Children have to worry about tests and exams and sometimes bullying from their peers. Some children also don’t have supportive parents. All of this has a major impact on their mental health. According to Unicef, in 2019, it was estimated that at least one in seven adolescents suffered from mental disorders. This represents approximately 166 million adolescent girls and boys worldwide. Teachers play an important role in children’s mental health. On Teacher’s Day, we tell you how educators can help children.
Signs of mental health problems in children
Children spend a lot of time at school. This allows teachers to identify some signs of mental health problems in students.
1. Behavior Changes
If children have mental health problems, their behavior will suddenly change. You will notice changes such as withdrawal, aggression or extreme mood swings, says Dr Rahul Rai Kakkar, senior consultant psychiatrist, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram.
2. Academic decline
There will be noticeable declines in their academic performance if they become ill or have a mental problem. Apart from academics, they will also lose interest in school-related activities.
3. Social isolation
Teachers may notice a significant reduction in student interactions with peers and a reluctance to participate in any type of group activities organized at school.
4. Emotional changes
Children experiencing a mental health problem will frequently express sadness, fear, anger, or emotional distress that goes beyond what is typical for their age.
5. Physical complaints
They will also frequently complain of headaches, stomach aches, or other physical discomforts. But there will be no clear medical cause behind these health problems.
What should you do as a teacher if you notice signs of mental health issues?
1. Document observations
Just as you keep student notebooks to check their homework, keep detailed records of observed behaviors and incidents. Then share these records with the children’s school counselors or parents.
As a teacher, you may want to take matters into your own hands. But instead of going it alone, reach out to the school counselor, parents and other relevant staff to discuss your concerns and develop a plan that will help the children.
3. Maintain confidentiality
Share information about a child’s problems only with the appropriate people instead of telling everyone in the staff room. You must respect the student’s privacy and handle information with discretion and sensitivity.
Ways Teachers Can Support Children’s Mental Health
While you work only with the school support team to develop strategies that can help the student address their challenges, offer a listening ear. You can also provide a supportive environment for the student, letting them know they are not alone, suggests Dr. Kakkar. You can also do the following:
1. Foster a positive environment
Create a welcoming classroom where students feel safe and valued. This will help promote a positive atmosphere for the mental well-being of students.
2. Build relationships
A teacher-student relationship is very important because educators contribute to the development of children. So, build strong teacher-student relationships. This will encourage open communication and trust, and if children are faced with a problem, they will come to you for help.
3. Encourage expression
Provide students with opportunities to express their thoughts and emotions through discussion, art, or writing.
4. Teach coping skills
At school, you can introduce techniques such as deep breathing, mindfulness and problem solving to help children manage stress and emotions. These techniques are great for adults and can work wonders for children too.
5. Set realistic expectations
It’s good to have expectations, but make them realistic. Set achievable goals so that there is no undue academic pressure on children. It will also help reduce anxiety, says the expert.
6. Promote social skills
Teaching isn’t just about telling students to open their books and go to chapter 1, paragraph 5, and line 2. You can also teach teamwork, empathy, and conflict resolution to improve relationships interpersonal.
7. Recognize efforts
You may perform well on a class test or in extracurricular activities, but you need to recognize and praise students’ efforts and achievements to boost their self-esteem.
8. Provide Routine and Structure
Adults have a routine that they follow in their daily lives, just like children. Maintain a consistent schedule for them to create a sense of stability and predictability.
9. Offer support services
You can connect students with school counselors or mental health professionals whenever you feel it is necessary. Students may refuse to meet with them, but as a teacher you can convince them.
10. Educate about mental health
Educators can raise awareness about mental health at school. They can integrate discussions about mental health into the school curriculum to reduce mental health stigma.
But remember that while teachers can play a crucial role, mental health issues must also be addressed by mental health professionals and parents.