Children’s mental health and emotional literacy

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Children’s Mental Health Week is an important event to bring attention to children’s well-being. We also look what can be done to improve emotional literacy and promote positive mental health.

Children's mental health and emotional literacy

The mental health of young people comes to the fore at the start of February with Children’s Mental Health Week, organised by Place2Be. They estimate that 1 in 6 children today have a mental health need. That is an increase from 1 in 8 in 2019. Prevention, early identification and support are essential for young people. Research shows that more than half of all adult mental health problems start before 14 years old.

People often consider mental health to be low mood, anxiety and depression. Instead, we should see it as enhancing our capacity to cope with and enjoy life. We should all develop and nurture a sense of positive mental health. Learning how to deal with life’s stressors and creating a sense of self-esteem and self-control is vital.

smiling child
Mental health is also about enhancing our capacity as humans.

Emotional literacy and emotional intelligence

Emotional literacy helps us recognise our feelings. Emotional intelligence helps us understand, use, and manage them positively to relieve stress, communicate well and empathise with others. It allows us to:

Parents should model emotional literacy and intelligence. Talk to your children about your feelings. For example, describe how you’re feeling.

“Just to let you know, I’m on a bit of a short fuse today as work is very stressful at the moment. I’m sorry that I might not be as patient as normal. I’d appreciate it if you get ready quickly so we can leave the house on time.”

Describing times where you felt hurt, ashamed or angry teaches children that everyone has negative emotions. It shows them that these emotions are natural. 

To promote emotional literacy, ask “How are you feeling?” instead of “How are you doing?” Encourage children to reflect on things that annoy or anger them. Ask them how they can handle the situation differently next time.

Dad talks with son
Parents can model emotional literacy by talking about their feelings to their children.

Five ways to promote positive mental health

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is at the centre of emotional intelligence. It’s the ability to understand your emotions. We must measure our strengths and weaknesses honestly and remain open to strategies that can help us improve.

What can I do to help my child improve their self-awareness?

People who practise mindfulness meditation report increased self-awareness. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing for a few minutes every day. There are many guided meditations that you can find online. You can also do some breathing exercises like those recommended by the NHS.

2. Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is being able to control your feelings and impulses. It helps us to think before we act.

What can I do to help my child improve their self-regulation?

Set aside time at the end of the day. Ask your children to pay attention to their mood. Encourage your children to describe situations that upset them. Discuss calming strategies, such as breathing exercises, temporal distancing or positive self-talk.

Temporal distancing gives us time or space to distance ourselves from the current situation. For example, if your child is very nervous about a test at school, ask them to consider how they think they’ll feel about it in six months. Will it seem as important then? Doing this can help them gain perspective and feel less nervous about the situation.

Help your children use cognitive reappraisal. They can change negative thinking if they’re aware of their thought patterns.

Catastrophising involves taking something negative and blowing it out of proportion. All-or-nothing thinking involves seeing things as only good or bad. If your child tells you they find something impossible, say, ‘That sounds very challenging. Is there any other way to look at this situation?’

You might also occasionally notice your own distortions and share them.

3. Delayed Gratification and Motivation

This is when we defer gratification to achieve greater results. It enhances productivity, initiative and enjoyment of challenges.

Phone notifications, social media, setbacks, and boredom can distract us. Pressure and stress can also harm our motivation and capacity to defer gratification to achieve a greater goal.

What can I do to help motivate my child?

When studying at home, keep devices in the kitchen and allow children to check them once an hour. Incentivise exercise, organisation, or revision by creating rewards charts and goals. If they’re working towards a meaningful goal, it increases motivation and productivity.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the ability to recognise and understand the feelings, views and needs of others. It’s being able to put yourself alongside another to understand their experience.

Active listening plays a key part in empathy. Many people believe they’re good listeners, but the reality is often different. When we share a problem, we don’t usually want advice, reassurance or to hear about how someone else dealt with that issue. When we’re upset, we want someone to listen to our feelings and understand us.

Make sure to model active listening when talking to your children. Encourage them to listen to a friend or family member without trying to solve their problem. Instead, ask them how it might feel to be them.

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Encouraging talking about feelings can create a space for children.

Social Skills

The ability to work well as part of a team and recognise the value of relationships is a key factor for positive mental health.

What can I do to support social skills?

Encourage your children to take part in after-school clubs or team activities. Support a wide range of friendships and explain the benefits of healthy, positive relationships. Model your positive relationships and discuss how friends and family members have helped each other over the years.

There’s so much you can do at home to develop healthy coping strategies and build resilience in your children. Ask your child’s school for support if you worry about their mental health or want to find out how they discuss these issues in PSHE. Remember that good nutrition, sleep and exercise are also essential to healthy brain development and well-being.

We hope this blog was helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with us should you have any questions about your child and their learning at school and at home. We enjoy talking with parents and helping our students by tailoring learning to their individual needs.


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