What is mental health?

Mental health is a state of wellbeing, where students are able to effectively deal with stress, meet their learning potential and are socially and emotionally connected to their family and friends.

The mental health of your students can affect your whole class’ ability to learn as well as their social interactions – both of which are vital to student success. Whilst mental health issues such as anxiety may manifest differently between children, teachers are well placed to promote positive mental health practices that will support students to reach their full potential.

Why is mental health important for kids?

The majority of mental health issues begin to manifest when people are young, with more than half of all illnesses being diagnosed by the early teen years. It makes sense that promoting positive mental health and teaching students how to give their mental health a boost will help reduce poor mental health outcomes.

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Children experiencing poor mental health may struggle in school. For example, they may become so preoccupied with anxious thoughts that they can’t pay attention; or they may experience stomach upsets, headaches or behavioural issues that interfere with their work. They may also be absent more often than other students, causing them to fall behind in their learning.

Fostering positive mental health for kids in the classroom will help them to build their resilience, improve their cognitive function, and provide them with the confidence and skills to seek additional support for early intervention.

5 ways to boost mental health for kids in the classroom

What can you do as a teacher to boost your students’ mental health? Here are our top five ideas:

  1. Establish and maintain routines and a calm classroom. By setting a learning schedule for your class, you will create a predictable environment for your students. This fosters security for any student who may be experiencing anxiety, as they will know what to expect. Talk openly with your students about what your expectations are within the classroom and consider starting the day with a fun activity to relax your students.
  2. Build connectedness. Include games that require students to cooperate or set up some lunchtime clubs or groups where students work together to achieve a low-stress goal. This will help students feel more connected, both to each other and to school. This will make school and your classroom a warm, friendly, and positive space for them to be in.
  3. Talk about mental health and seeking help. Talking about mental health in an age-appropriate way normalises mental health concepts and helps to reduce any stigma attached to the topic. Reassure students that it is normal to experience a range of emotions each day and help them to become more emotionally intelligent by identifying the different emotions they feel. Encourage your students to check in with each other regularly – students are often the first to notice changes in their friends and are sometimes more likely to open up to a friend than an adult. Make sure you display information in the classroom and at school about where and how students can access mental health support services. Kids Helpline have a range of posters available here.
  4. Practise mindfulness and gratitude. Mindfulness and gratitude are great habits to encourage in your students and have been shown to play an important role in mental health for kids. Spend time each day focusing on being present in the moment and identifying experiences, people, and events that your students are grateful for. You can download our free gratitude journal here, to use with your class.
  5. Dance it out. Movement and physical activity are great mental health boosters for kids. Schedule short dance breaks for your class throughout the day and encourage every student to get moving. Choose some age-appropriate music and let them go! Remember to reinforce that it is not a contest. The sillier the move the better. This is sure to generate laughs – which is also good for positive mental health!

If your school doesn’t already include programs focusing on mental health for kids, consider booking a session with Life Education Queensland for your school. Our program covers mental health for kids in an age-appropriate way, and includes information about other factors such as nutrition, physical exercise and legal and illegal drugs that can influence our bodies and mental health. Learn more here about our program.

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