So you want to develop mental health with children and young people in your school? Are you looking for ideas or strategies that you can easily put into practice to start making a difference?

Here at Worth-it Positive Education, we understand just how important this is. 

Mental Health Activities for Developing Wellbeing in Schools

Through our years of providing training and CPD for over 300 UK schools, we have discovered that children and young people can learn certain skills that improve wellbeing and develop positive mental health. These skills for wellbeing are developed by using a range of different mental health activities.

It is important to ensure that the wellbeing activities you want to use are evidence based, for example our mental health activities are developed from the applied wellbeing science of positive psychology. And, that the mental health activities are accessible and appropriate to be used with children and young people.

Planning Mental Health Activities in Schools

When using mental health activities in your school it's important to have a wellbeing curriculum framework or strategic plan to organise and share the mental health activities with staff and pupils. This helps everyone to have a shared and understood school wide approach to developing mental health and wellbeing.

We came up with this mental health teaching framework when running a train the trainer early intervention project with York School Wellbeing Service. We called it a 'Toolkit for Positive Mental Health'. We designed this diagram to help schools share and use these mental health activities with students. It not only helped us write an effective programme, it also helped students understand which aspect of wellbeing they were building with practical mental health activities they could learn.

It is important that schools develop a consistent and shared approach to using wellbeing activities with children and young people. A mental health activity framework like the one below helps you to know which area of wellbeing you are helping to develop with the children and young people you are supporting. It can also be used to help them reflect on which areas of mental health they feel they could boost.

Mental health frameworks like the one below or the robustly evidence based positive education framework the SEARCH pathways to wellbeing. Help you build your skills and knowledge to help children and young people use mental health activities.

8 Mental Health Activities for Children and Young People

Graphic highlighting 8 practical strategies for improving mental health and wellbeing
Worth-it's Positive Mental Health Toolkit for Schools

Activity 1: Developing social skills and the ability to seek assistance from others

When we have good mental health, we can ask for help and feel ok about it. We encourage schools to support children and young people to be able to ask for help while making support that develops positive mental health accessible and available to all.

Try this activity How do children access support in your school? Do they know who to speak to if they have a problem, or a concern? You can even implement a designated ‘mental health champion or school mental health lead’, so pupils know where to turn to. Raising awareness of where to find help and how to look for help is an important first step in providing support for pupil mental health.

Activity 2: Developing positive coping strategies

There are many techniques we can develop to support the mental health of children and young people. Positive coping strategies include suggesting a range of calming strategies, distraction techniques and problem-solving skills. This empowers children and young people to develop self-help skills that they can draw upon whenever they need them and enable them to be resilient.

Try this activity: Consider developing a coping strategy checklist for your school. This is a way for children and young people to identify their emotions and manage them. Suggestions could be techniques such as deep breathing, talking to a friend, or slowly counting to ten. Think about how you can include the children in this exercise. How could they add their own coping strategies that are relevant for them?

Activity 3: Building self-awareness

This includes recognising comfort zones and helping children and young people to understand themselves and what makes them unique and brilliant. It could start with teaching children the importance of positive language and encouraging the use of positive, growth mindset language in your school.

Try this activity Consider how you use language in your school, how could you use language to help improve mental health? For example, we have developed a ‘positive language ladder’ that demonstrates how we can use words for building resilience and wellbeing.  How can you help children turn the words ‘I can’t do it’ into ‘I think I can do it’, or even ‘I’m doing it’? 

Schools we have worked with have used this ladder in lessons, as a worksheet or poster to help children and young people recognise the language they are using and identify what they would like to change it to, to move ‘up a step on the ladder’ towards more positive and empowering language.

Activity 4: Being kind to yourself and others

To build strong mental health, it’s important to develop self-compassion and cultures of kindness. We help children to ask ‘how would you treat a friend?’, which allows them to identify if they are being as kind to themselves as they would be to a friend.

Try this activity: How can you encourage random acts of kindness in your school today? Maybe you could try a ‘pass it on’ week, where everyone does random acts of kindness for each other in turn. Some schools we work with have random acts of kindness days where they encourage children to do several kind acts for the school, peers or the local community.

Activity 5: Using flexible and accurate thinking skills

Positive mental health includes the ability to understand and manage thoughts and thinking. What we say reflects what we think. This is also known as meta cognition and is recognised as a great skill for learning. 

Try this activity: How can you help children to put things in perspective and reframe negatives into positives? Some schools we work with use scaling techniques to help children and young people recognise things might not be as bad as they are thinking, and in doing so reducing catastrophic thinking. 

Activity 6: Noticing the good things in life

An essential skill for wellbeing is the ability to notice the good things in life. These include savouring, gratitude and the ability to notice enjoyable things in their experience.

Try this activity: Helping children to refocus their minds means they can notice when they’re enjoying an experience and are more likely to be mindful and live in the moment. Do a mindfulness exercise where you guide them through the awareness of being fully present in their body. A simple technique to develop savouring is the raisin mindfulness meditation.

Activity 7: Using problem solving skills

Being empowered to solve your own problems helps develop confidence and wellbeing. Breaking problems down step by step and coming up with their own solutions helps children and young people become resilient, which is essential for positive mental health.

Try this activity: How are you encouraging children and young people to problem solve? Use coaching questions to support children and young people think through problems and come up with their own strategies. It could be a question such as ‘How will you know that you’ve done a good job?’ or ‘How can you learn from this situation to help you next time you face a similar challenge?’

Activity 8: Being able to set and achieve goals and take action

Being autonomous and working towards motivating goals helps develop wellbeing and positive mental health. In order for children and young people to achieve big goals and take action, you can help them break goals into small action steps, keeping them motivated and supporting them to recognise positive progress. 

Try this activity: One way to do this is through taking them through ‘big picture’ planning, which moves them out of overwhelm and into taking things one step at a time. Ask them how they can overcome obstacles, and even ask them to work in groups to help encourage each other’s progress towards a particular outcome.

Learn how to use mental health activities to support pupils

Download our FREE positive mental health poster and action planning worksheet and share these 8 wellbeing strategies in your school.

The 8 practical mental health activity ideas in this article are a selection of wellbeing activities you can learn to use to support your pupils in our Wellbeing Toolkit course, an online course that trains school staff to use evidence based mental health activities.

The Wellbeing Toolkit training is designed to increase capacity to enable schools to develop positive mental health, by using a range of positive psychology activities that can be developed into mental health lessons and pastoral support for both individual or group pupil interventions.

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