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Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Classroom

BY HAYLEY WALTON

DIRECTOR OF YOUR GREY MATTERS

It has been wonderful throughout the last few months for Your Grey Matters and TeachStrong to connect over a shared passion and commitment to mental health, physical health, and wellbeing. TeachStrong have been inspiring over recent weeks with their dedication to promoting health and wellbeing and we at Your Grey Matters have been following their fantastic advice. 

As we become increasingly aware of the importance of mental health and wellbeing in society, educators are asked, “How can we support children and young people with their mental health and wellbeing?” There is no easy answer. It is not a tick-box exercise. It is not a key part of teacher training and educators are often left to fend for themselves when it comes to embedding mental health and wellbeing in everything they do. It cannot be covered in one PSHE class, it cannot be covered in one assembly. It must be done over time and be a fundamental aspect of our culture. From reception right the way up to university. It is not an easy task and takes hard work, dedication, and patience. Today we are going to explore how you, as educators, can support children and young people in school with their mental health and wellbeing.

Firstly, it is important to remember that as educators we are role models to children. We give further understanding to the world around them and support them to understand how to read, write, problem solve in maths and how to follow rules in the classroom. We are also in an incredibly privileged position as children can begin to model their behaviours on our own, as we teach them morals, how to be a good friend and how to be polite. We model key skills during lessons so we must model key skills in relation to mental health and wellbeing.

DO: Share with children. Be honest if you are having a bad day and model how you are going to “turn it around”. This helps to normalise emotions for children as well as enhancing their own “wellbeing toolbox” when you share your own self care strategies.

DON’T: We should not feed into the stigma surrounding mental health and wellbeing. Behaviours and attitudes such as this can lead to children feeling ill-equipped when trying to communicate their emotions. Be open and honest in class about emotions and encourage children to adopt this openness too.

Classroom culture is key, we must facilitate a safe space in which children can talk about and address their emotions in an open and honest way without fear of judgement. For example, rather than condemning the anger of a pupil, help them to understand what they are feeling and try to find the root cause. Explore this with them and give them the tools in which to communicate how they’re feeling and why. Allowing healthy conversation around their emotions will enable both you and the child to find the trigger to that anger and allow you both to address it in that very moment and allow the pupil to move on with their daily activities.

Create a safe space in your classroom in which children feel listened to by creating a quiet place in the corner of your classroom with comfy surroundings where children can go to reflect or visit. You can develop a system whereby the pupil can indicate if they want to speak about why they have visited with a trusted adult. Of course it is not always as simple or straight forward as this, but by allowing children in your classroom the space and room in which to explore their emotional responses, they can become more emotionally articulate and perhaps the next time one of your pupils feels overcome with emotions that feel out of control, they will go to the quiet place for reflection as opposed to feeling at a loss with how to regulate how they’re feeling.

You can also get creative with cardboard and pens to create a “worry box” and a “feel good” box. Every time a child writes a worry down to submit to the “worry box”, get them in the habit of writing down something that makes them feel good for the “feel good” box. This will start to show them techniques for channelling positive energy and finding the “feel good” in times of adversity. Lead by example and contribute to the boxes too and show children that it is perfectly natural to feel varying types of emotions in our everyday lives.

TOP TIP: Make a display with your “feel good” box messages, this is a great way to boost self-esteem of pupils in your class!

Another great way of exploring emotional responses with children is through thought challenging. When we have negative thoughts, it is very easy to get caught up in that negative thought and fall into a spiral of self-doubt. If we can “thought challenge” negative thoughts, we are often able to explore the root of that negative thought and find ways of turning that negative thought into a positive one. I have put an example of thought challenging below for you to see:

I hope that I have been able to shed insight into the ways in which mental health and wellbeing can be embedded within our classroom culture. As the education sector faces many unknowns in the aftermath of Covid-19, educators may need to develop strategies now more than ever. For more information on our training for staff, or to access our resources, see our website at www.yourgreymatters.co.uk, or follow us in Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.

Huge thanks to Sam and Julia at TeachStrong for hosting this blog!