Although teachers are not trained mental health professionals, and they are under a lot of pressure from above to improve pupils mental health, many of them are still making a positive impact in their classrooms everyday. By having conversations about mental health, making time for their pupils, helping pupils express and understand their feelings and emotions and more, they are giving their pupils the confidence to talk about mental health and ask for support.
If you want some advice on how to create an environment where pupils feel able to talk about their mental health have a look at the list below. All these tips are based on good classroom practice I’ve seen while working in primary schools.
Tips for supporting pupil mental health
- Talk about what mental health is, and how it’s just as important as physical health.
- Break the stigma. Ensure pupils know it’s okay not to be okay, and that lots of people have times where they feel anxious, upset etc.
- Teach the vocabulary. Ensure pupils have the words to express how they feel. Talk about what different feeling words mean. Discuss how someone may look and act if they feel angry, worried etc.
- Ask pupils what helps them when they feel anxious. Talk to them about ways to manage their feelings
- When a pupil tells you about their mental health, let them lead the conversation. The most important thing is to listen and let them know you are there for them.
- Provide feeling cards, charts etc. especially for pupils who find it difficult to talk about their feelings. If a pupil is feeling upset and can show you that without having to speak, it really takes the pressure off. You’re also letting them know that although it’s good to talk about it, sometimes it’s okay not to talk, or to wait until they feel ready.
- Provide a safe space in the classroom. Having a comfortable place where your pupils can choose to go for some thinking time is so important for their mental health. It’s also easy for you to then step in and ask them if they want to talk about anything.
- Help your pupils help each other. Model to pupils ways to be kind to their friends e.g. helping their friends when they find something hard, asking them about how they are feeling etc. This helps create an environment where pupils feel able to share their emotions with one another. Additionally, you provide pupils with the tools to develop key values such as empathy and caring.
- Ask for support. You’re not a professional. If there is some training or advice that you need, speak to senior management. The last thing you want is to be unsure if your actions will help or hinder the situation.
- Communicate with the right people. If you have serious concerns about a child’s mental health, please share them with the right people. Ensuring they get the help they need as early on as possible is crucial.
- Use books. There are some great children’s stories about mental health. A few book recommendations can be found here.
- Consider your words. Although it is great to model a positive attitude, be careful not to glaze over how pupils are feeling, even if it seems like something quite trivial
- Have meaningful conversations with your pupils. (See this excellent Ted Talk from Claire Lotriet on ‘The Power of Microconnections’ )
For more advice and information about children’s mental health head here.