Mental health makes up an integral part of a person’s capacity to lead a fulfilling life, including the ability to form and maintain relationships, to work or pursue leisure activities and to make day-to-day decisions about education, employment, housing and other life choices.
- An essential piece of being an emotionally healthy person starts early with being able to form attachments to essential people in one’s life. As a teacher, parent or caretaker, you need to provide the environment where, through offering consistent encouragement and support, a child learns to trust, engage with others and connect with their community. You can make a contributing positive difference in a child’s life. You can also set the foundation for a child to develop the skills needed to handle whatever he/she will encounter in their life ahead.
There are active steps we can take which can have a positive impact in the way we enjoy life, deal with adversity, interact with and support others and make sure we stay engaged and fulfilled teachers and educators.
When it comes to the promotion and support of good mental health in children, there are a number of things we, as parents and teachers, can do:
- Provide unconditional love/acceptance-love, security and acceptance are the foundation for a child’s sense of well-being. Accept a child for who they are no matter what and let them know love or caring is not dependent on their good behaviour, looks, grades or how well they perform.
- Support their self-confidence, self-reliance and self-esteem-providing a safe environment in which a child can play, receive reassurance and encouragement as well as explore and learn, supports their growth toward self-confidence and a solid sense of self. It is important to set realistic goals that are in line with a child’s capabilities and aspirations. As a child gains confidence, encourage self-exploration and discover opportunities for them to demonstrate age-appropriate autonomy and choice. Criticism and derision are detrimental to a child’s psychological well-being. If a child is struggling with their grades, fails a test or is unsuccessful at a sport, try to provide words of encouragement and reassurance – perhaps like how a would give a pep talk before a game. Sometimes a task can seem overwhelming to a child, help them break the project down into small steps that they can more easily master and find success. Let them know that you have had failures and disappointments in your life. It helps for a child to know that others in their lives have made mistakes and that this is a part of being human and learning.
- Give guidance and discipline-part of the process of learning is teaching children what is appropriate and acceptable behaviour and what is not, either in school, at home or in the community. Children need to know that there are consequences to their behaviour and this includes appropriate discipline to inappropriate behaviour. As parents and educators, we must praise good behaviour and address inappropriate behaviour. However, it is also important that children understand that while their behaviour is not acceptable, they are always valued and respected as a person. Here are some considerations around appropriate discipline:
✔Discipline needs to be consistent and fair
✔Model what you preach
✔Don’t change the rules or have different rules for one child over another
✔Talk about the behaviour and what is inappropriate about it – make sure you are addressing the behaviour and not criticizing the child
✔Avoid yelling, cajoling, threats, bribery or nagging
✔Keep control of your temper and talk in a firm, calm voice
✔If you do lose control, stop, talk about what happened and take responsibility for your behaviour – i.e., apologize if you are wrong
✔Explain why you are disciplining and what the consequences are to their actions
✔Remember – the idea is not to control the child but for the child to learn self-control
- Initiate play opportunities for children-encourage play with other children. Sometimes this may mean arranging playtimes or organizing games at school where all can be included. Playtime is important for social development of a child as well as an opportunity to work on self-control, problem-solving and letting their creativity take flight. A part of being mentally healthy is being physically healthy; allow children time to run, play games and be active. It is necessary to children’s overall development. For the older youth, encourage participation in structured or unstructured school and community recreational and leisure activities.
- Provide surroundings that are safe- school and home are two places where a child can feel secure, not be fearful and be allowed to explore and try new things. It is important to promote and reinforce an environment of understanding and tolerance toward others. Educators are a big contributing factor in promoting a positive school climate. It is also important for a child to know when another’s behaviour is unacceptable (for example, bullying or violence) and to teach skills on how to stand up for themselves and where to go for help. Remember – children do become fearful and anxious and can keep secrets. Have open discussions about dealing with fears and, at the same time, be on the lookout for signs of anxiety, changes in behaviour, nervousness, aggressiveness, isolation or extreme shyness, which can indicate a child may be feeling fear.
There are strategies educators can employ to help students learn social-emotional resiliency skills, feel connected with others and enhance their self-esteem.
These strategies are:
- Creating opportunities in the classroom to practice resiliency skills through direct instruction, modelling and practice
- Making resiliency learning a whole-school focus
- Supporting students to name and discuss their feelings and emotions using books, media and real life as a springboard for these discussions
- Supporting students with self-regulation by allowing students to take control and self-regulate independently
- Identifying and focusing on students’ strengths rather than their needs or deficits – focusing on strengths allows challenges to become opportunities for learning rather than being a negative force
- Recognizing when students are withdrawn or acting out as there may be a purpose to their behaviour – always try to look beyond the behaviour
- Providing space and time for meaningful physical activities across the curriculum where all can participate