Promoting mental health and wellbeing

Last updated: 03 Jul 2020
Introduction

Why is it important to promote children’s mental health and wellbeing?

Promoting children and young people’s wellbeing is a key part of keeping them safe, helping them develop and ensuring they have positive outcomes into adulthood (Children’s Society, 2012; Public Health England, 2015).

Mental health plays a key role in a child’s overall wellbeing and can be affected by various factors, including:

  • environment
  • stress
  • family circumstances
  • abuse and neglect.

Negative experiences can adversely affect a child’s mental health, just as positive experiences can help improve it.

> Learn more about child mental health

Everyone’s responsibility

Anyone who works with children and young people has a responsibility to promote their wellbeing, recognise any concerns about a child’s welfare and know what action to take to keep children safe.

We’ve put together some tips and resources to help you promote mental wellbeing in the children and young people you work with. This includes:

  • talking with children about their mental health
  • strategies to help improve mental health
  • tips to share with parents and carers.
Starting the conversation

Starting the conversation

Make space and time to talk

It’s important to create an open environment where children and young people can talk about how they feel without judgement.

Make time to check in with the children and young people you work with. Talk about how they are feeling, in large or small groups or on a one-to-one basis as appropriate.

In schools, colleges or academies, you can integrate discussions about mental health and wellbeing into the curriculum. This will help you understand how pupils feel about a particular issue you’re discussing.

It’s also important to give children and young people space to talk about what is happening globally, nationally or locally – such as climate change, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, terrorism, crime or a bereavement.

> Find out more about how to have difficult conversations with children

Conversation starters

It can be difficult to start a conversation with children about their feelings and mental health.

The Childline website provides age-appropriate information and advice about a range of topics that can help you to start a discussion. You can also signpost children to Childline if they need additional support before or after a conversation.

Topics covered include:

Childline Kids provides tailored information and advice for under 12s, using age-appropriate language.

We’ve also put together a reading list of books on mental health from our library catalogue. You could share some of these with children, young people and their families to help get the conversation going.

Encouraging children to speak out

Every child and young person should have trusted adults they can talk to about any worries, concerns or questions they may have. Help them identify who these adults are by talking with them about who they trust and are most comfortable talking to. Just knowing there is someone to turn to when they need to can have a positive impact on a child’s mental health.

Make sure the children and young people you work with know you’re there for them. Remind them they do not need to deal with concerns on their own and talk to them regularly about where they can access support. This might include teachers, family members and services such as Childline.

Different ways for children to express themselves

Some children may feel uncomfortable about talking to an adult. They might prefer to turn to other young people for help and support (Mental Health and Camelot Foundation, 2006) or prefer expressing their thoughts and feelings through creative activities.

Children of different ages, with different developmental levels, or with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), may not be able to express themselves or communicate clearly or easily. They may require more help, patience and different ways of expressing themselves.

Consider providing a range of ways for children to express themselves. This could be through drawing, listening to or creating music or writing their thoughts and feelings down in a journal. They may want to share these with you or keep them private.

Children can talk with other young people on Childline’s moderated message boards or use Childline’s Toolbox which provides online activities for children to express themselves, including:

  • an art box where children can put their feelings into words or drawings
  • games to take their mind off how they’re feeling
  • a mood journal to help children record what they’re feeling and why
  • a buddy zone aimed at under 12s which includes activities and games.
Helpful strategies

Helpful strategies

Encourage children and young people to think of their mental health and wellbeing as something that is continually changing, like physical health. Some days we might feel better or worse than others but there are things we can do to improve our overall mental and emotional wellbeing.

Talk to them about strategies they can use to take care of themselves.

Some children may struggle to express their feelings or concerns. Use language that is appropriate for their age and developmental level. Give them the time and support they need to understand what they’re feeling.

> Find out more about talking to children about their mental health

Exercise

Staying physically active can have positive effects on mental health. It can reduce stress, anxiety and other mental health issues, and increase self-esteem (Mental Health Foundation, 2020; NHS, 2019).

Encourage children and young people to build physical activity into their daily routines, from talking a daily walk to participating in extracurricular sports activities.

The amount and type of exercise available or appropriate will differ from child to child. Disabled children or children with injury or health conditions may be limited in the exercise they can do. There are other ways they can stay active, for example by helping with housework, playing interactive video games or gardening.

Explain that it’s important for your body to have time to rest as well as being physically active. Too much physical exertion may have a negative impact on a child’s physical health, which can affect children’s wellbeing.

Online wellbeing

The internet and social media are integral to many children and young people’s lives. They can have a positive impact on children’s wellbeing by helping them connect with family and friends and express themselves in new ways.

But the online world also carries risks that may affect children and young people’s safety and mental health.

> Get more information on protecting children from online abuse

Encourage children to talk about how being online makes them feel. What do they like and dislike about it? What can you do to help children feel happy and safe when they are online?

Make sure children and young people know who to talk to if they have concerns or questions.

