Mental health is the health of one’s mind and ability to cope with life’s stressors.
For teachers, it’s the mindset and ability to care for children in a stable and rational manner despite daily stress in the classroom.
For children, it’s the mental ability to cope with changes and stressors that may occur from interactions with others in addition to reaching developmental and emotional milestones.
We put together this 3-step guide to help you support the positive mental health of the young minds in your classroom:
Step 1. Consistently engage in positive conversation and interactions with children.
Step 2. Create and implement consistent daily routines in the classroom.
Step 3. Design and maintain an enriched classroom environment.
Let’s take a closer look at Step 1: Consistently engage in positive conversation and interactions with children.
According to 2020 research, the rate of mental health-related emergency room visits in the US increased by 24% for kids ages 5-11 and 31% for kids ages 12-17, in one year. By interacting with young children with mental health in mind, teachers can look out for the warning signs for problems in students and intervene quickly. Mental health problems can emerge at an early age. Giving students the proper resources and knowledge to cope with these challenges can prevent these issues from becoming even more detrimental to their learning and overall life later on.
For example, Lauren is a 4-year-old in your classroom. Her mom says she’s shy, but you notice she is extremely withdrawn and avoiding social interaction, unlike any other student. During play time, she sits in the corner and scribbles with a crayon aggressively on pieces of paper while the other students are playing, sharing toys, and doing activities together.
As a teacher, you should recognize this behavior is a warning sign and begin writing down each example and date she displays this behavior. If it's a one-time situation, it could be nothing to worry about. But after this has happened more than three times, it’s time to have a sit-down conversation with her mom. Provide resources to for activities she can do at home, conversation starters she can have with her to try to get to the root cause of the problem, and child therapists who can help her overcome these issues.
“Behavior is the language of trauma. Children will show you before they tell you that they are in distress.” - Micere Keels
Activity Recommendation: Mindfulness practices like yoga can help ease anxiety and depression and improve sleep quality.
Start by teaching your child pranayama and corpse pose (shavasana). Research suggests these are particularly useful for helping kids relax.
Step 2: Create and implement consistent daily routines in the classroom.
Childrens’ mental health is strengthened by supportive relationships and environments and can be put at risk by stress and negative experiences.
Providing consistency within the day for children with schedules and routines allows for trust to build. Eventually, this can create secure attachments between the caregiver and child and will assist with minimizing the child’s stress.
“When dealing with children there is greater need for observing than of probing.” - Maria Montessori
Activity Recommendation: Develop and implement a daily routine and schedule.
Consider using verbal and visual prompts to remind children of routines. Create visuals of arrivals/departures, circle time, lunch, play time, and story time. For older children, you can attach magnetic picture printouts on the board, and the children can move their pictures to the allotted time during the transition to further engage and visualize the daily routine.
Step 3: Design and maintain an enriched classroom environment.
Learning environments are nurturing spaces that support the development of all young children. They offer developmentally appropriate schedules, lesson plans, and indoor and outdoor opportunities for choice, play, exploration, and experimentation. The goal is to create an environment that is welcoming, safe, and calming, to support healthy learning.
Design a physical environment that supports self-regulation, resilience, and a sense of safety for children. Elements to consider when designing or creating the learning environment include: colors, lighting, activities, toys, books, furniture, and the spacing of furniture.
Activity Recommendation: Consider creating an additional relaxing/calming space within your classroom.
This space should be removed from high walking and transition traffic areas, loud noises, including other classroom activities/learning centers, and should provide enough room for a child to sit and calm him or herself down when needed. Items to include in the space could be soft furniture (like a bean bag or cushions), soft stuffed animals or toys, sensory items, books, calming music, and calming activities.
Keeping in mind that children with a history of trauma may experience triggers
throughout their day. So, creating a space where they are able to relax, cool down, and engage in quiet activities allows for them to calmly process emotions and feelings while providing safety and stability.
Try out these easy steps to encourage positive mental health in the children in your care!