Training to support mental health

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  Published on Tuesday, 01 October 2019

Training to support mental health

Library Home  >  Health, Wellbeing & Nutrition
  Published on Tuesday, 01 October 2019

Due to an increase in the number of families where both parents work, children now spend a significant amount of time in early childhood services with many children attending full time care. As a result, early childhood educators have an important role in supporting and nurturing the mental and emotional wellbeing of the children they care for.

It's been shown that children as young as three can experience depression and anxiety, and when children suffer from mental health issues in the early years they're also more likely to have them in adulthood. Early childhood educators are well positioned to identify mental health conditions among children and a new training resource aims to support them with this responsibility.

Giving educators the tools they need

Be You, an initiative of national mental health organisation Beyond Blue, in conjunction with Early Childhood Australia and Headspace, has developed a free online training resource called Professional Learning which is designed to provide educators with knowledge, resources and strategies for helping children and young people achieve their best possible mental health.

According to Judy Kynaston, General Manager of Be You at Early Childhood Australia, all educators who participate in the training program are also supported by a consultant.

"[They] work with those services to help them identify their strategies, help them identify where their starting point might be, and what they will do in order to work with children and their families," she told SBS.

To date 2,400 early learning centres across Australia have signed up for the program which is already seeing great results for children and their families – especially those most at risk.

Students who are migrants or who have experienced trauma or adversity are more likely to experience mental health issues; yet with earlier detection and intervention it is possible for them to get the support they need.

Warning signs of poor mental health in children

So how do you know the difference between a child who is tired and having a bad day and a child with a more complex mental health problem? According to the Mayo Clinic, there are the red flags to watch for:

  • Mood changes – Look for feelings of sadness or withdrawal that last at least two weeks or severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships with peers or teachers.
  • Intense feelings – Be aware of feelings of overwhelming fear for no reason – sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing – or worries or fears intense enough to interfere with daily activities.
  • Behaviour changes – These include drastic changes in behaviour or personality, as well as dangerous or out-of-control behaviour. Fighting frequently, using weapons and expressing a desire to badly hurt others also are warning signs.
  • Difficulty concentrating – Look for signs of trouble focusing or sitting still even for very short periods of time.
  • Unexplained weight loss – A sudden loss of appetite or frequent vomiting.
  • Physical symptoms – Compared with adults, children with a mental health condition might develop headaches and stomach aches rather than sadness or anxiety.
  • Physical harm – Sometimes a mental health condition leads to self-injury, also called self-harm. This is the act of deliberately harming your own body. Children with a mental health condition might do this or verbalise hating themselves or wanting to harm or even kill themselves.

Other ways educators can boost children’s mental health

The free Be You mental health online training program for early childhood educators is a useful resource that is available to all early childhood services. In addition to Be You, there is a range of other ways educators can work to boost the mental wellbeing of children:

  • Namaste time – Introduce regular yoga and mediation sessions into your service, including breathing exercises, so children can still their minds, relax, learn to self-regulate and cope with their emotions.
  • Discuss feelings – Display pictures and signs around the centre addressing different types of emotions and encourage discussions with the children around feelings. You could even get children to select how they're feeling each morning with different faces on a chart such as sad, happy, angry, bored, etc.
  • Self-love and positive reinforcement – Practice positive affirmations with children to build their confidence and self-worth. You could also incorporate activities into the curriculum such as asking children to draw or talk about what they love most about themselves and fellow classmates.
  • Encourage outdoor play – Being close to nature, in the outdoors with fresh air and sunshine, touching plants and the earth does wonders for mental health. Letting children go barefoot is particularly beneficial for both their wellbeing.
  • Look for passions and strengths – If you notice children lean more towards certain activities and express enjoyment in them then encourage more of this. If it means tweaking your schedule or curriculum it's worth considering for the long-term gains. Identifying more opportunities for 'free choice' time could be a good way to ensure that all kids have the chance to do something they love.
  • Nutritious food and physical activity – Fuelling our bodies in the right way and ensuring we get enough exercise are two very important elements for a healthy and positive mind.
  • Communicate with the parents – Maintaining an open dialogue with parents is the best way to learn whether there is something going on in a child's home life that you should be aware of. Ongoing communication is also an opportunity for you to express concerns about a child's behaviour or wellbeing.

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 30 December 2019