In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, safety and security are foundational. Without a solid, healthy mindset, a student will never learn. In fact, in education, there is a common phrase: “Maslow before Bloom.” This refers to Maslow’s physiological hierarchy and Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. A child must be provided with the necessities to survive (air, food, water, shelter, physical, and mental security) before he can thrive academically.
This idea transcends childhood, and solid mental health should be prioritized into adulthood.
Just think about it: if you were in a classroom, in front of a teacher, and your mind was on the taunting you’d experienced in the hallway, the anxieties of life at home, the never-ending checklist of tasks you must complete, you would never be able to focus on the lesson. In fact, it would be on the back burner.
That burner wouldn’t even be turned on.
Many school districts have jumpstarted a new movement focusing on social-emotional learning (SEL), and they’re innovating creative and scientifically backed methods of incorporating a focus on mental health in the classroom. This is great news, but it’s also a struggle for a system that is underfunded and highly focused on meeting standardized assessment scores. There simply is not enough time nor money.
In a world that has become increasingly more stressful for our kids, it’s so important to check in on their mental well-being.
What does mental health mean to students?
For students, mental health is everything, even if they do not realize it yet. Many of these children are already undergoing the pain of adolescence, the transformation from child to young adult, and we know it’s hard.
We were there.
A child does not know how to manage the developmental and emotional milestones of growing up, and school can be a daunting place.
When asked about his own mental health, a child will respond within the limits of his ability. He is happy. He is sad. He is stressed. He will not understand the overarching implications of these feelings, and that’s when the trusted adults in his life enter to help him work through these complicated (and totally normal) feelings.
What are the Benefits of GOOD Mental Health?
A child that has a solid understanding of his mental well-being, and the tools to achieve good mental health, will live a more fruitful life. This does not mean he is not experiencing the struggles inherent to existence. It means he is better equipped to deal with them.
3 Reasons Why Mental Health is Important.
Improved Physical Health:
When your head is in the right place, your body tends to be, too. Mental health is closely linked to physical health, and good mental health can lead to lower levels of stress, better sleep, and overall better physical health.
Relationships are heavily affected by mental well-being, and a child who understands himself and communicates well is more likely to form the lasting bonds that perpetuate happiness. He’ll also have the social support needed when exterior forces put his mental health on the decline.
When a child feels mentally well, strong, and supported, he has the baseline tools he needs to thrive academically.
How can students improve their mental health?
At the time that this is written, it is Spring 2023, and the “post-Covid” world is in emotional recovery. Arguably, our children have been the most negatively affected. They’ve surpassed 3 years of uncertainty, and it’s imperative that we check in to review and mitigate. How do we accomplish this?
Encourage Self Care:
Outside of the classroom, we must encourage our children to practice self-care. We will need to model this behavior because they may misunderstand its meaning. Self-care in relation to mental health is not about purchasing material things or spa days. It involves one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being as it relates to sleep, exercise, nutrition, and engaging in activities that bring us JOY.
Additionally, our children must practice positive self-talk. This does not have to be a monologue or mantra repeated in front of the mirror each morning (although that has been shown to help), but it can be a focus on changing the negative thought patterns that cycle in all our heads. Teach your child how to redirect these negative thoughts and create something constructive. If anxiety is present, remind your child that he has tackled harder things. He has done this all before. He has support.
We’ve been in isolation, and now we must relearn how to connect. Social support is incredibly important. Clear lines of communication should be open for our children, including familial bonds and teacher and peer relationships. Reconnecting with these social support groups will foster a sense of belonging. We are tribal by nature, and it’s important to feel like we fit in.
Breathe and Move:
A side effect of anxiety and depression is immobility. An adolescent will often hole up in his room when dealing with difficult feelings, and it’s our job to bring him out. While it’s important for a child to recognize and work through his feelings, it’s a terrible idea to dwell. Be constructive when exorcising those feelings.
Getting involved in extracurricular activities, like sports or clubs, can encourage human connections, but it can also create opportunities for movement. The physiological response to exercise is incredible, and we’ve already established a correlation between physical and mental health.
Involvement could also be outwardly beneficial. Encourage your child to volunteer or participate in activities that benefit his community, like Boy Scouts, Boys & Girls Club, rescue missions, and even animal care centers. These activities will also garner a feeling of accomplishment and civil support, creating a well-rounded and philanthropic person for the rest of the child’s life.
We also often neglect our breath, forgetting that it completely controls our autonomic nervous system, circulatory system, and metabolism. Studies have shown that when anxiety sets in, deliberate focus on our breathing patterns reduces blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones in the blood. Educating your child on specific breathing exercises, such as the 4-7-8 method, are immediately accessible tools for combatting stress.
It is important for students to understand that mental health, like life, is a journey, and it may take time to find the strategies that work best for them. Students should prioritize self-care and seek support from trusted adults and peers when they are navigating tricky situations. Once the foundation is in place, our children will be better equipped to handle the stressors that are inherent in everyone’s life.