Dealing With SEMH Issues in the Classroom

Social, Emotional, and Mental Health (SEMH) issues have become the proverbial elephant in the classroom, and are now recognised in the 2014 SEND Code of Practice.

It’s vitally important to notice these issues as they develop in children and to take action, as it can affect their education, future life prospects, and how they develop relationships and attitudes as they grow older.

Often, SEMH issues stem from other, concealed issues, whether these be problems at home, depression, anxiety at school, or disorders such as ADHD.

Whatever the catalyst for this trend – social media, societal change, increasing academic pressure, or improved diagnosis – there is no denying its implications. These issues can surface at any school age, and have a wide-reaching impact in their school life.

How to Spot SEMH Issues in Children

There’s a few telltale signs to look out for:

  • Fighting and seeking to harm themselves or others
  • Becoming closed off or emotionally detached
  • Sudden mood swings and outbursts
  • Unpredictable changes in personality
  • Weight loss or signs of eating disorders
  • An overall lack of concentration
  • Evidence of substance abuse

Bear in mind that these issues could be symptomatic of the child trying to communicate their difficulties with you, whether they realise it or not. These symptoms can be reduced and managed by adopting positive SEMH strategies that help to deal with the root cause.

What Can Be Done to Help

If you have a pastoral team at your school, they should be your first port of call. They can intervene and set up long-term strategies. These strategies may include reseating the child within your classroom, or even removing the pupil at times of stress and rehousing them in a different area of the school while they calm down – this is particularly effective in cases where pupils are misbehaving to seek the attention of their classmates.

Alternatively, seek out your SEN coordinator, who may offer advice.

Stamp Out Bullying

Address any bullying behaviours, whether the child is a victim or the instigator. Your school should already have stringent anti-bullying policies in place.

Contact Home

Work in conjunction with parents to address classroom issues. A phone call home can do a world of good.

You should also consider opening a discussion with the pupil after class and discussing their behaviour. They might be open to you and let you know what’s wrong so you can take appropriate action.

If, from this discussion, you gather that the pupil doesn’t realise they are being disruptive or feels that they are being victimised by all the negative teacher attention, set up a secret signal you can use to let them know when they’re being disruptive. This can help them to save face, and to be more mindful of their behaviour and to calm down without attracting the unwanted attention of the rest of the class.


Try changing up the tasks you give them. Provide a rigid timeline to work with clear goals, and offer tasks as smaller, more easily digestible chunks. Depending on the age group of your class, this style of teaching can have wider-reaching benefits for the whole class.

Be Predictable

Try to make your classroom and lessons a calm environment with a predictable structure. This predictability can help your more anxious students to relax and focus on the task at hand. For example, you could start every lesson by outlining the goals and aims, then provide a whole-class plenary, set a task for individual work, and finish by wrapping up and outlining the main concepts you have introduced.

Praise Where Praise is Due

Remember to frequently praise positive behaviour and good work. Build them up and improve their confidence until they reach a level where they feel they can work independently.

Some pupils may act out in lessons as a smokescreen to cover up the difficulty and anxiety they are experiencing. If you engender a growth mindset in your classroom, pupils will feel less daunted by the difficulty of struggling towards a distant end goal, and focus better on each task as it comes.

You could also make copies of their best work and send it home with them. For younger or less confident pupils, this can be a huge confidence boost.

Adopt Proactive SEMH Strategies

Not every child who struggles with SEMH issues will exhibit the symptoms above, and they could be difficult to identify. Not all children need targeted or specialist intervention, but all children need help and support with SEMH issues.

Your school can adopt a proactive approach to SEMH strategy. If you have a pastoral team in place, they have already taken a great first step. If your school has customised student planners, this is a great place to integrate a whole-school approach to tackling SEMH issues.

We’ve developed a series of SEMH planner pages for both primary schools and secondary schools, but you could also send us your ideas and policies, and we can incorporate them into your planner design.

5 SEMH Ideas
If you’re still looking for more SEMH hints and tips, read our list of the top 5 whole-school SEMH ideas.