Mental health and wellbeing go hand-in-hand and are not only central to promoting effective learning and future successful, independent living, they are ESSENTIAL for helping children and young people develop and thrive.

Focusing on improving a child’s mental health and wellbeing will help them to cope with key life events such as stress, trauma and physical ill-health. Not only are children with better mental wellbeing more likely to be engaged in lessons, better behaved and make more progress but they are also more likely to deal better with stressful events and recover more quickly from illness.


Why is mental health and wellbeing more important than ever?

Living in recent unprecedented times has been challenging for us all. Whilst there is no universal experience, children’s mental health and wellbeing have been particularly affected by COVID-19. Social and physical separation from family and friends, school closures, restrictions on activities and a complete upheaval of the familiar structures and routines that had previously shaped their lives has hit the younger generation particularly hard.

“One in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in July 2021, a huge increase from one in nine in 2017. That’s five children in every classroom” NHS Digital (2021): Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2021

“Referrals to child mental health services are at record highs” (UK Parliament Post — Children’s mental health and the COVID-19 pandemic) and it’s now more important than ever that we do everything we can to help boost children’s mental health and wellbeing. Everyone can play a valuable and proactive role in positively promoting a child’s right to feel happy, safe, respected, included and understood. Robust school policies and procedures ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children should already be in place but there are many additional ways children can be supported to look after their own wellbeing now and in the future.

Taking account of individual children’s needs and finding the time to plan and provide for these complementary contributions can be challenging but is necessary for children to thrive.

Read on to find out more about how this can be done…


What is the difference between wellbeing, mental health and physical health?

Even though they are different concepts, there can be no doubt that all three are intrinsically linked and have an equally important part to play in helping a child to flourish in life and achieve their full potential. Here are some simple definitions to help clarify the differences between them:

Wellbeing — “The state of doing or being well in life” (Oxford Dictionary.) Wellbeing can be both positive or negative and refers to a state of being or ‘wellness’ and ability to live as close as possible to the way we want. Emotions, relationships, health, environment and productivity can influence this.

Mental Health — refers to the balance between emotional and mental wellness and illness. Part of mental health is how well your mind processes and understands information and experiences and recognises the signs and symptoms that can cause significant distress, resulting in a mental health problem.

Physical Health — involves doing things that are good for your body, such as eating nutritious foods, exercising, brushing your teeth and getting enough sleep. It's also about understanding how what you eat and what you do affects your body.


What does good mental health and wellbeing look like for children?

Mental health and wellbeing describe the way children think and feel about themselves and the world around them. It affects emotions and how children cope with life’s stresses and challenges.

Children with good mental health and wellbeing:

  • are happy and enjoy life
  • feel and talk about themselves positively most of the time
  • build successful relationships with adults and their peers
  • show high levels of engagement in activities and learn well
  • are prepared to try new tasks or take part in challenging activities
  • remain calm and are kind to themselves if things don’t go the way they had planned
  • can ‘bounce back’ after a challenge or difficult situation
  • can manage big emotions and stay in control if they are feeling sad, worried, angry or excited.


What does poor mental health and wellbeing look like?

Some signs of poor mental health and low wellbeing could easily be mistaken for ‘bad behaviour’ and time spent investigating the reason behind these behaviours is never wasted. Dealing with these more disruptive behaviours can be time consuming, draining and often has a negative impact on the learning of others, so identifying the root cause and helping to resolve problems should always be a priority.

Signs that a child is feeling low or has a problem might include:

  • being attention seeking or clingy, with adults or their friends
  • losing interest in the things they usually like doing
  • being reluctant to talk
  • difficulty concentrating, poor memory or seeming easily confused
  • unable to control big emotions, such as anger, excitement or fear
  • extreme mood changes from highs to lows
  • withdrawal from friends
  • significant tiredness and low energy
  • sudden decrease in performance
  • excessive worry
  • changes in appetite — excessive or reduced eating
  • long-lasting sadness or irritability.

This is not an exhaustive list and it is always worth checking in with any child who displays an uncharacteristic change in behaviour.


How do you measure a child’s wellbeing?

Schools use a variety of approaches to monitor and support the mental wellbeing of their pupils. As well as promoting a diverse and inclusive culture, it’s important for all members of staff to feel confident in identifying those pupils who need help and knowing how and where that help will come from. This includes sharing concerns with appropriate members of staff in a timely manner and, if necessary, seeking support form external professionals and agencies. Early intervention and getting the right support at the right time is key.

