Helping Pupils Express Themselves Throughout Children’s Mental Health Week 2021 and Beyond

A guest post from Kelly Hannaghan @mindworkmatters

The past year has been very challenging for many children.  Statistics and research tell us that young people’s mental health has been negatively impacted by the pandemic.  Explore what we can do as educators to ensure we respond effectively to the emotional health needs of our future generations and help them to grow resilience for managing any future adversities.

Hands holding a cardboard cut out of a persons face in profile with a heart shaped jigsaw where the brain would be.

The impact is clear

Around five children from every classroom will have a mental health need, many more will be unknowingly struggling, with challenges arising from their experiences of the pandemic. Their depleting emotions may be triggered by anxiety, low mood or even a bereavement, and will be compounded by the loss of freedom and choices, along with the impact of the stopping and starting of education.

Be the guiding lighthouse in stormy seas

Educators have an opportunity to be the safe haven in seas of uncertainty for children and young people, by offering a consistent approach in teaching pupils about their emotional health.  Helping them to identify their triggers for overwhelming thoughts and providing high quality learning and toolkits, to empower young people to regulate their challenging emotions.

Routines and having a sense of purpose are vital to support mental health, it can be helpful to explore a young person’s hopes, dreams and goals, help them map out how to get the best from each day.  Taking tiny, gentle steps can stop this process from becoming overwhelming and reminding the young person of their successes along the way.  You may want to help a young person build a self-care plan; you can find support here at Every Mind Matters at the NHS

Social prescriptions for wellbeing

Evidence shows that social prescription is a helpful antidote to depleting mental health.  This holistic medicine for the mind helps develop the positive brain chemistry to restore balance. 

    • Wellbeing Boosters Encourage young people to connect with nature as much as possible, going outside for walks can help clear foggy minds and physical exercise releases energising chemicals into the brain
    • Creative Mind Work – Using art and creativity as a way of expression can bridge conversations around mental health
    • Take Time Out – Remind young people that it is ok to take a pause and recharge their wellbeing batteries.  The simple act of concentrating on a grounding exercise of breath work can help the mind switch off from gabbling thoughts
    • Social Circles – Creating a digital directory of local social networks and extra-curricular activity groups alleviates symptoms of isolation and unearths any hidden talents that build in self-esteem 
  • Sleep Matters Young people’s daily habits impact patterns of sleep; therefore reducing stressors like an overload of information or scary news on social media will help aid sleep.  Think about exploring bedtime routines and provide information and scientific facts around why sleep is so important in a physiological and psychological sense.
  • The Magic of Music Encourage young people to create their own mood booster playlist; these are the songs that make them feel safe, content and happy.  It may be helpful to explore any online choirs to help prevent social thinning.  It’s important to work with the young person to explore what music means to them, they may even want to learn to play a musical instrument.

‘Shout Out’ about children’s mental health

How do you currently support children to express themselves, do they know how to express their feelings in a safe way, or where to access help?  Here are my thoughts and ideas to help schools be a place that welcomes open conversations around mental health and wellbeing.

  • Mental Health Champions – Empowering young people to be the voice of mental health; peers learn better from people their own age.  Offering mental health ambassador training can help (if you need help with this please check out LGFL Wellbeing Connected digital platform)
  • Assemblies with purpose – Inspiring virtual or physical gatherings help set the scene to highlight important messages around talking about and seeking help for mental health (Place2Be are offering fantastic resources to plan your mental health awareness assembly)
  • The power of the alumni – Inviting past pupils to connect with young people, can empower and inspire pupils to have aspirations and rise from adversity 
  • Sharing is caring – Collaborating with parents and sharing wellbeing and mental health learning is vital component in supporting the mental health of young people
  • Displays that catch attention – Building collective displays for wellbeing and mental health, creates a call to action and offers helpful tips and ideas to respond to emotional needs

Mental health and wellbeing classroom display  Mental health and wellbeing classroom display  Mental health and wellbeing classroom display

  • Your Voice Matters – It’s important for young people to have a voice on their wellbeing and mental health; secure time in busy school schedules to offer opportunities to collect pupil voice. Here are some starting questions:
  • What do you understand about the term mental health?
  • What are you doing when you feel great? 
  • What would you like to see offered in school to support your mental health?

Remember to feedback and act on the voices of young people, that way it will show your commitment to supporting their wellbeing and mental health and let them know their input means something and has value.

Celebrating the power from within

A great way to inspire young people to recognise their strengths is to invite them to write a letter to their future self, congratulating them on how they have got through the pandemic or their struggles with their mental health and to highlight what they have learnt about their special unique qualities in this time.

Family learning at home around kitchen table. Caption "Not all superheroes wear capes

Resources that can make a difference