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Children's Mental Health: Why Punish What they Can't Control?

Reasons why teaching students about early behaviours of mental health problems and teaching mental health in the 'proper' way for children and young adults in schools can make a massive impact in their later life.

a boy is explaining his self-esteem and aggressive behaviours to an in-school counsellor. He feels safe and heard, away from his home life and not being punished for the things that are out of his control.
A Student Talking To a Counsellor Provided At School

What is mental health?

Mental health is described as:

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

Factors that contribute to your experience with mental health can be trauma or abuse, a family history of mental health problems, and your own genetics and brain chemistry.

Does the system teach mental health?

Children spend the majority of their early life in the education system, so shouldn't their primary concern (alongside academic skills), be providing them with tools and coping skills for their mental health?

RSHE is taught in schools in the UK, and covers problems such as addiction, relationships, internet safety, and more. Although this is a great stepping stone into adulthood and problems they will be faced with when growing up, there seems to be a lack of teaching the pupils about their own personal experiences, struggles and mental wellbeing. Why are schools not offering free counselling services? the schools which do offer counselling, are usually private schools! Teachers should have the ability to help pupils recognise early symptoms of mental health problems or coping skills for anxiety, and be in a position to educate their pupils and prioritise this topic. Being able to offer children and teenagers a space where they feel no judgement, and felt listened too is equally as important, as it prepares them for later life, for when things can get a little more complicated. If children have a difficult life at home, being able to go to school and feel safe to talk about their problems may change someones life.

Teaching mental health, coping skills, offering counselling services and wellbeing to students in everyday life carries many benefits. Here are just a couple in detail to spread light on how impactful the little things can be for the future generations:

Improves self-esteem

Self-esteem begins in childhood, therefore the best place to improve this is at school. Parents, friends and teachers all have a big impact when you are young on how you view yourself. This is because as a child or young adult, we are more socially dominant and agreeable. Unfortunately, the negative messages are the ones that we remember in later life. By having low esteem, pupils aren't participating in social activities or trying new things, which can be detrimental to their school experience. Teaching pupils to surround themselves with positivity and healthy friendships and relationships is something that will mould their future and the person they become. Not only this, but being able to help them recognise healthy/unhealthy thoughts and feelings towards themselves and other people can impact the way they behave to their peers, how they treat and value themselves, and can contribute to how they well achieve in school.

Prevents violence and aggression

Behavioural problems caused by mental health challenges make it difficult for children to form relationships with their classmates – especially when school leaders separate them from the rest of the children.

Emotional outbursts, aggressive outbursts and boredom lead to 'naughty kids'- the ones who are seen as disobedient. When pupils are disobedient, they get punished to reduce the risk of a particular behaviour happening again. Although this works for some, there isn't an individual concern with these behaviours. Some don't question why the pupil is acting the way they are- instead, they may see it as 'attention seeking' or being the 'class clown'. If teachers were also trained in mental wellbeing of students, it would be easier to recognise signs of these outbursts, and instead of punishing them for something they may not be able to control, they can create a safe space and talk to the child. from here, the teacher can refer the child to a counsellor or a teacher who can help or talk to, away from home and their friends.

Self-esteem and healthy friendships all contribute towards academic excellence, this being the primary focus for schools. Pupils may experience stress and anxiety due to the workload in later years, therefore if a pupil is feeling down and experiencing mental health problems, their attendance to school may drop, meaning they fall behind in their academia. Being able to teach coping skills and recognise potential symptoms at an early age, instead of punishing all pupils for different reasons will not only improve a pupils' individual wellbeing, but their confidence in lessons and their future too.


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