When it comes to mental health issues, lots of people avoid them. Teachers and school staff don’t want to bring up touchy subjects with parents, so they speak in vague, indirect terms, rather than confront the issue more head on. Instead of saying, “Allison seems sad,” and stopping there, teachers should keep going. They may need to add, “The fact that Allison cries every day, does not seem to have any friends, and falls asleep in class regularly really concerns me.” From there, a teacher might need to advance to: “You might want to have your child get an evaluation,” or “Your child may benefit from seeing a therapist or counselor.” If possible, a teacher could offer a list of therapists or low cost clinics that a parent could call.
Of course, this type of honesty has to be offered in a framework of caring and concern. Even if the topic is introduced thoughtfully and gently, teachers still may experience major blowback from parents. After all, navigating a child’s mental health issues is a very emotional experience and carries with it an implicit set of blame for the parents. No parents want to hear that their own kid has a problem. But they need to.
If teachers don’t say anything or coaches or pastors or principals, then parents can continue to tell themselves that their child’s behavior is somehow normal. Avoidance can last for years, often until a devastating crisis occurs. Here’s a new approach: let’s focus on avoiding crises instead.