashioned idea that feeling down is something to be ashamed of, something that you shouldn't burden others with, we would make our society a much happier and healthier place. By encouraging children to talk and to get support, we could stop these feelings developing into more serious problems that continue into adulthood. We all need someone to turn to at some point in our lives - even if it's an anonymous phone line or webchat service; or a friend, teacher or family member. Someone who we can trust. That's what Catherine, Harry and I are working towards - we know it's a big ambition, but we think it's important.
This month - in September - the three of us wanted to recognise how tough it can be when young people go through major changes in their life. We hope that it helps bring about the habit in their lives of turning to someone when they need help, as that will be as important to their adult lives as academic success.
But this campaign is not just for young people. We know that parents sometimes don't know how to encourage their children to open up about difficult times they are going through. Heads Together has published some top tips for parents today, to help them get their children talking about big changes in their lives. We hope they are helpful.
Very good luck with the new school year. We hope it is a happy and fulfilled one for you.
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