Safety and student mental health is on everyone’s mind as our children return to school. School communities and Boards of Education struggle to find a middle ground that provides for children’s safety without raising their anxiety or that of their parents. At the same time parents and teachers can become actively involved in school safety by adding intentionality to things they are already doing every day that promote strong mental health.
Positive Regard builds self esteem.
Little children need to know they are welcome, enjoyed, and valued among the people in their world. My eight-month-old grandson is adept at amusing himself with chew toys, a sock he pulled off his foot, or the strap on his carrier. But when he notices that someone is watching and smiling, his whole body erupts with joyous squeals, arm waving, and kicking. The thirteen-year-old girl who catches the approving nod of a classmate across the hall can feel the same thrill even though the kinetics might be missing. Positive regard is more than being nice; it is wholehearted acceptance that tells children they matter. I love it when I see an arm go around a first grader and the teacher stoops down to the child’s level, looking her in the face, and listening to her. No matter the age, any time we put down the book, look away from the computer, or mute the TV to be fully present to a child, we show respect for their person. Do it often enough and it becomes a habit that builds children’s self-esteem, an important quality of sound mental health.
Emotional-Regulation carries through in adulthood.
The small everyday things that parents and teachers do to encourage self-regulation can also inculcate mental health skills that children will use throughout their lives. Shaking out before a stressful activity like a test will also work well with a job interview someday. When a spelling lesson precedes the Halloween party, calming the class down by having them take a deep breath and focus on the moment will help. They will also use it will later when they are in a traffic jam and their kids are screaming in the back of the car. These little routine practices, learned when very young, can become formidable protectors for our mental health. While most teachers and parents do them instinctively; intentionality is the key.
Green Book outlines simple, routine practices.
Red Flags promotes the principle that mental health education begins in pre-school or kindergarten. We teach our children almost from infancy the importance of nutritious food choices, or of spending time outside every day. These physical health habits can easily be augmented with little mental health practices that nurture self-esteem, foster resilience, promote empathy, and build on strengths. Some Red Flags schools are distributing The Green Book: Nourishing Kids’ Mental Health to their incoming kindergarten parents. Receiving this collection of simple, routine practices is a reminder that mental health is important to school success. It also signals the school’s commitment to the development of the whole child. Parents will find the school a safe place for mental health conversations.