How to describe mental health to child ?
- It is not easy to start a discussion with children about mental health.
- This may be because you don’t feel prepared with the information, you think you may require or lack self-belief about how you even open up the conversation.
- Adults can also be worried that they may not have the answers to children’s questions or that they might speak rather ‘wrong’.
- Nevertheless, the good news is that, you are used to functioning with children and are competent to use language that they can be aware of.
- There are also a number of outstanding resources accessible to help.
Why talk to children about mental health?
- We help to children understand and appreciate that, just like our physical health, we all have mental health.
- We can also help them to distinguish that, we all react to experiences with our emotions, feelings, belief and behaviors.
- It’s also important that children recognize, how there can be changes in their bodies which are connected to their feelings and thoughts.
- For example, just as in physical examination, when our heart beats very rapidly after we have been running, the same is true, when we are nervous or anxious.
- By helping children with these concepts and getting them to believe about how feelings and thoughts are associated to behavior, we can then enlighten how a combination of all these basics affects our mental health.
- Peacefully and assertively opening up conversations in our classrooms, dining rooms and playgrounds can promote children to discuss, to learn and understand that mental health is something, we all have and that we should be aware of it and learn skills to look after it.
- That there might be days, when we feel gloomy or we struggle and other days when we feel confident and calm.
- Notably we can have a conversation about asking for help when we require support.
What schools can do……
Conversations about mental health will be more useful in the context of a positive entire-school environment, where:
- There is a culture of constructive, gentle relationships across the school built on trust, sympathy, safety and security.
- There is a sense of belonging and children are confident to talk to staff about doubts and difficulties.
- Children have been trained good social and emotional skill and are able to recognize feelings, thoughts and emotions.
- Circle time is used to routinely share feelings, thoughts and emotions.
- Circle Time is a popular activity that’s used in many primary schools to help build up positive relationships between children.
- Circle time provides a time for listening, increasing attention span, promoting oral communication, and learning new concepts and skills.
- All staff are encouraged and supported to be attentive, watchful and curious about children’s behavior, their body language, their communication with other pupils, what they say, what they copy and what they do in school.
- Not all staff will experience comfortable about opening up conversations on child well-being.
- It is vital that school staff have good quality training and continuing support from the senior leadership team to help with assurance in this area.
Starting a conversation…
A number of ways we can start a conversation with a child.
- You don’t look your usual self today. Would you like to speak about anything?
- You seem sad/worried today. Do you want to have a talk about it, Is there anything I can do to help?
- You said rather interesting in circle time about how you felt when… How do you feel about it now?
- If possible, conversations will be opened up by a classroom teacher, an admired and sensitive teaching assistant or a playground staff member who is familiar to a child/children (rather than a bring in teacher).
- Every school should make sure that someone working or interacting with children understands protection procedures and has the necessary training.
Talking about mental health in class/group-
- Make conversations about mental health should be regular part of class discussion, so that children believe comfortable about the topic. Focus your attention, making eye contact with children, really help.
- Ask open questions, to give confidence them to think and give their opinions.
- Bear respect for different views.
- Give compassion so that if children start to feel safe enough to talk about any struggles they may have, you are showing them how to react.
- While you are having discussions, you have a great opportunity to boost their emotional vocabularies to help them clarify how they are feeling.
- Keep an eye out for any children who might show signs that they are stressed with their mental health and talk to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) if you are worried.
- The designated safeguarding lead is the person selected to take lead responsibility for child protection issues in school.
Now The most Important Part comes…
- Talking about mental health with a child
- Find a suitable time and relaxed place to have a conversation with a child you might be apprehensive about.
- If a child discloses in class, put forward empathy, request them to talk in a safer, more private setting and speak to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) for advice about how the situation should be managed.
- If you invite a young person to share you their personal issues, be clear what you will do with this information. Think how you will respond if asked ‘not to tell anyone’.
- The staff member involved should be well-known to the child, whenever possible.
- Sit on a low chair if you can, so there is less height difference and you will be more friendly.
- Simply clarify, why you are there. For example, ‘you said something interesting in circle time about how you felt when. How do you feel about it now?’
- Ensure with the child, if there are other trusted adults (parents, , teachers) or friends they have talked to or could talk to.
- Listen carefully, be patient and friendly and give your full concentration.
- Mange your body language, so that the child knows you are focusing on them.
- Listen carefully, what they’re saying seriously. Don’t over-react but don’t try to lessen or dismiss what they are saying. Ask open questions to give confidence them to talk.
- Be calm and accept their feelings.
- For young children drawing, modeling or playing with toys while the conversation is moving ahead can be helpful.
- Please give compassion and understanding rather than solutions. When a child receives empathy, they begin to build up trust.
- Keep in mind, we are all different and children will react in their own unique way to their experiences.
- One thing we should always remember that children with SEND (special educational needs & disability) may struggle even more to clear their feelings and thoughts and may require extra support.
Last but not least, most important suggestion:
- When defending and supporting children, there are at all times limits to confidentiality.
- Talk to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL) if you are at all worried and follow your school’s safeguarding policy/procedures.
- We should always respect children’s privacy.
- Make sure the child knows you may look for advice or guidance from other professionals.