3 Primary school-aged children’s mental health
In many countries, there has been increased understanding of the importance of promoting children’s social and emotional development, which, as you have already seen, can improve wellbeing and promote good mental health. This has resulted in strategies aimed at supporting children’s social and emotional development being embedded within school curricula.
In England, children in primary education are aged 4–11 and the National Curriculum for primary education includes statutory guidance relating to(Department for Education, 2019).
The guidance states that at the end of primary school, in relation to their mental wellbeing, pupils should know the following:
- that mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life, in the same way as physical health
- that there is a normal range of emotions (e.g. happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, nervousness) and scale of emotions that all humans experience in relation to different experiences and situations
- how to recognise and talk about their emotions, including having a varied vocabulary of words to use when talking about their own and others’ feelings
- how to judge whether what they are feeling and how they are behaving is appropriate and proportionate
- the benefits of physical exercise, time outdoors, community participation, voluntary and service-based activity on mental wellbeing and happiness
- simple self-care techniques, including the importance of rest, time spent with friends and family and the benefits of hobbies and interests
- isolation and loneliness can affect children and that it is very important for children to discuss their feelings with an adult and seek support
- that bullying (including cyberbullying) has a negative and often lasting impact on mental wellbeing
- where and how to seek support (including recognising the triggers for seeking support), including whom in school they should speak to if they are worried about their own or someone else’s mental wellbeing or ability to control their emotions (including issues arising online)
- it is common for people to experience mental ill health. For many people who do, the problems can be resolved if the right support is made available, especially if accessed early enough.
Activity 2 Mental health and wellbeing in primary school-aged children
Referring to the above extract about mental wellbeing from the Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education statutory guidance, consider the following questions:
- What are your thoughts about the expectations of children’s knowledge about mental wellbeing?
- What skills and qualities do adults working with children in education settings need in order to support children to achieve these aims?
- What can educators do to give children opportunities to gain this knowledge?
You may have thought that the topics relating to mental wellbeing that children are expected to learn between the ages of 4 and 11 are extensive. You may also have noted that some of the topics relate to what you’ve explored in previous sessions. Some of the topics will be discussed in later sessions; for example, Session 8 looks at the internet and cyberbullying.
The topics may also have made you think that educational settings play a significant role in promoting opportunities for children to engage in activities that make them feel positive about themselves, which of course links to wellbeing.
An important skill that educators need to develop in order to be responsive to children is that of listening. The following sections explore why this is important, and ways of creating opportunities to listen to children.