5 ways to support the mental health of a child with SEN

supporting mental health in a child

Research shows that 1 in 5 young people aged 16-24 experience anxiety or depression at any one time.   

Bright Heart

Bright Heart

As awareness of mental health grows we look at how you can support your child

5 ways to support the mental health of a child with SEN

Mental health may seem to be somewhat of a buzz word these days, but research shows that 1 in 5 young people aged 16-24 experience a common mental illness such as anxiety or depression at any one time1.

Children affected by learning challenges are:

  • 6 times more likely to experience conduct disorder;
  • 4 times more likely to have a diagnosable emotional mental health problem; and
  • Nearly twice as likely to experience a depressive episode.2
supporting mental health in a child
Taking action to talk with someone is always better done sooner rather than later

How can you as a parent support your child with Special Educational Needs?

1. Talk to your child about mental health

One of the best places to start is by talking about mental health to your child. You may discuss feelings and help give your child the language he or she needs to describe their emotions. You may simply ask questions to ascertain what your child is experiencing – are they anxious? Are they having self-esteem issues? Open dialogue will go a long way to making your child feel heard and supported. Make conversations about mental health a normal part of life – anywhere is a good place to talk; in the car, walking the dog or cooking together. Ask open-ended questions and show empathy rather than trying to offer immediate solutions.

2. Give your child your full attention

​When listening, make sure you’re fully present and that your child can feel that they have your undivided attention. Nobody likes to be half-listened to. Ignore or avoid distractions. Maintain eye contact and focus on your child.

3. Familiarise yourself with the signs of poor mental health

Keep in mind that all children are different, but some of the common signs of mental health problems in children include:

  • becoming withdrawn from friends and family
  • persistent low mood and unhappiness
  • tearfulness and irritability
  • worries that stop them from carrying out day to day tasks
  • tearfulness and irritability
  • sudden outbursts of anger directed at themselves or others
  • loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
  • problems eating or sleeping3

Look for clues about feelings: listen to the child’s words, tone of voice and body language.

4. If you’re worried about your child’s mental health, get help

Speak to your GP

As a first course of action, we suggest reaching out to your family doctor. He or she will be able to make a clinical assessment and to listen if your child is willing to talk to them. Your GP will also be able to make specialist referrals for therapy for example, where necessary to assist your child in managing their mental health.

Get in touch with your child’s teacher and/or tutors

Schools and teachers are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of supporting students’ mental health. It is vital that they are made aware that your child is struggling and they will be able to keep an eye on them during this time and provide much-needed additional support and encouragement.

Reach out to Support Organisations

If you feel that you‘d like additional support, get in touch with one of the following organisations that specialise in this field:

5. Take care of your own mental health

This cannot be overemphasized. Children live what they learn and as challenging as it may often be for us as parents, it is imperative that we model healthy habits and show our children what good emotional regulation and self-care looks like. If you feel stressed out, anxious and overwhelmed, make a point of implementing a self-care routine that will assist in providing you with more balanced living. You can also schedule time with a counsellor or therapist to provide you with perspective. Never underestimate the world of good that feeling heard can do for you (and your child).

References

  1. McManus et al., 2009, according to a report by the Centre for Mental Health 2018, centreformentalhealth.org.uk
  2. Emerson & Hatton, 2007, according to a report by the Centre for Mental Health 2018, centreformentalhealth.org.uk
  3. National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

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Learning through sport

Karine, a Bright Heart tutor with a Black Belt in Karate, discusses the benefits of sport for children.           

Karine - learning through sport

Karine

Karine, a Bright Heart tutor with a Black Belt in Karate, is passionate about helping children with autism and SEN through sports. She discusses the benefits of sport.

Learning through sport

What if sport could help your child achieve their academic goals?

Sport is not just about fitness, teamwork or achievement; it also delivers much more and can help your child improve their mental and physical well-being, contributing to a healthier lifestyle. It has even been proven that physical activity can boost your child’s academic performance. But bear in mind that sports are not necessarily a synonym of exhausting exercise requiring high skills. It can simply be a gentle and playful experience for your child in a person-centred approach. 

boy running on path
Physical and mental well-being go together

Why is sport so important for my child?

Doing sport can help children grow, teaching them life skills and important lessons. Practising sport from a young age and accumulating positive experience will encourage your child to stay physically active later in life.

But most importantly, sports can (and should be!) fun, interactive and make your child happy. Whether it is playing in a team or doing individual activities, sport can bring happiness and improve your child’s mood. It also helps reduce stress and anxiety and can be considered as an active meditation. Being happy and relaxed, smiling and laughing will certainly positively affect their attitude towards learning and studying.

How can sports help my child?

Sports help children develop in different fields that are beneficial to their academic journey. It promotes self-knowledge, changes self-limiting beliefs and brings new challenges, pushing them out of their comfort zone to try new experiences. Sport definitely improves self-esteem, self-confidence and builds character, discipline and resilience. For example, learning how to follow rules, face new situations and handling how to win or lose will help them adapt to real life situations, regulate their emotions and deal with frustration.

Sport is about bouncing back and learning from mistakes, learning to try again or try a different way. It teaches that effort pays off and encourages perseverance, showing them that giving up is not the way to act when difficulties arise. Moreover, it teaches children how to set themselves goals and how to work to achieve these, increasing their motivation to realise their potential. All those skills are important notions that are transferable to other fields.

Learning through sport is not only when moving the body

Health and physical benefits of sport

Sport has many health and physical benefits. However, children have the tendency to prefer the comfort of their home rather than exercise but we wish to help them understand the importance of physical activity, for their own benefit, now and in the long run.

According to the NHS, children and teenagers between 5 and 18 years old should exercise at least 60 minutes every day. It ranges from moderate activity such as cycling and playground activities, to more intense activity such as running or tennis. Physical activity is important for better general health and growth, to build stronger bones and muscles and to increase stamina. It also helps in managing weight and improving one’s body image.

Additionally, it helps burn off energy and channel it to get children ready to sit down and focus on academic learning. It also increases body awareness, improving motor skills, balance and coordination. Developing these skills is important as it helps children gain strength and confidence in their body and in themselves. It boosts their energy level and encourages them to exercise more and stay healthy. A physically active child tends to get better sleep which helps keep energy levels up, improves attention, concentration, mood and behaviour.

How can we help?

Get in touch with Bright Heart if you would like to learn more about Karine’s passion for promoting sports to help children with autism and special educational needs. Karine would be very happy to chat to any parent about the benefits of sport.

Karine is a mother of 2 boys who teaches Karate, helps with PE at a SEN primary school class and works with a teenage boy on the autistic spectrum following a therapy based on stimulation through play.

Bright Heart believes that sport is a great complement to its heart-based tuition approach.


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