Putting relationships at the heart of school life
June 29, 2023

The theme for this year’s Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) Day is kindness. To celebrate, we’re pleased to share this blog from Hannah Partis, Partner Engagement Co-ordinator at Family Links, the Centre for Emotional Health.

“She’s such a kind girl,” are words I often hear about my daughter. Or the call of “kind hands” from an Early Years teacher to children in their classroom. The gentle reminder of “be kind” as a parent watches their child interacting with another in a playground, or we read on a social media post. This year RSE Day is asking us all to launch into kindness, but what does kindness really mean?

According to the dictionary, kindness is defined as the quality of being generous, helpful, and caring about other people's feelings.  

Kindness can often be the starting block for developing a strong and healthy relationship, which we build around shared values. Kindness is a value that most of us recognise as important in our lives.

Kindness is much more than being “nice” and can come in many different forms. Perhaps foremost, in order to be kind we need to learn the skill of empathy – the ability to tune in to someone else’s feelings and understand their emotional point of view. Responding with empathy supports the other person to feel valued, heard and understood.  

Relationships are challenging. So, we need to show kindness, empathy, and courage to engage in difficult conversations, to deal with difficult emotional reactions and to work through the inevitable challenges in life.  

Relationships are vital for our wellbeing and development. Harvard research shows relationship experiences and role modelling right through from early childhood to our teenage years shape future physical and mental health, academic achievement, work, happiness, and life outcomes. 

By role modelling kindness and empathy we all play a crucial role in the relationship expectations and skills of children and young people. By talking kindly about others, responding with empathy to difficult feelings, and reaching out to those perceived as different, we teach children how to be kind to one another and how to build healthy relationships. Whether intentionally or not, we are constantly teaching children and young people.

It's important to remember that in order to role model, we need to show kindness and empathy to ourselves. We are living in a particularly challenging time on top of having to navigate the demands we find ourselves under as parents, teachers, school staff, employees, and members of a community. It’s important to take time and space to support your own emotional health, whatever that looks like for you as an individual.

For all children and young people to benefit from healthy and dependable relationships, positive relationships need to be lived and breathed by the whole community. Family Links the Centre for Emotional Health, OnePlusOne and partners produced a set of Principles in relationships education that supports schools to put relationships at the heart of all they do. 

The Principles help schools create a culture of empathy where positive, dependable relationships are role modelled. In turn, healthy relationships with peers help to foster an emotionally healthy and inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.

By learning how to develop healthy relationships, we become more positive and welcoming towards others, and do not make others feel lonely or excluded. With relationships at the centre of any setting, we create a respectful and nurturing environment and sense of community, where empathy can be combined with clear boundaries about kindness. That’s why healthy relationships learning is a key instrument to creating an emotionally healthy society that protects and enables children and young people to thrive. 

If you interact with a school in any capacity – you can make a difference. Download the Principles, share them with the schools you work and engage with. Consider and ask them how you can support the school’s relationship practice. Finally, remind yourself and those around you that we all have a role to play in creating a kinder community of healthy, dependable relationships in school communities and beyond.

Hannah Partis is the Partner Engagement Coordinator at Family Links, the Centre for Emotional Health whose vision is for everyone to live an emotionally healthy life. She is responsible for Family Links’ involvement with The Principles of Excellence in Relationships Education, which were developed alongside OnePlusOne and other leading relationship specialist organisations and educationalists to support school leaders to consider an approach to relationships education that goes beyond set lessons in a classroom. If you’d like to find out more about Family Links’ work, please visit: https://www.familylinks.org.uk/