What does happiness mean to you?
by Yvonne Donoghue, Head of Inclusion at SISD
For me, happiness is is when my life fulfills my needs. It is a feeling of contentment, that my life, both personal and work, is just as it should be. It will always be susceptible to change because we all experience sudden emotions and we have to be ready to adapt!
What are your biggest concerns for teenagers growing up in 2016?
I feel that growing up in places like Dubai can be a particular challenge for teenagers. The “Dubai bubble” is something that a lot of the students I encounter struggle with and many express fears of coping in the “real world’, when the leave Dubai for university in other countries. Personally, I worry that today’s teenagers are under a lot of pressure from an early age. Those who are considered successful are the ones who perform well at school, gain entry to the ‘best’ universities, are popular with their peers and fit into the mold that social media dictates they should, rather than being the individual they truly are and should be celebrated for.
What do you think makes a school a happy environment for us students?
Students feeling of safety is a key factor here. Their social, emotional well being guarantees balanced student interactions and limits external stressors, that may influence their performance and happiness at school. Balanced students are able to identify justifiable needs at school. Supportive school systems would acknowledge and facilitate these needs to secure a progressive and happy learning environment for all.
What is there on campus that helps increase happiness?
Having a sense of community in school that each and every student feels valued and a part of is vital. All personal success, no matter how small, should be acknowledged and celebrated, not just perfect grades. Informal student-teacher interactions; Social events (e.g. Character Day, Pink Day); Student Resources (e.g. Sports facilities, Activity space during Breaks; Dietary Needs, Library Collection); Student-led projects & Student ownership of Essential Agreements help teenagers to take leadership roles in their own learning and strive to achieve their full potential.
What do you say to parents who are worried about their child’s happiness when moving to a new school?
For most people, change is a challenge and a process. Transitions are a 4-step process of adaptation: Honeymoon (Excitement, positive anticipation and optimism); Negotiation (Moments of frustrations and disappointments); Adjustment (Feelings of normalization) and Mastery (Navigating through new environment is manageable and causes minimum stress). Some children experience these in different orders, depending on the reasons for changing school.
It is important for families to recognize that children need to be given enough time and support, at home and in their new learning environment, to part ways with their old school and to fully understand what to expect going forward. Only then, will the transition process sail smoothly and allow students to settle happily in their new school.
How do you detect if a student is unhappy or struggling to adapt?
A large part of my role revolves around the observation of students, in both formal and informal settings around our school. Social withdrawal, increased sensitivity towards peers or teachers and a lack of trust in the school environment as a whole,are easily identified through close observation and frequent communication with teachers and parents. In other cases, students might engage in unexpected, unusual behaviors, for example, becoming disruptive or indulging in other attention seeking behaviors. Once detected, we can put the necessary support systems in place to support the student successfully adapt to their new environment.
What do you suggest to any families or students who are suffering from anxiety?
A pre-stressor in a child’s immediate environment triggers anxiety. It is important to identify what the stressor(s) are to support the child. For example, a change in routine at home/school may cause stress or anxiety. In this case, it is best to pre-empt the situation; discuss what is being changed and what to expect before the change takes place. This will allow the child to process change in its own comfort zone and prepare for the transition to go smoothly. Working with teachers and parents to identify other appropriate adjustments that may be made is also important. It is always best to let the child identify one “safe person”, who understands their anxieties and is available to help release stressful thoughts and calm down. Calming strategies may be developed with the child to help them develop their own individual coping skills.