Children are likely to notice big changes when they start to go back to school in September 2020. The school environment will not only have changed in response to the Covid-19 epidemic, but will also be responding to another modern day epidemic; children's mental health.
Many children and young people are struggling with social, emotional and mental health issues - my blog on struggling teenagers reveals the increased social demands placed on young people that can exacerbate mental health difficulties. I have also exposed the hidden nature of communication difficulties and their life-long impact on mental health on my Facebook page Step Up Speech and Language.
Teachers, parents and healthcare professionals will welcome the new change to the school curriculum with the introduction of "Mental Health and Emotional Well-being" as part of the PSHE curriculum. Children and young people in both primary and secondary schools will soon benefit from this new subject which focuses on promoting the positive link between physical and mental health.
Programmes of study will include understanding how mental well-being is a normal part of daily life, and how self-care, such as getting enough sleep, and spending time with friends, is important.
All children will learn about healthy behaviours and strategies they can use to protect them from future difficult events, such as having the confidence to seek support.
Support in primary schools will look at protective factors such as talking about problems, and naming emotions, rather than explicitly naming mental health conditions. Primary school children will also be taught age-appropriate online safety, such as; how much time to spend online, and what to do if they come across things they are uncomfortable with.
In secondary schools children will be taught how to recognise the early signs of well-being difficulties and talk about the common types of mental health diagnoses. It is therefore important that young people not only have the language to express themselves, but are in an environment where they feel comfortable exploring their values and ideas.
As a speech and language therapist, who specialises in children's mental health, I feel now is a time to recognise how adults can best support children with their mental health, resilience building and well-being skills.
It's vital to remember that good interpersonal skills are key to good mental health. Children and young people need to have the language skills in place to improve their self-awareness, talk about how they see themselves and build resilience....
..... so they can grow up feeling happy, healthy and safe!
Lisa Taylor-Jones is a speech and language therapist working in Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall. She is the founder of Step Up Speech and Language Therapy and supports children and young people in schools and at home.
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