Making sure we’re caring for our children’s mental health is currently at the top of the agenda. With COVID-19 pressures and unpredictable school closures, it’s no wonder children are experiencing mental health concerns such as loneliness, worries about the future, and anxiety.
Whether you are a teacher, lunchtime supervisor, or school leader – anyone could be the first person a child turns to when they need help. These clear tips, from our partner Champion Health, are a good starting point when looking out for the wellbeing of children and young people.
Look out for signs
Children have found the last year tough, and it can be difficult to spot when something is wrong. But there are signs in children that you can look out for. These can include significant changes in behaviour, difficulty sleeping, not spending as much time with their friends and not wanting to do things they usually like. Other, more serious signs can include self-harm and signs of neglect. More information can be found on the government’s page: working together to safeguard children.
If you’re worried, first consider whether there has been a significant change in that child’s behaviour, and if you have concerns, always follow your school’s safeguarding policies and seek advice for your designated safeguarding lead in the first instance. There is also professional support out there to help you. Examples include Barnardo’s ‘See, Hear, Respond Support Hub’.
Encourage children to share their feelings
If the child or young person comes to you, they may already be aware that they are not feeling so good but might not know how to put it into words. Help them to label the feeling and what might be causing this. Remember to let them know that all emotions are normal and natural and take what they say seriously – this in turn makes them feel valued.
If you’ve noticed signs in the child, but they have not come to you, then it may be harder to identify any potential mental health concerns. Sharing your own feelings can help – by doing this, you can help children learn to identify their own feelings, and this also shows them that they are not alone in how they are feeling. Remember, it’s always important to follow your school’s safeguarding policy whenever you have a concern about a child’s wellbeing.
If a child comes to you for support, or you offer initial support to them, this can be overwhelming. Remember that you are not alone when this happens, and there’s a lot of truth in the saying ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Consult with the designated safeguarding lead or team in confidence, not only to protect the child, but also to support yourself as well.
So, remember to look out for signs, encourage talking about their feelings, and get support from your safeguarding team where you need to. For Children’s Mental Health Week, our partner Champion Health produced a toolkit full of resources for everyone involved in children’s care and schooling – follow the link above for more information.