As well as tracking observable factors (such as rates of absence), engagement, resilience and general mood are also good indicators of how a child is feeling and coping. However, directly providing opportunities for children to express how they are feeling and functioning is often the most effective way of measuring mental health and wellbeing. This could be a questionnaire or conversation with the teacher, parent, carer or other professional. It could even be a report completed by the children themselves.

Some children may feel more comfortable communicating in a less direct way. This is where puppets, drawing and drama can play an important part in enabling the child to express themselves more openly. Sharing stories which explore issues related to wellbeing, such as coping with change, managing emotions or self-esteem, are also a very effective way of inspiring and supporting children and helping them to overcome worries. As well as raising awareness and starting conversations, books can play a powerful role in helping overcome a variety of challenges.

Check out these links for a comprehensive start to your Reading for Wellbeing collection:

  • Age 5-7: Packed with fantastic stories and advice on dealing with difficulties, coping with change, managing emotions and rising to the challenge, this collection is perfect for promoting children’s confidence, resilience and wellbeing in KS1.
  • Age 7-9: Support wellbeing and inspire readers with stories of overcoming fears, building self-confidence and self-esteem and working together.
  • Age 9-11: Shine a light on key wellbeing issues such as determination, celebrating your strengths, self-respect, talking about problems and finding solutions, with these brilliantly uplifting stories.
  • Minding Your Mental Health: is a collection of books for teenagers that will raise awareness of various mental health topics, help readers realise they are not alone and guide them in how to ask for and access support.

This FREE Book Talk* introduces the practice of shared reading which can help to spark important conversations related to themes in the book and the children’s own experiences, thoughts and feelings.


How can health and wellbeing be supported in school?

Supporting wellbeing isn’t only about reacting to those who are already struggling, it’s about being proactive in building good mental and physical health for all children.

“Early childhood experiences have been found to have a lasting impact upon a child’s mental wellbeing. Initiating improvements in the mental wellbeing of this age group may thus deliver tangible improvement across their whole life course.” Public Health England — Measuring Mental Wellbeing in Children and Young People

Not only do schools provide important education related to physical and mental wellbeing as an integral part of the curriculum, they also play a vital role in providing a safe and supportive environment for building life skills such as resilience, decision-making, problem solving, self-awareness and empathy. When children develop these coping skills it can also boost their self-esteem, confidence and ability to settle themselves, feel calm and engage positively in their education, optimising their readiness to learn. Practicing a holistic approach and considering health and wellbeing as part of everyday school life, rather than just a discrete subject, will help children deal with the daily ups and downs of life. Having a set of class rules, (that the children have had input in creating), understanding school reward and consequence systems and knowing who to talk to if they need help is a good place to start.

Linking into the PSHE curriculum is an important way of promoting pupil wellbeing. Download your FREE Wellbeing Pack for Primary Schools here. This useful pack contains flexible PSHE lesson plans and calming activities, for Year 1 to Year 6, as well as helpful guidance from experienced PSHE teachers and consultants.

Your school might also choose to celebrate and support national awareness days and weeks such as Children’s Mental Health Week in early February, Stress Awareness Month in April, Mental Health Day at the beginning of October or Anti-Bullying Week in November.

Make sure all young people know how and where to find support including knowing who their trusted adults are at home and school.

Practical ideas for making a positive impact on wellbeing in schools:


  • Go outdoors

Education is so much more than lessons within the four walls of a classroom. There are so many opportunities to take curriculum based learning outside. The increasing popularity of initiatives such as Forest Schools and Nature Friendly Schools has helped increase recognition of the merits of outdoor learning but, despite this support, outdoor leaning is often underused.

Energy and excitement can be injected into so many activities, across all subject areas, just by taking them outside. This might include a maths lesson on coordinates which involves making and following maps, making 2D rope shapes, using your whole body to show angle and shape knowledge, exploring line / colour / texture / form through creating autumn leaf displays, or promoting reading for pleasure by providing pupils with must-have reads to share and explore in outdoor reading dens.

The internet is also full of ideas and inspiration to get you started, with sites such as Learning Through Landscapes — which offers free curriculum-led outdoor lesson ideas.

As well as the mood enhancing and physical stress-releasing benefits of spending time outdoors, being in the natural environment can help improve focus, boost energy and enhance creativity. It also allows children who struggle with the more formal constraints of a classroom the freedom to move and speak in a bigger / louder way and give them a chance to shine.


