3.1 – Meeting parents’ information needs

MindMatters in Minutes. Meeting parents’ information needs.

If you see students all day every day, you probably get to know them quite well. But what about their families?

Unlike in primary school, where families are often closely involved, in secondary school parents tend to fade into the background.

There are good reasons for this: high school is more specialised so it can be harder for parents to participate, parents themselves are busy— and their children are getting older and more independent.

However, research shows adolescents —no matter what they might say— are heavily influenced by their families, and that when schools and families work together effectively, student mental health improves. 

So how can you involve parents, families and carers in your mental health and wellbeing strategy?

Consider promotion. How many of your families have even thought about mental health?

How valuable would it be to tell them your school has a mental health strategy and show them how it influences your school culture and practice? 

How could you share links to important information so parents understand how to promote positive mental health at home?

If we think of prevention, then building connections with families is in itself a protective factor. You can also amplify the effectiveness of strategies you are using in your school by encouraging parents to use them as well. For instance, you might be able to share how you as a school build resilience or empower students.

Finally, in terms of early intervention, you can share information to destigmatise mental health difficulties and disorders and encourage help-seeking among families. In this way the school can act as an information hub so that when parents actually do need help, you can be part of the process for referring them on.

Now that all sounds great but getting parents engaged in high school can be a real challenge. How do you do it?

It really depends on your parent community. For some families, conventional methods like newsletters, email and information sessions might be exactly what they want.

Others might respond better to more personal communication, or special events. Many schools have found inventive ways to reach out to parents and get them involved, such as working with community liaison officers or getting students to lead information sessions.

It’s worth talking with colleagues at different schools to find out what has worked for them.

The most important thing is to not make assumptions about who your parent community is and what they want. Instead, think: how could you make opportunities to talk to them, find out what they value, and collect their ideas?

It’s not necessarily easy, but if you can make it work then the rewards are substantial.