It can be very difficult for young people to navigate their way through the world. They need to learn how to deal with big feelings and new emotions, all while trying to make friends, experience new learning environments and manage their self image as their bodies and hormones change at a rapid rate. While many students are generally happy and feel secure within themselves, there is a growing number of students experiencing poor mental health.
Children who experience poor mental health are more likely to act out in the classroom, especially if they haven’t been taught how to regulate their emotions. It can also lead to poor learning outcomes. Students who have low mental health are more likely to have more absences at school, including some who become school refusers entirely.
Ways to to support positive mental health in your classroom
1. Incorporate Mindfulness
Incorporating mindfulness as a daily exercise in the classroom can be a fantastic way to improve mental health in your students. Some mindful activities include meditation, journaling and practicing gratitude.
For meditation you can easily find short 10-minute YouTube videos that will take your students through some breathing activities. Or, you can run it yourself. Simply play gentle, instrumental music, ask your students to sit or lay down on the floor, and instruct them to relax their bodies. Finally instruct their breathing. Tell them to take a deep breath in for 5 seconds, hold that breath for 3 seconds, and release it for 5 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
For journaling, give your students some prompts and allow 5 minutes of quiet writing. Some journaling prompts may include: taking your students outside and asking them to use their different senses to write what they see, hear and smell in the environment; asking them to recall a time when they felt happy/angry/sad/excited and to write how their minds and bodies reacted to that emotion; asking your students to note down how they would like to be treated by others and then list how to manage the situation if their peers do not treat them right.
Gratitude should be shared with others and it could simply be writing a note to someone in their lives explaining why they appreciate that special person. It could also be asking your class to write a positive sentence about another class member or two, and giving the note to that peer. If you do the second activity, ensure you sort out the class so that every student receives the same number of positive compliments.
2. Teach what mental health is
Students are often not aware that we all have mental health. So they may not have the language to describe their feelings, or the awareness to identify when they’re feeling great, terrible or something in between.
That’s why it’s so important to teach your class about mental health is. Explain that much like we all have physical health, we also have mental health.
This can be a series of ongoing lessons in addressing students’ needs. The lessons may include:
- What is mental health? How can we look after it?
- What habits can we start to use on a daily basis that may make us more resilient?
- Where do you feel big and uncomfortable emotions in your body?
- Where do you feel positive emotions in your body?
- Why do you think knowing about our character strengths can help us to flourish?
3. Create a calm environment
If keeping the environment calm is important in the household, it is just as important in the classroom. Aim to keep your classroom as clutter free as possible, with little distractions. Yes, decorations and educational posters are beautiful for the classroom environment, however, try to keep them neutral in color or in a similar color palette. Too many conflicting colors and too much clutter may make the space overwhelming for some students.
Another benefit of reducing classroom clutter, is that it is easier to clean and less mess ends up on the floor.
4. Build connections between students
Most likely, ‘getting to know you’ activities are reserved for only the first day of the year. Students have insignificant time to get to know their peers as a person before going straight into curriculum and work. When students don’t know each other well, they often form groups with a few others and don’t support others.
Rather than reserving these activities for only the first day, keep doing them throughout the year. You could spend 5 minutes a week playing a game that allows them to really get to know each other. Keep supporting your students in connecting with their peers. It is very common for students to be in the same class for years and not know that they actually have lots of shared interest. When students find a common ground, they understand more about each other and are less likely to bully each other.
Here is a list of ice breaker activities you can try in your classroom today.
If you use these tips, you will likely find more communication from your students and you may be able to act more efficiently when you see issues with mental health. These tips are great for individual classrooms, but a whole school well-being culture is even better so students will have consistency in their wellbeing support throughout their whole school experience.
That’s where a whole-child approach like Thrively can help.
More About Thrively
Thrively helps educators to better know their students, attend to their well-being, instill hope, and teach essential life skills. At Thrively, we believe that Every child has a genius and deserves to thrive.