Premier Education

Practical ways that schools can boost the emotional wellbeing of their pupils

Emotional wellbeing – what is it and why is it important?

Emotional wellbeing relates to being mentally healthy.

It is having a positive approach to life, which enables a child to enjoy themselves, build and maintain relationships with others, and show resilience in the face of adversity. 

Emotional wellbeing is the ability to produce positive emotions, moods, thoughts and feelings. Even when faced with a challenging situation, a person with a positive outlook will show versatility and adaptability in how they respond. The more resilience they execute, the more adaptable and resilient they will become overall. 

How can schools nurture emotional wellbeing for healthy child development?

Good mental health is essential to thriving in a learning environment. 

School leadership and management teams should champion emotional health and wellbeing all year-round, not just in tough times. The stresses on young people come from many sources, including; family life, social media, pressures from the technological world, the impact of covid, academic performance and many other factors. 

Children are experiencing a range of different mental health issues and mental health conditions that threaten emotional wellbeing. Early intervention is key to supporting child mental health.

Teachers are uniquely placed to support children with their mental wellbeing due to their neutral position, the volume of contact time they have, and their experience in creating a nurturing environment.

Schools that have a dedicated emotional wellbeing approach will prioritise opportunities to support children most appropriately within the school setting. 

Teaching staff play a key role in this delivery.

5 ways to boost the emotional wellbeing of a child

Here are a range of ways that teachers can improve the emotional wellbeing of children in the classroom.

1. Emotional intelligence

Being emotionally intelligent not only helps children make sense of the world around them, but it equips them with the ability to read other people. This will help them know how to respond and show empathy, while at the same time strengthening their ability to make new friends and retain friendships.

How to encourage emotional intelligence in the classroom

This starts with labelling feelings. In the classroom, there could be a display of emotional vocabulary for children to interact and engage with. Or ask the pupils to come into school each day and write their feelings on a leaf to post onto a feelings tree. This will enable the children to explore how they feel and provides a safe space where children can express feelings good and bad.

Older children benefit from writing in a simple feelings diary; a process that structures the identification and understanding of different emotions. They can record what they think may have triggered these emotions and consider ways to make themselves feel better.  

Younger children should have a sound grasp of a range of emotions, such as sadness, happiness, surprise, excitement, anger, fear, embarrassment, frustration, curiosity and worry. 

Communicating that all emotions are valid is crucial, both good and bad.


2. Breathing exercises 

Breathing may be second nature but perfecting breathing techniques can help to calm children physically and mentally, particularly in challenging times.

Breathing deeply and deliberately can lower feelings of anxiety, release tension and stabilise blood pressure.  

Mindful breathing exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system (which controls reactions to stress) and help to focus the brain on a simple task, calming a racing mind or distracting it from anxious thoughts. 

What is belly breathing?

Belly breathing – diaphragmatic breathing – is a simple way to encourage kids to take deeper breaths. It can be carried out anywhere and, in some cases discreetly, so as not to draw attention if a particular child needs a private moment to regulate emotions or calm themselves down.  

Here are simple steps to teach belly breathing with your class:

  1. Ask the children to breathe normally. How does it feel? 
  2. Next ask the children to each place one hand on their belly, above their belly button, and the other hand on the upper chest
  3. Encourage the children to take deep breaths in through the nose and out slowly through the mouth 
  4. What happens when they do this? They should notice their belly expand up and out and their bottom hand rise 
  5. As they breathe out, they should feel their bottom hand lower back down 
  6. After a cycle of 3-4 breaths, ask the children how they feel now. Any difference?
  7. If only the hand on the chest is moving up and down, encourage them to focus on moving the air even deeper into the belly.

3. Incorporate physical activity  

Physical activity brings with it a raft of mental health benefits, as well as promoting good physical health. From greater confidence and self-esteem, to improved sleep and more energy, it is a natural stress reliever. Exercise has even been linked to reduced rates of depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Participating in team sports, PE lessons and active playtime in school break times is a great way for kids to get active through the day. Cross-country, football, swimming and netball are popular pursuits for young children, and they help to improve balance, coordination, teamwork and strengthen bones. 

