KidsMatter aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children, reduce mental health problems amongst children, and achieve greater support for children experiencing mental health difficulties, and their families. Each initiative involves the people who have a significant influence on children's lives – parents, carers, families, child care professionals, teachers and community groups - in making a positive difference for children's mental health.
KidsMatter has identified four areas (components) where primary schools can help to strengthen their students' mental health and wellbeing. These make up the core content of KidsMatter Primary. Dividing KidsMatter Primary into the four components is a way of making the task of improving students' mental health and wellbeing in schools more manageable. It also ensures that the efforts that schools put into this initiative are being focused most effectively across contexts in children's lives and involving all the significant people impacting on children's mental health.
1. A Positive School Community
All children need to feel that school is a safe place where people will care about them, where their needs for support, respect and friendship will be met, and where they will be able to get help to work out problems. Having these needs met helps children develop a sense of belonging at school and supports mental health.
Children who feel they belong at school are happier, more relaxed and have fewer behaviour problems than others. They also learn better, are more motivated and more successful with schoolwork. Research into children's mental health has found that a sense of belonging at school helps to protect children against mental health problems and improves their learning.
2. Social and Emotional Learning
Social and emotional learning (SEL) benefits all students. It involves learning to recognise and manage emotions, promote caring and concern for others, make responsible decisions, establish and maintain positive relationships, and handle challenging situations effectively. Research has shown that SEL is fundamental to children's mental health, academic learning, moral development, and motivation to cooperate and achieve. Students who have social and emotional competencies and skills find it easier to manage themselves, relate to others, resolve conflict, and feel positive about themselves and the world around them.
Chapman Primary School is utilizing the Bounce Back teaching and learning resources for 4 to 12 year old students using a strengths-based approach that focuses on what creates positive health rather than emphasising risk factors or causes of ill-health. This evidenced-based program is designed to address three key aspects of students' school experiences shown to be related to improved social and emotional development: promoting positive peer relationships, promoting positive teacher-child relationships, and explicit teaching related to emotions, social knowledge and social skills. Through a strong focus on circle time, lessons taught through childrens' literature, cooperative learning approaches and educational games, we aim to build positive relationships and teach social-emotional skills. The psychological content of Bounce Back is predominantly drawn from two core models - cognitive and positive psychology. Outcomes are developed through the following nine curriculum units:
- Core Values
- People Bouncing Back
- Looking on the Bright Side
- No Bullying
3. Parenting Support and Education
KidsMatter includes a component on Parenting Support and Education because it recognises the importance of parenting in promoting children's mental health. International research has shown the positive effects of good parenting on children's mental health and on school achievement. Australian research has found that parents more often consult teachers about emotional or behavioural problems their children experience than they do mental health professionals. It makes sense that if we want to support children's mental health and wellbeing, families and schools should work closely together.
4. Early Intervention for Students
Early intervention can make a significant difference to reducing mental health difficulties in children and can result in dramatic, practical benefits that are sustained over time. Effective support during the early stages of a child's difficulty can mean that mental health issues are resolved before they become worse or entrenched, improving the quality of life for children and their families.
While there is much evidence to support the effectiveness of early intervention, the problem is that very few children with mental health difficulties receive any professional support. Only one quarter to one third of children with a mental health problem are likely to attend professional services. This means that the chances of receiving effective help are quite low, even for children who are identified, resulting in many children going on to develop serious mental health difficulties.
KidsMatter Primary Framework, © Commonwealth of Australia 2008, reproduced with permission
To access information on various related topics please click on the following link: Kidsmatter Factsheets.