Updated: Mar 2, 2022
The term 'mental well-being' is used to describe the way people feel about themselves and their lives. For example, it can include things like feeling good about the future, feeling that our lives are in order or knowing what we want in life. When it comes to our children's mental well-being, parents naturally want them to feel good about themselves, have positive life expectations, and be happy at school. But how much can education do to foster a child's emotional well-being?
In this article, let's outline what that role might be, and how it is being implemented by some schools today.
School Should Promote the Social and Emotional Well-Being of Children
School is a place where children spend the majority of their day, and it provides a rich environment for developing social skills, emotional health, and emotional resilience. This is why it is important for schools to have a wide-ranging approach to emotional well-being, which includes helping children understand their emotions, relationships with friends and families, as well as how to deal with bullying, stress, and anxiety.
There are many ways that schools can support children's social and emotional well-being. This includes having policies in place that promote positive behavior, such as no bullying or exclusion of different students.
It also includes giving children opportunities to learn about their feelings, discuss problems they may have at home or school, and seek help when needed.
Schools can even use their curriculum to promote social and emotional well-being. Learning about healthy lifestyles (such as good nutrition or exercise), friendships, and relationships are important topics. Lessons on these topics will help children develop valuable life skills.
When children are feeling mentally unwell, they cannot fully engage in learning. The World Health Organization describes mental health as a state of well-being that allows people to realize their full potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and contribute to their community.
For schools to promote children’s social and emotional well-being, it is important for staff, parents and students to understand what it means, why it is important, and what can be done to support children.
What Is Social and Emotional Well-being?
Social and emotional well-being is recognized as the feelings that young people experience every day (these include sadness, excitement, happiness, and anger). Also, another part is their ability to develop and maintain relationships with others.
Schools are in a unique position to assess children’s social and emotional needs and respond with programs designed to promote well-being and prevent mental health difficulties.
If schools do not heed this call, they will put themselves at risk of ignoring crucial connections between school experience and mental well-being, relationships that impact lifelong resilience.
What is emotional health?
The term "emotional health" is often used interchangeably with "mental health", but mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are not the only things that affect emotional well-being.
Emotional health also includes the capacity to make decisions, solve problems, and communicate effectively; to cope with change and uncertainty; to form relationships; and to be able to experience pleasure and satisfaction from activities.
A sense of self-worth is essential for emotional well-being. A child who lacks self-esteem may feel inferior or inadequate, which can lead to poor performance at school or other activities. A lack of self-esteem can also put children at risk of being bullied or becoming involved in bullying others.
Schools can support the development of emotional well-being for children by:
helping children gain confidence in their own abilities and teaching them different ways of coping with stress;
encouraging children to develop respectful relationships with other people, including those from different backgrounds;
developing a sense of community within the school and encouraging students to be socially aware;
promoting an understanding of mental health issues and supporting students with mental health issues.
The Role of Schools in Promoting Children's Mental Health
What is the role of schools in promoting children's mental well-being? And what can they do to achieve this?
The role of schools in promoting children's mental health is as much about fostering a sense of belonging and connection - the social aspects of school - as it is about the curriculum. Schools can choose to be active in promoting the mental health of their students by communicating openly about subjects that address mental well-being, mental illness, and emotional health.
Children who are emotionally healthy are confident and able to express their feelings appropriately. They can cope with the normal stresses of life, develop meaningful relationships with others, and feel good about themselves. Emotionally healthy children also learn more effectively.
Emotional health is about more than the absence of a mental health condition. It encompasses a child's ability to cope with everyday life, bounce back after a setback, and respond to stressful situations with confidence and resilience.
But this is not a call to put pressure on schools to be a catch-all for children's health. In fact, many experts argue that we need to recognize the limitations of schools as mental health providers.
Many teachers and other school staff perform a vital - but under-appreciated - function in supporting children with mental health problems. But they are not psychiatrists or counselors, and find it difficult to provide specialist support. Recent figures show a massive increase in the numbers of young people being prescribed drugs for mental health conditions.
How can schools promote children's mental health?
Why do we go to school? We go to learn about the world, prepare for our future and connect with friends. Even though school doesn’t always provide the best environment for us, it can provide us with a sense of stability.
For some children, school is one of their only deeply social experiences outside the home — an experience where they start to learn about the world and develop their sense of identity.
Every school has a responsibility to promote the mental health of the students in their care. While every child is unique and will respond to different strategies, here are 6 steps you can take to strengthen the mental well-being of your pupils.
Ensure that your staff understand mental health and how to support pupils
Create a welcoming and attractive learning environment that encourages well-being
Give all children opportunities for developing healthy relationships
Provide pan, home, and community links for holistic well-being
Engage with parents, carers and families in promoting well-being
Share information about how to maintain good mental health with the wider school community
Children’s emotional health is affected by a number of factors, but it seems that the quality of their relationships with others (especially their teachers) plays an important role in promoting their emotional well-being and overall mental health.
Benefits of Social and Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning, or SEL, also known as social and emotional competence (SEC) or emotional intelligence (EI), is a growing field. There is a greater focus than before on the mental health and well-being of children, rather than training teachers to just maintain their classroom control.
Let's focus on the benefits of SEL in schools and how it can help to promote the mental well-being of children.
Sure, schools can provide a safe, supportive environment for children to learn and grow. However, some children may need additional support during their school years—particularly if they are struggling with mental health conditions.
Children may experience problems at home, school, or in the community that can result in stress and emotional difficulty. Without the right tools, they can struggle to navigate the social and emotional aspects of life.
These difficulties can affect their ability to make and keep friends, learn and succeed in school, and function well at home. They may also have difficulty dealing with emotions, such as anxiety or anger.
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a process for helping children understand these emotions and develop healthy relationships with others. In addition to improving academic performance, SEL builds important skills like problem solving, decision-making, self-management, empathy, and social awareness.
Although many schools already teach social and emotional skills—such as how to get along with others—most don't have an integrated approach like SEL.
Why Are Social and Emotional Skills Important?
The ability to understand one's own emotions and those of others is invaluable for success in one's endeavors. Children who practice SEL are more likely to show improvements in attitudes like self-confidence, interpersonal skills, and academic achievement.
It is a common misconception that school is only about learning. In reality, school environments are ripe with opportunities to promote children's social and emotional health.
The social interactions and relationships that occur in schools help shape the way children think and behave, both in the classroom and beyond it.
To be effective in school, children need certain foundational skills that are primarily noncognitive in nature. Self-regulation, self-motivation, self-confidence, persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness—all these attributes contribute to children's ability to think critically and creatively (i.e., cognitive skills).
Why is social and emotional well-being important?
Children with good social and emotional well-being are more likely to:
experience better learning outcomes;
achieve more academically;
have fewer behavioral problems;
feel more positive about themselves and others;
make better choices about their health;
be engaged in school;
enjoy school more; and
be ready for the transition from school into further education or the workforce.
It’s clear that there will be more pressure on schools to promote children’s emotional well-being, but this could prove just as difficult as improving academic performance, if not more so. All in all, schools have a vital part to play in promoting children’s emotional well-being, especially in regards to the quality of their relationships with others.
To put it plainly, there is a lot for teachers to learn. And not only about how to support the emotional health of their students, but also how to ensure that their students are able to handle those relationships in the most positive manner possible.
At the same time, there is an even larger role for society—parents, friends and other relatives—to consider how they too can support the mental well-being of children.