How to boost students' mental health and wellbeing
Rhiannon Phillips-Bianco, Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader at the British School in The Netherlands, sets out the six essential elements that she believes are needed to boost students’ mental health and wellbeing, both at school and at home.
The wellbeing and mental health of children is becoming increasingly important in schools. In international schools, children often attend for short periods of time. As a result, "Third-Culture Kids" have to cope with extra life challenges, such as dealing with constant change and friends moving on, and need support to do so.
Simply put, when children feel happy, safe and secure, they are able to learn better. But what can schools (and parents) do to create this kind of environment?
1. Positive relationships and a sense of belonging
Teachers and teaching assistants are key to building positive relationships and strong connections with each student. This ensures that students feel supported, heard and understood. It also shows them who to turn to in moments of difficulty. Additionally, staff can help to create a sense of belonging within each class, and across the wider community. This is essential in making international students feel more at home.
2. Personal, Social and Health Education
Education shouldn’t just be about academics. PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education in the UK, or the international equivalent), taught in lessons and assemblies, is also essential. In assemblies, key topics on wellbeing and mental health should be explored and discussed in an age-appropriate way. These include learning to cope with change, dealing with friendship issues and internet safety.
Discussions, activities and reflection time can allow students to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them, as well as empathy for one another. Students should be encouraged to share their ideas and thoughts about these topics with the whole class. This helps to enhance both that sense of belonging and understanding of one another.
3. Developing resilience in children
Teaching children to persevere, and therefore develop resilience, is a crucial component of good mental health. One useful technique for this is James Nottingham’s "Learning Pit", which helps develop that resilience.
Source: British School in The Netherlands
It is a powerful, visual tool that enables students to understand the learning process and the difficulties they may experience when going through a challenge. Giving children a chance to regularly discuss strategies that they can use, to help them both problem-solve and deal with tricky emotions, is an important aspect of building resilience.
These may include choosing a classroom resource, asking a friend for help or simply having a drink of water. All simple approaches that teach students how they can help themselves. The Learning Pit is about learning to know what to do when you don’t know what to do. This is a valuable skill that students will be able to apply throughout their lives.
4. Show compassion and practice self-compassion
Children should be taught that compassion for others and themselves is important when they are struggling. Showing compassion means being empathetic, tolerant and reflective. This can be developed more by explaining that self-compassion means showing the same understanding for ourselves. Therefore, when a student is self-critical, staff can guide them to think about how they can be kinder to themselves, just as they would be to a friend.
5. Emotional literacy and coping strategies
Schools are increasingly teaching students to identify, name and express their emotions. This helps them to build the awareness and skills they need to cope with daily challenges (one good method for doing this is using the "How Do You Feel Today?" poster, see below).
Research demonstrates that people who can do this are far more likely to be able to manage their feelings. In an international environment, in which students can find it difficult to find the right word to express themselves, this development of emotional literacy is particularly important. Students can learn to look after their mental wellbeing through key basics such as regular exercise, sleep and fresh air; as well as relaxation and breathing techniques to support them when they need it.
Source: British School in The Netherlands
6. Contact with parents
Events like Parent Engagement Evenings can enable teachers to explain their approach in greater detail; parents should always be encouraged to contact their child’s class teacher should they have any concerns about their wellbeing. Parents should also be given a chance to ask questions – once parents discover the mental health and wellbeing techniques that their children learn in school, they can build them into the home routine too.
The British School in The Netherlands uses Mental Health and Wellbeing approaches at all of its campuses. Please contact the BSN’s Admissions Team via email or phone (07 315 40 77) for more information.