  • Read

It’s well known that a love of reading can help pupils flourish at school, but it can also be life-changing in helping children (and adults!) lead happy and healthy lives.

“Children who engage with reading are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than those who do not.” (National Literacy Trust, September 2018.)

Losing yourself in a good book has been shown to greatly reduce levels of stress. Research by Dr David Lewis showed that reading as little as six minutes a day can reduce stress levels by 60% by lowering the heart rate, easing muscle tension and altering a state of mind. Other benefits of reading include improved brain connectivity, heightened empathy and increased confidence. More than just working out what is written on a page, reading is about listening and understanding, encouraging children to make sense of how they’re feeling, expressing their thoughts and emotions and exploring new challenges through the safe medium of a story. Reading for pleasure could also be promoted through starting a lunchtime or after school Book Club or setting up a library box for use at playtimes.

The first step to promoting mental health and wellbeing is for schools to consider the importance of having a well-stocked, diverse, inclusive library collection.

Find inspiration for stocking your school and class libraries from these must-have collections — from enticing reluctant readers to providing challenge for the more able and everything in between!

  • Library & Reading Boxes: are filled with books for your primary school library or classroom that have been hand-picked to precisely match young readers by age, group or theme.
  • Confident & Fluent Readers: packs offer stories with more complex characters, storylines and plots, written in a variety of styles and including challenging vocabulary.
  • Or explore our full range here.

These book collections are also perfect as a class reader, a focus for circle time or for sharing in assemblies:

  • Diversity in Fiction: 3 primary school collections of diverse and inclusive books, with characters, authors and storylines that reflect and celebrate the diverse society we live in.
  • Mental Health: 3 secondary school collections that are aimed at raising awareness of mental health topics and supporting teenagers and those around them.


  • Exercise

Exercise not only provides many health-related benefits, it can also reduce anxiety and negative mood and improve self-esteem and cognitive function.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle and increasing opportunities for physical activity can take on many forms. In addition to PE lessons, sports clubs and playtimes, children would also benefit from taking part in a range of healthy lifestyle experiences which are relevant, realistic and enjoyable. This might include a healthy eating cooking challenge, ‘daily mile’ activity or walk/cycle to school initiative.

The benefits of physical activity will follow a child through their growing years all the way to adulthood, so start engaging your children in regular exercise as soon as you can!


  • Connect

Making connections and developing a rapport with your pupils is an essential part of effective teaching and learning. The school day is often very busy and hectic but keeping successful channels of communication open is vital for protecting children’s emotional and mental health. Giving a child your time and full attention tells them they matter.

Simple ways to build connections in school:

  • Have a class Worry Box or Ask it Basket — these are containers into which children can write down and post their worries or questions — either with or without their name. As well as providing a physical way of sharing and getting rid of worries it helps the teacher monitor the wellbeing of the pupils in their care and could lead to class circle time discussions or individual follow up chats with children.
  • Greet children individually and by name whenever possible.
  • If you need to talk to a child’s parent/carer after school, support the reconnection between the child and their adult before talking to them yourself, so the child is not left waiting for that special moment.
  • Be a good role model. Share your own experiences and feelings and never forget the importance of having a sense of humour and the life enhancing magic of laughter!
  • Take time to talk and actively listen to your pupils. Be interested, ask questions and try to see things from their perspective.


  • Notice

It is just as important to support children in building effective relationships with their peers. One way this can be done is by making sure lessons have regular opportunities for children to contribute and discuss things together, alongside adult-led learning.

Being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances wellbeing and helps manage anxiety. Teaching children to notice their environment and the little things around them can help them stay grounded and not become overwhelmed. It also increases self-awareness and promotes positive behaviour change.

5 ways of actively bringing a child’s mind’s attention and interest to the world around them:

  • Name 5 things you can see / hear / feel / smell.
  • Take a look at things from a different angle: look up, look down, reflections in water, shapes, colours or shadows.
  • Make a paper frame and take a closer look at specific spaces around you.
  • Pay attention to your breathing and how your body feels. Try meditation or yoga.
  • Take your shoes and socks off and feel the ground beneath your feet. Close your eyes and concentrate on the textures and sensations.

These actions and ideas need only take a few minutes and could be timetabled into the day, used as brain breaks, as and when needed or introduced to help calm and refocus individual pupils.


  • Give

Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.

