Children have tests and exams to worry about and sometimes bullying by fellow students. Some children also don’t have supportive parents. All this has a major impact on their mental health. According to Unicef, in 2019, it was estimated that at least one in seven adolescents have mental disorders. That comes down to about 166 million adolescent girls and boys across the globe. Teachers play an important role in mental health of children. On Teachers’ Day, we tell you how educators can help children.
Children spend a lot of time in school. This makes it possible for teachers to identify some signs of mental health issues in students.
If children are having mental health issues, there will be sudden shifts in their behaviour. You will notice changes like withdrawal, aggression or extreme mood swings, says Dr Rahul Rai Kakkar, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Gurugram.
There will be noticeable drops in their academic performance if they any mental illness or problem. Apart from academics, they will also lose interest in school-related activities.
Teachers will be able to see a significant reduction in students’ interactions with their peers and a reluctance to participate in any kind of group activities organised in school.
Children who are battling a mental health issue will have frequent expressions of sadness, fear, anger or emotional distress that is beyond what’s typical for their age.
They will also frequently complain about headaches, stomach aches or other physical discomfort. But there won’t be any clear medical cause behind these health problems.
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Just like you keep notebooks of students to check their homework, keep detailed records of the observed behaviours and incidents. Then share those records with school counselors or the children’s parents.
As a teacher, you might want to take things in your hands. But instead of going solo, reach out to the school counselor, parents and other relevant staff members to discuss concerns and develop a plan that will help the children.
Share information about a child’s problems only with concerned people instead of telling everyone in the staff room. You should respect the student’s privacy and handle the information discreetly and sensitively.
While you work together only with the school’s support team to devise strategies that can help the student address their challenges, offer a listening ear. You can also offer a supportive environment for the student, letting them know they’re not alone, suggests Dr Kakkar. You can also do the following:
Create a welcoming classroom where students feel safe and valued. This will help to promote a positive atmosphere for mental well-being of students.
A teacher-student relationship is very important as educators help in the development of children. So, form strong teacher-student relationships. This will encourage open communication and trust, and if children are facing any problem they will come to you for help.
Provide opportunities for students to express their thoughts and emotions through discussions, art or writing.
In school, you can introduce techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness and problem-solving to help children manage stress and emotions. These techniques are great for adults and can work wonders for children too.
It is good to have expectations, but let them be realistic ones. Establish achievable goals so that there is no excessive academic pressure on children. This will also help to reduce anxiety, says the expert.
Teaching is not just about telling students to open their books and go to chapter 1, paragraph 5 and line 2. You can also teach teamwork, empathy, and conflict resolution to enhance interpersonal relationships.
It might be doing well in a class test or extracurricular activities, but you should acknowledge and praise students’ efforts and achievements to boost their self-esteem.
Adults have a routine that they follow in their daily lives, and so should children. Maintain a consistent schedule for them to create a sense of stability and predictability.
You can connect students with school counselors or mental health professionals whenever you think it’s needed. Students might refuse to meet them, but asa teacher you can convince them.
Educators can raise awareness about mental health in school. They can integrate discussions about mental health into the curriculum to reduce stigma around mental health.
But remember, while teachers can play a crucial role, mental health concerns should also be addressed by mental health professionals and parents.