The NHS is rapidly expanding its services to provide schools with mindfulness tools for children in response to massive demand. Record numbers of children are accessing mental health services and it’s not difficult to work out the reason for this.
Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdowns have damaged and disrupted children’s lives, from missing schools, interrupting routines and delaying essential support services. Not only that, but the issues that children face ordinarily – expectations at school, social issues such as friendships and bullying, and social media, were compounded as they met with new uncertainties when the pandemic hit.
A recent analysis by the BBC has shown a staggering 77% increase in the number of children needing specialist treatment for severe mental health crisis between April and October 2021. So, what can be done in schools to help children through these difficult times?
Tackling these problems early seems to be key, and schools are the ideal place to introduce children to ways of coping with difficult emotions. Mindfulness is not a new concept in schools, but it is being used more and more to tackle the mental health crisis in children. So, let’s take a closer look at the issues that have been arising over the past couple of years, what the NHS and government plan to do to help, and how this affects schools.
How the pandemic has affected children’s mental health
First of all, it is important to point out that data on the impact of the pandemic is limited, mixed and difficult to interpret. It is also important to note that not all children had such a bad time during the lockdowns, with some children reporting in studies that they actually experienced an increase in well-being and enjoyed spending time at home with loved ones. What this shows us, as we already know as teachers, parents, and members of society, is that some children benefit from being in the home environment and some do not.
For many vulnerable children, Covid has intensified known risk factors and disrupted the health services that supported them. Schools are often the place where children at risk can be nurtured, as well as any issues flagged with the appropriate authorities and support put in place. The lack of this constant in children’s lives has clearly had an impact, as the data above shows. Even for children that were not at risk there has been an impact – as all children missed a large amount of time being in a ‘normal’ school setting, with the usual routines and expectations that the school environment brings.
Governmental policies that support the mental health crisis in schools
In 2019, before the pandemic hit, plans were laid out to improve mental health services for children in the government’s 2019 Long-Term Plan. These plans have now been accelerated and £79m has been pledged to allow this to happen. In May 2021, the NHS announced:
“Around 400 mental health support teams will be up and running covering 3,000 schools in England, offering support to almost three million pupils, by 2023.”
The thinking behind the pledge is that by combatting mental health problems early on in a person’s life, more serious mental health issues can be avoided later down the line. Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, pointed out that they are going ‘further and faster’ to help prevent mental health problems intensifying in years to come. Claire Murdoch, the Mental Health Director for NHS England, urged caregivers to access any help available:
“As children have returned to the classroom, dedicated NHS mental health support teams will be in place at 3,000 schools across the country ready to listen to any anxieties they may have and I would urge everyone whether you’re a teacher, parent or child to access this help before any issues escalate.”
However, experts say that this is still not enough, and that wider issues need to be addressed such as social and educational activities and tackling socio-economic disadvantages and expanding family support much further.
How schools themselves can support pupils with anxiety
Even for children who did not suffer during the lockdowns and have done well academically, fitting back into school routines and expectations can be difficult. Being part of a social circle and making friends can be more of a challenge after missing out on months of learning valuable social skills. This conflict causes stress and anxiety about going to school. So, what can schools do today to help pupils deal with this anxiety? Well, several tools exist and are accessible to all:
Meditation and mindfulness
Children in a primary school in Stafford have been introduced to meditation and mindfulness classes. The head reported that “after lockdown, children found it tricky to get back into everyday routines.” The classes gave children the tools they needed to improve their mental well-being and cope with anxiety. Tools really are vital for children to acquire, as they can use them at any time or in any place. If a child is taught how to calm their breathing, mind and thoughts, then this can stop problems from escalating.
Personally, as a supply teacher who regularly works in different schools, I have noticed that some children are struggling to follow the usual routines and are having problems with friendships which causes tears and upset during learning time. Many primary-aged children may not have had a full ‘normal’ year since being in nursery or reception. Having realistic expectations is key and building play or stress release time into the day may help enormously. It is also beneficial to talk about friendships, sharing and how to deal with disagreements.
Tools in the classroom
Many schools that I have visited have responded brilliantly to the additional needs that children are facing in these times and have provided ‘calm’ areas for children to retreat to practise mindfulness when needed. Although discipline always has a place in schools, it is not the only appropriate response to an unruly class. Giving children tools such as breathing exercises to do, books to read, colours to calm the mind, all help to combat anxiety and create a happier and more orderly classroom, and ultimately happier children who are more ready and able to learn.
There are numerous resources out there to help your school introduce mindfulness into the everyday environment. A quick google will bring endless websites with free resources, lesson ideas and videos. Twinkl has over 6,000 resources on its website.
Cosmic Kids yoga is already popular in schools, but did you know that they also have mediation videos as well which are simple and aimed at children of all ages? Find them here.
How our planners can help the children in your school
The School Planner Company offers a wide variety of mental health pages that can be used in, or adapted to your planners. They support the mental health strategies that already exist in your school as well as encourage pupils to seek help through the sharing of feelings and vital information. They offer tips on how to improve well-being and support mindfulness strategies with daily prompts and recording. Request your free sample and information pack which includes our full planner library containing pages on wellbeing.