Small activities that get kids active in the classroom

There are many ways teachers can incorporate physical activities into the school day, irrespective of the subject on the timetable. 

  • Wiggly alphabet – associate a simple movement with each letter of the alphabet. Practise each movement individually then string them all together to create an active alphabet which is fun to learn and keeps children moving.
  • Nature scavenger hunt – conduct a treasure hunt around the school to go in search of nature items like leaves, mud, twigs and birds. The children will learn while they walk and explore.
  • Wake up, shake up! – start each school day with a one-minute dance on the spot or simple teacher-led ‘warm-up’ to get them ready for the day ahead. Accompany it with a different song each day and encourage children to have fun whilst getting their blood pumping! 
  • Active storytelling – bring a story to life by acting out movements from a children’s tale. ‘We’re going on a bear hunt’ or ‘The girl, the bear and the magic shoes’ are brilliant early years examples. Children can squelch, stumble and slosh their way to a more active story time! 
  • Do some yoga – the calming properties of yoga lend themselves to the school day, improving concentration and boosting mood in most children.

4. Take brain breaks 

Brain breaks are short mental breaks from the curriculum, which are taken at regular intervals throughout the school day. 

They are often sensory and fun, yet so simple they can be performed within the classroom. These short breaks (of 5-20 minutes), and regular routines, help to reset a class of children and can sometimes help to bring behaviour back on track if attention spans start to wane.

How do brain breaks help children

Brain breaks are said to help children feel calmer while improving focus and concentration. They also allow children to expend some energy; particularly useful when they have been sitting still for long periods of time. 

Here are our top suggestions for simple brain breaks:

  • Facial gymnastics – Act out a range of facial expressions to improve blood circulation and strengthen muscles in the face. Make eye contact with others while you do it. Give awards to the silliest faces pulled! 
  • Play-doh gym – Pump, twist, knead, roll and shape balls of play-doh to music. There are plenty of themed and creative examples that help develop fine motor skills development 
  • Go on a colour walk – Take a 5-minute stroll around the playground. How many colours can the pupils spot? Which colours do they notice the most and why?
  • 3,2,1, blast off! – Ask the children to curl up into balls on the floor before launching into a countdown. Count 3,2,1 then shout ‘blast off!’, at which point the children should explode from the floor and jump into the air
  • Doodle break – Get out the coloured pens, pencils and paper and give the children free reign to doodle or draw whatever they like. It’s simple, creative and freeing! 

Encouraging children to be creative will enhance their thinking skills and boost their imagination; which will, in turn, improve their emotional wellbeing and relieve tension.

5. Positive self-talk 

Positive thinking helps children to believe in themselves and feel more confident. It has the power to transform self-esteem and boost the mental health of a child who is feeling low.

Self-talk relates to the inner voice in our head which can cheer us on from the sidelines or berate us for the things we perceive to have done wrong. It can also relate to thought patterns and how negative feelings can spiral if detrimental associations are made.

How you can encourage positive self-talk in the classroom

  • Model positive self-talk for your students – use choice language, language which can empower, motivate and harness belief, whilst acknowledging the good in every situation.
  • Practise changing negative thoughts into positive ones – start by asking the class to consider situations that could be challenging.
  • Have a wellbeing week at the school, with the theme of positivity and kindness. Arrange themed assemblies, workshops and activities, each with a resounding message around positive self-talk and the benefits of doing so. 
  • Ask each child to write a compliment to each of their classmates. It encourages children to think positively about themselves and others. 

Working on positive self-talk is about being resilient when things don’t go our way. But also about having a realistic, yet optimistic outlook. It’s a mindset that needs practising and fine-tuning. Promoting positive self-talk from a young age can improve children’s emotional wellbeing for life. It also helps to hone communication skills.

Where can schools turn to for additional help?

If your school needs to access additional support or professional help, there are a number of adolescent mental health services or children’s mental health charities that can help, such as Mind or Young Minds.

Alternatively, here at Premier Education, we work with schools to enhance their wellbeing offering, by running structured wellbeing classes.

Or by enhancing a school’s PE provision, we can improve the physical activities available to pupils at your school to improve physical health and reduce the mental health problems associated with inactivity.