Increasing anxiety among primary school pupils is concerning South Canterbury principals, a principals spokeswoman says.

South Canterbury Primary Principals Association (SCPPA) president Jane Culhane said the anxiety levels of school pupils had noticeably increased over the years, leaving schools needing to work out how to support struggling pupils and their families.

“[An anxious child is] quite a concern for a family.”

She was concerned about the anxiety of some primary school pupils, some of whom were worried about world poverty and other issues they had no control over.

Also, children sometimes had an issue establishing what was a real threat and what was something they did not have to worry about, she said.

“[We need to be] still allowing them to be children.”

In addition to anxiety over world issues and other things around them – such as
family dynamics and stressful situations at home – there were concerns over children’s self-esteem.

Miss Culhane attended a principals’ conference last week, where comedian Mike King, who has suffered from depression, give a talk about valuing children and encouraging their self-esteem.

“It’s not about worth in the [form] of achievement.”

She said many mental health issues stemmed from children feeling judged or insecure about their self-worth, so ensuring children felt loved, valued and supported was important.

New Zealand Secondary School Principals’ Association Canterbury and West Coast president Phil Holstein said principals were “very conscious” of prioritising staff and pupil wellbeing.

Community services were in high demand, and schools were having to take a more direct approach with staff and pupils’ mental health needs, he said.

“The pressure has come back down for schools to take over that.”

His pupils faced a range of issues, including school exam stress, family dynamics and personal issues, Mr Holstein said.

The amount of stress young people were under was awful to see, he said.

“It really saddens me to [see] this.”

However, on a positive note, he had been hearing of pupils who were coming forward to talk to school support staff and teachers on behalf of struggling friends.

“[It is] really good .. if we can practise that.”

He said schools needed to provide positive resiliency workshops for pupils if they were to help young people prepare for coping with difficult situations before they happened.

“If we are going to create the next bunch of strong students . . . then it can only begin in schools.”

For the full collection of stories about school pupils’ mental health in South Canterbury, find a copy of The Courier or check the online edition.

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