Mental health is our psychological, emotional, and social well-being. In schools, it is more important than ever to prioritize student mental health. This means integrating meaningful strategies right in the classroom that help support kids and teens.
Why Should Schools Focus on Mental Health?
Mental health is health. When kids and teens feel their best, they are better able to learn, work with others, and ultimately meet their goals. This is good for everyone.
Another point is that mental health supports and strategies are for every student, not just ones who are struggling. These are strategies that help kids manage emotions, cope with stress, persevere through challenges, work productively and feel their best.
As a teacher in the classroom, you don’t need to implement every strategy. Consider a few that resonate with you and add them to your daily practice.
10+ Strategies to Focus on Student Mental Health
1. Build strong relationships. Meaningful relationships are the building blocks that help kids and teens do their best every day. Spend time focusing on building these relationships. A few strategies for building relationships include:
- Ask relationship-building questions.
- Integrate team and community-building activities like sports and class challenges.
- Share information and stories about yourself.
- Let kids teach others about their hobbies and interests.
- Integrate student interests in lessons.
2. Emphasize social emotional learning. Social emotional learning is the process that helps kids and teens acquire skills necessary for social and emotional success. This includes skills for managing emotions, making friends, developing confidence, using self-control, and making responsible choices. While several of the strategies below touch upon social emotional learning skills, it’s important to make SEL a focus not just for your classroom, but the entire school building. Learn more about simple SEL practices you can use to start the day.
3. Check-in journal. Start the day with a daily check-in journal activity. This can give kids and teens a space to share emotions while also learning valuable skills each day. Make morning journal writing a routine by completing one page each morning as students walk in.
4. Provide a daily emotions check in. When kids and teens understand their emotions, they are better able to cope with however they are feeling. Create a daily emotions check-in time that allows students to assess how they are feeling and what they might need before moving forward with the rest of the day. Use this free daily emotions check-in to implement this strategy with your students.
5. Teach and practice coping skills. Coping skills are the activities kids and teens can use to combat stress and manage tough emotions. Even when we can’t see it, kids and teens are constantly coping with daily stresses in their lives. There are many different strategies you can try to teach and practice coping skills in the classroom. Here are a few:
- Mindful breathing
- Practicing yoga
- Journal writing
- Making a gratitude list
- Watching animal live cams
6. Create a daily morning meeting time. Morning meeting is a daily time to greet, gather, and chat. This time helps frame the day for success while supporting mental health needs. Five simple steps for starting a morning meeting include:
- Starting with greetings
- Introduce a SEL topic of the day (such as empathy, friendships, self-control, or decisions)
- Start a group discussion on that topic
- Complete a group/partner activity or two.
- Reflect and discuss the skill one more time, giving a chance for kids to share last thoughts before moving on with the day.
7. Conference individually. Meeting one-on-one with students is not only a helpful way to strengthen relationships, but it helps us understand the needs of kids. Create a student binder for each child and use it to document your meetings. Talk about goals, how the student is doing, and what they need to move in the right directions. This provides a perfect opportunity to discuss challenges and problem-solve together if needed.
8. Integrate physical activity. Research shows that there is a strong connection between mental health and physical activity. Regular exercise has been shown to boost serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which also can improve focus and attention. Add physical activity into the day with a morning exercise routine. You can also integrate movement throughout the day through activities, centers, and more.
9. Integrate music and art. Art and music provide positive and meaningful outlets for kids and teens to express themselves in healthy ways. Many art activities even support social-emotional learning skills, since they provide opportunities to build community, strengthen perspective-taking skills, and embrace diversity.
10. Develop a calm down area. A calm-down space is an area in the classroom where kids and teens can more privately use self-regulation strategies. The idea is to teach students how to use a calm-down area so they can calm down on their own before moving back to the class for the rest of the day. While not every student will use a calm-down area, it’s a helpful tool for kids who need extra support managing stress and emotions.
11. Teach positive self-talk. Positive self-talk is one of the most critical mental health to teach learners. It’s a skill that helps them build confidence, manage emotions, and cope with stress. It can even help empower them to solve problems and persevere through challenges. Some techniques for practicing positive self-talk include:
- Discuss one positive self-talk statement of the day.
- Talk about real-life scenarios and discuss what positive self-talk statements could help.
- Create a daily positive self-talk list and read it each morning.
- Design positive self-talk posters to place around the room.
12. Practice mindfulness and relaxation strategies. Mindfulness is a self-regulation strategy that helps us focus on the present. That means not worrying about the future or thinking about the past; it is centering ourselves in the ‘right now.’ Some of my favorite mindfulness and relaxation strategies to try include:
- Mindful coloring
- Mindful breathing
- Taking a mindful nature walk
- Practicing yoga
- Reading positive affirmations
- Mindful journaling
13. Prioritize educator mental health. If we want kids to do well, we need teachers feeling well too. When educator mental health and self-care is prioritized, educators are in a better place to do their best. This, in turn, helps kids do their best. It truly is a win-win.
14. Give brain breaks. We all need breaks throughout the day. Schedule brain breaks between challenging tasks to help kids and teens feel refreshed before moving on to a new activity. Some examples of fun and meaningful brain breaks include:
- Practice mindful breathing techniques.
- Give fun riddles or puzzles for students to figure out.
- Use nature-themed brain breaks.
- Exercise (you can even have a student lead).
- Watch animal live cams.
15. Collaborate with school counselors. The support professionals in the building are a wealth of knowledge. Talk with school counselors, social workers, and school psychologists to integrate meaningful mental wellness techniques they suggest. It can also be helpful to have the school counselor visit the class and talk about mental health directly.
16. Reflect together. Use daily end-of-the-day reflection questions to help learners feel accomplished and proud after every day. Use this free list of reflection questions to start.
If these ideas have been helpful, please pass it along to a colleague you think it might help!