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Children’s Mental Health Week: 5 practical ways primary schools can support children with their mental health and wellbeing

The importance of Children’s Mental Health Week

Mental health support for children and young people is more important than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns prompted a significant rise in mental health problems in children and young people from one in ten to one in six in 2020.

With this in mind, having a dedicated week which focuses on children’s mental health is invaluable and can help provide parents and schools with a wealth of advice on how best to support children and young people in their care.

Children’s Mental Health Week runs from 5-11 February 2024 and this year’s theme is ‘My Voice Matters’. We’re all growing in awareness when it comes to the importance of talking about how we’re feeling, but children can need additional support and encouragement in sharing their feelings.

Here, we look at why mental wellbeing is so important for children in its role in shaping their future. We also look at how schools and education settings can make sure they are integrating effective mental health strategies.

Why is good mental health important in children?

Good mental health in children is crucial for several reasons. Firstly, it sets the foundation for their overall wellbeing throughout life. When children have good mental health, they’re better equipped to handle stress, navigate challenges, and build resilience.

It also impacts their social interactions, academic performance, and physical health. Positive mental health fosters healthy relationships with peers, family, and authority figures, allowing children to communicate effectively and develop empathy and emotional intelligence.

Additionally, it promotes cognitive development, leading to better problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities. Ultimately, investing in children’s mental health ensures they have the tools to thrive and cope with life’s ups and downs.

What causes mental health problems in children?

There are a number of reasons why children and young people develop mental ill health. They may have suffered a negative experience at a young age, such as abuse or neglect, and such trauma can trigger a mental health condition. Equally it may be down to genetic makeup and biological predisposition.

Not all mental health difficulties are medically diagnosed, but it’s still important for school staff to recognise the signs of poor mental health and know how to act to provide the best support.

Why does mental health support in schools matter?

Five children in a class of 30 are likely to have poor mental health and 50 percent of mental health problems start before the age of 14 so it’s crucial that schools are well-equipped to deal with mental wellbeing concerns.

Early intervention

Children spend a significant amount of time at school, so providing a supportive environment that places a priority on mental health and wellbeing is vital.

Schools play a pivotal role in detecting mental health concerns early on, allowing for timely intervention and helping to prevent problems from escalating.

Reducing stigma

By incorporating mental health discussions into the school curriculum, the stigma surrounding mental health can be reduced. It encourages open conversations, making it easier for pupils to seek help without fear of judgement.

Academic performance

Supporting children within the school not only creates a safe space to allow pupils to address their emotional needs but can also improve academic performance. If a child is struggling to concentrate due to stress, anxiety or another mental health concern, they won’t be able to learn effectively. Read more about how physical activity in primary schools affects academic performance here.

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Long term impact

Early interventions can have a positive long-term impact on a young person’s mental health. Teaching coping mechanisms and resilience at a young age can benefit individuals throughout their lives.

Family involvement

Schools are also a way to involve families in mental health discussions. Educating parents and guardians about mental health issues empowers them to support their children better.

5 ways primary schools can support children and young people’s mental health

Incorporating mental health into school policies, practices and culture fosters a sense of inclusivity and understanding.

So what are some practical ways that schools can provide wellbeing support?

Implement mental health education

Supporting mental health and wellbeing should be a whole school approach and be taught as part of the new mandatory health education curriculum, Relationships, Health and Sex Education (RSHE).

By regularly including discussions about mental health conditions as part of this subject you’ll encourage openness and give pupils the confidence to talk about their emotional wellbeing.

The DfE is encouraging schools to identify a senior mental health lead to oversee the school’s approach to mental health. Making sure all teaching staff are aligned with the school’s mental health programme is vital so that they can help all children to flourish. Teaching resources can be found here.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a great time to really put a focus on mental health and wellbeing at your school. This year’s theme of My Voice Matters is ideal in supporting children and young people to seek support if they are struggling.

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Provide a supportive environment

Schools can achieve a supportive environment in a number of ways, which helps to support all areas of a child’s wellbeing.

Implementing programmess that prioritise mental health and emotional wellbeing can include peer support groups for the older year groups, introducing a life skills module and mindfulness activities to help pupils manage stress and emotions.

Develop and enforce strict anti-bullying policies. Conduct regular training sessions for both pupils and staff to recognise, prevent, and address bullying behaviour effectively.

Create avenues for children to express concerns, opinions, and feedback. For example, establish an open-door policy where pupils feel comfortable approaching school staff.

at your school. This year’s theme of My Voice Matters is ideal in supporting children and young people to seek support if they are struggling.

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Offer counselling services

If your school doesn’t offer a counselling service, consider setting one up. Although it is not a statutory requirement, providing confidential advice and support is valuable to all age groups.

A key benefit of having this service based at the school is that pupils don’t need a clinical diagnosis to access it.

The government has issued departmental advice on counselling within schools, so it’s a great place to start.

Using physical activity to improve mental health

Taking part in physical activity isn’t just good for our physical health but our mental health too – at any age. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health states that “physical activity is thought to improve emotional wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety, improving a child’s overall mental health.”

Not only does exercise release ‘feel-good’ chemicals to help calm the mind, but it helps to promote a sense of achievement, builds confidence and improves sleep, all factors in maintaining positive mental health.

This is why primary and secondary schools should try and build in as much activity into the school day as possible.

If your school wants help, support or inspiration when it comes to physical activity and education, this is where we can help. Our curricular PE support can inject some much-needed energy, fun and diversity into your lessons thanks to our highly-trained activity professionals.

Alternatively, offer pupils the chance to experience a wide range of sports through our after-school clubs. From football and gymnastics to multi-sports and tag rugby, there’s something for every child. And, as exclusive delivery partners of National Governing Bodies of sport, such as British Gymnastics, England Athletics and the LTA, we can bring exclusive and exciting programmes to schools.

Read more here about how to shake up PE in schools or contact us for more information.

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Involving parents and caregivers

Schools should aim to actively involve parents and carers in any mental health support programmes to create a more comprehensive support system that extends beyond the classroom.

Host workshops or seminars specifically tailored for parents, focusing on topics like recognising signs of mental health issues, effective communication with children, stress management, and ways to support mental health at home.

Maintain open communication channels between school and parents. Regularly update parents about mental health initiatives, resources, and events through newsletters, emails, or dedicated sections on the school’s website.

Additional resources for positive mental health support

For further insight into how schools can improve the emotional wellbeing of a child, see our article here. We’d also recommend the following resources: NSPCC, Worth-it and The Education Hub.

And, if you’re keen to get children moving both at home and at school, why not share our free Stay Active resources with families?