> Take our online safety training to make sure you have the skills you need to keep children safe online

> Look at NetAware for up-to-date information on the benefits and risks of social networks, apps, and games

> View Childline’s child-friendly information about online and mobile safety

Healthy relationships

Relationships play a key part in every child or young person’s wellbeing, from friends and teachers to parents, carers and siblings.

Being able to form healthy relationships can help children feel secure and supported. But experiencing unhealthy or abusive relationships can have a long-lasting negative impact.

> Find out more about promoting healthy relationships

> Read our information on protecting children from bullying and cyberbullying

Tools from Childline

Childline provides many online tools that children and young people may find helpful if they are feeling anxious or stressed:

Sharing tips with parents and carers

Sharing tips with parents and carers

It’s important that all the adults in a child’s life are able to promote that child’s mental health and wellbeing. If you work closely with parents and carers, you can share tips and resources to help them do this.

Maintaining a routine

A steady routine can help provide stability in a child’s life, which can give children and young people a sense of security and help reduce stress. Here are some tips you can suggest to parents and carers you work with:

  • plan regular weekly activities, such as seeing friends and relatives or taking part in a club or hobby
  • have regular mealtimes
  • set and stick to bed times, particularly for younger children, as sleep is important for children’s mental and physical wellbeing (NHS, 2017)
  • establish a night time routine for younger children, such as reading a story before bed 
  • work with older children to create a routine that works for them – including homework, seeing friends, extra-curricular activities and time offline.

Interacting with younger children

The early years of a child’s life can help lay the foundations of wellbeing for their future (Falcounbridge et al, 2019). Positive interactions with adults during this time can help improve child’s mental wellbeing throughout their lives.

If you work with parents and carers who have young children, encourage them to:

  • have individual face-to-face activity with their child, such as talking, singing and playing
  • follow the child’s lead: focus on what they choose, and support and encourage their curiosity
  • maintain eye contact, as this helps build a strong relationship.

> Get more tips with our Look Say Sing Play resources

> Find out more about how interacting with young children can help their brain development

Advice for parents on the NSPCC website

The NSPCC website has a range of information to help parents and carers support their child's mental health.

Some parents and carers may feel unsure about how to talk to their child about feelings and emotions. Share the following pointers to help them start a conversation with their child:

  • choose an appropriate time when others aren’t around or where you won’t be interrupted
  • actively listen to how your child feels
  • be patient and let your child talk in their own time
  • make it clear that you support their child.

> Share our advice for parents and carers on supporting their child’s mental health

> Provide parents and carers with information on how they can talk to children about sex and relationships

> Send parents and carers information on what to do if their child is experiencing bullying or cyberbullying

Government guidance

Government guidance

In England, the Department for Education (DfE) has published guidance on teaching about mental wellbeing in schools. The guidance has been produced as part of the statutory relationships, sex and health education curriculum (DfE, 2020).

Public Health England has published guidance for headteachers and college principals on promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing (Public Health England, 2015).

In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education’s Children and Young People’s Strategy 2019 – 2029 includes a section on improving mental health and emotional wellbeing (Department of Education, 2019).

The Department of Education has also published a report on the level of support for emotional health and wellbeing provided to children in schools. This includes recommendations for the development and implementation of a wellbeing framework (Department of Education, 2020).

In Scotland, Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) includes eight wellbeing indicators and lists resources professionals can use or adapt for conversations with children, young people and families (Scottish Government, 2020a). The Scottish Government has also published research on factors affecting children’s mental health and wellbeing, which includes recommendations for future research (Scottish Government, 2020b).

In Wales, the government has published guidance about emotional health and wellbeing in schools and early years settings (Welsh Government, 2012).

References

References

Children’s Society (2012) Promoting positive well-being for children: A report for decision-makers in parliament, central government and local areas (PDF). [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Department for Education (DfE) (2020) Teaching about mental wellbeing. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Department of Education (2019) Children and Young People’s Strategy 2019 – 2029. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Department of Education (2020) Informing the Development of an Emotional Health and Wellbeing Framework for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Faulconbridge, J., Hunt, K and Laffan, A (ed) (2019) Improving the psychological wellbeing of children and young people: effective prevention and early intervention across health, education and social care. London: Jessica Kingsley

Mental Health Foundation (2020) How to look after your mental health using exercise. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Mental Health Foundation and Camelot Foundation (2006) Truth hurts: report on the national inquiry into self-harm among young people (PDF). London: Mental Health Foundation.

NHS (2019) 5 steps to mental wellbeing. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

NHS (2017) Healthy sleep tips for children. [Accessed 17/06/2020].

Public Health England (2015) Promoting children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing. [Accessed 16/06/2020].

Scottish Government (2020a) Getting It Right For Every Child policy has an action focusing on wellbeing. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Scottish Government (2020b) Factors affecting children’s mental health and wellbeing: findings. Edinburgh: Scottish Government.

Welsh Government (2012) Thinking positively: Emotional health and well-being in schools and early years. Cardiff: Welsh Government.