Ways for children to give in school:

  • Be part of the School Council or ECO Council.
  • Set up a buddy system for playtimes, where pupils befriend others or set up games to play.
  • Team two classes up together to give opportunities for older children to share books with younger pupils.
  • Nurture positive peer review, where pupils are encouraged to comment on good practice / work. For example, written feedback on a sticky note attached a piece of artwork or splitting the class into groups for a PE or drama lesson, so each child gets to perform in front of their peers and provide positive feedback on the performance of others.
  • Build a sense of excitement, community and interdependence by allocating classroom jobs by pulling names out of a hat.


  • Be kind to yourself

Just as important as being kind to others, is to practice kindness towards yourself. This is the power of acceptance and growth as opposed to the pressure and negativity of failure when things don’t go as planned. Promote happiness, confidence and growth by helping pupils look for the positives and use experiences and outcomes to plan next steps.

As well as helping pupils recognise their individual strengths and abilities, teachers can model self-compassion by talking through their own experiences. Helping children recognise that every mistake is actually an important part of the learning process and opportunity to gain knowledge, acquire skill and improve, is also a very powerful mindset to promote.

Don’t forget that to be able to look after others you need to be in a good place yourself — the practical tips listed above are just as important for you as they are for the children in your care. TES provide resources for whole school wellbeing including wellbeing surveys, training, webinars, guides and time-saving products.


What can be done to support mental health and wellbeing outside of school?

A whole school approach to promoting mental health and wellbeing involves everyone, this includes building links and supporting parents / carers at home. Often, even a small change can go a long way in helping somebody feel better.

Download these feel-good activity ideas as a FREE Mood Boosting Bingo Game — Fun for all the Family! A useful sheet that can easily be sent home electronically to parents, included in a newsletter, shared in school or printed and popped into book bags. This fun game will spread good cheer and provide ideas for activities which will boost wellbeing for all the family. Children could complete a line each week or do these over a holiday, there are lots of accessible and varied activities and starting with one in class can create excitement and open up discussion.

An important message to share with parents: Don’t worry if you or your child are feeling down, we can’t always be upbeat and rain can quickly turn to sunshine. However, if low mood persists and you are concerned you can seek advice from your GP or visit the Place2Be or Young Minds websites.


It remains as important as ever to continue to monitor children’s mental health and wellbeing and even if you make just one small change in the way you work towards meeting these needs it can make a significant and long-lasting impact towards helping the children in your care live happy and healthy lives.


Training & Resources:

The DfE are offering a senior member of staff in every school the opportunity to get a grant for training to help lead, develop or introduce a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing in their setting.

MindEd is a portal that provides free, online eLearning to help adults identify and support children with mental health issues.

YoungMinds are a mental health charity for children, young people and their parents, providing resources aimed at both primary pupils and secondary students.

Primary Resources:

Feeling good: promoting children’s mental health are activity sheets aimed at children aged 4 to 7 produced by the Centre for Mental Health.

5 Steps to Mental Health and Wellbeing is a framework by the Evidence Based Practice Unity at the Anna Freud Centre, that will help you to support staff, lead change, and engage with parents, carers and the community so that you can meet your pupils' and students' needs.

The National Literacy Trust have worked with children’s mental health charity, Place2Be, to develop a series of free wellbeing-themed teaching resources for primary schools, secondary schools and parents.

Secondary Resources:

What’s on your mind is a resource pack that includes a video along with downloadable lesson plans to help teachers introduce the subject of emotional wellbeing and mental health. It is produced by the Scottish anti-stigma programme ‘See Me’.

Time to change provides a collection of resources including videos, lessons, assemblies, and toolkits for teachers to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems.

Place2Be provides has a collection of mental health resources and also an online children’s mental health training course offered free to qualified teachers and school-based staff in the UK.


Further reading:

‘Keeping children safe in education’ DfE 2014

‘Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions.’ DfE 2014

‘Relationships and sex education.’

‘Promoting the health and wellbeing of looked after children.’ DfE 2015

‘Mental health and behaviour in schools.’ DfE 2018

‘Counselling in schools.’ DfE 2015

‘Preventing and tackling bullying’ DfE 2017

‘The Statutory Guidance for RSE and Health Education.’ DfE 2020

National Literacy Trust: Wellbeing research.

NHS Digital (2021): 'Mental Health of Children and Young People in England 2021'. Available at:

* The Reader: Shared Reading Evidence Base.