This year's Children's Mental Health Awareness week's theme, hosted by Place2BE, is 'spread a little kindness.'
Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair of the Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition, sets out why this is a virtue that children and young people need to extend to themselves, supported by parents, teachers and crucially government.
We know that being kind to others is not only a morally good thing to do, but that it is also good for our physical and mental health. Something we often forget however is the importance of extending this virtue to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves, which involves accepting who we are, is a critical part of protecting and improving our mental health.
Accepting who we are gets a bit easier as we get older. As adults, we have had time and space to work out the things we are good at and the things that are important to us. There are also things we're less good at, and we come to terms with this. We realise that there are no Oscar winning, brain surgeons playing in the Premier League. Throughout life we make choices that lead us in different directions, closing some doors in the process, and that's okay.
But when we are younger, a lot of pressure is placed on us to excel at everything. To keep all doors open, we need to be good at maths and English, geography and history, science and art. That and we have to be able to run a half marathon and learn to play the violin.
Adults are sometimes not very good at realising the very things they like about themselves, their differences, the things that make them unique, are the very things we frown upon in children and young people. We expect too much from them, and sometimes, unconsciously, want them to do well in things we were never good at.
While it is natural that teachers and parents will always want children and young people to do their best, most understand that doing your best doesn't always result in an A*. Today's pressure primarily comes from league tables that put schools under pressure and judge their success on results alone. If we want children and young people to accept themselves, we need to be supporting schools and enabling them to rebalance the focus between attainment and wellbeing.
By releasing some of the pressure on schools to place value only on results, at the expense of pupil wellbeing, we can create a system that doesn't undermine the quality of relationship between teachers and their pupils.
We want government to ensure schools have the resources and trust to redress this imbalance, enabling them to incorporate mental health and wellbeing into PSHE lessons or within the wider curriculum. These lessons need to be high quality, well executed, age appropriate and meet pupils' needs.
Our coalition co-sponsored of the Values Based Child and Adolescent Mental Health Commission. The values based approach is important within schools as well as within the wider children and young people people's mental health system. The focus is on understanding and accepting the different values people, including children and young people hold.
One of the key values the Commission identified was long-term relationships, and the power they have in promoting and supporting children and young people's mental health. Kindness and compassion are key components of successful long-term relationships. We want to empower all schools and colleges to retain compassion and kindness within schools and teaching, whilst also encouraging children and young people to do well academically.
We all have a part to play, school leaders, teachers, parents and those governing or inspecting schools can all actively advocate pupil mental health and wellbeing alongside academic achievement. When adults evaluate their lives, some may judge themselves on wealth or status, but most simply want to be happy. We should allow the same for children and young people and give them the licence to be kind to themselves.