PARENTS have been given a clearer insight into the workings of their children’s brains under a new initiative designed to help them support learning.
Hormones, growth spurts and the influence of digital devices were just some of a host of topics covered for parents as young people strive to balance their schooling with physical and mental development.
Around 40 parents of pupils at Barnard Castle School and Preparatory School attended the two-hour session led by senior and prep school Pastoral Deputy Heads Peter Lavery and Rebecca Robertson.
“The aim is to promote mental fitness and wellbeing at Barney, to strengthen children’s capacity to grow and develop, to be able to overcome difficulties and challenges and to make the most of their abilities and opportunities,” said Mr Lavery.
“We want them to come into class and concentrate for 40 minutes free from any worries, as well as giving them the tools to deal with stress. Just like physical health, they need to have good mental health and we promote this through PSHE, assemblies, a varied co-curricular programme and by using visiting speakers.”
Parents heard that children’s moods went up and down on a daily basis, but anything prolonged might need further attention and support.
“Good mental health should see them have friends, be caring, understand right from wrong, be able to problem-solve and overcome setbacks,” he said. “But they must also be allowed to fail because this is how they learn.”
The school works to promote their self-esteem, make them more resilient, give them problem-solving skills, maintain good physical health, experience success and achievement, plan and avoid stressful situations.
Set against this were community factors, such as socio-economic issues, family breakdown and deviant peer influences.
Mr Lavery told parents that children were hardwired to react and behave in a certain way until they were around 25 when frontal lobe development helped them control their impulses and rationalise.
“So we all need to try and help them understand their own brain and explain what they are going through – although it also has to be explained that it is no excuse – and how to form strategies to control themselves,” he said.
“We provide lessons and activities to keep them in this ‘settled system’ where the biochemicals released on the brain prompt a better reaction. We also push them outside of their comfort zone and urge them to be brave, compassionate and grateful.”
Mr Lavery also offered advice on the impact of social media and digital devices and how to manage their use.
Mrs Roberston said the work started as soon as children attended Prep School and they were taught the values of the Barney Way – be kind, polite, smart, organised, respectful. She said: “It’s what we are, it’s what we do and the children know what is and what is not the Barney Way and are quick to tell us.
“Older pupils are encouraged to help the younger ones and we have the House system which makes the school feel like a family. Prep School lays the foundations which are built upon at senior school.”
Mr Lavery added: “Communication is key. Choose your words carefully – criticism will lead to shutdown – wise up to young people’s issues and talk to them about them. Actively listen and let them speak. Guide rather than lecture, use humour where appropriate and avoid confrontation which escalates tension.”