According to Kids Matter, it is now estimated that one in every seven children experience mental health difficulties, with more than half of all serious mental health problems beginning before children reach the age of 14. Early intervention to address this relatively high prevalence of mental health difficulties has the capacity to improve mental health and wellbeing in the longer term.

Research at the Devereux Center for Resilient Children under the guidance of Paul Le Buffe, Valerie Shapiro and Jack Naglieri has a particular focus on early intervention, describing eight key factors found to be particularly important for school-aged children.

Underpinned by the understanding that repeated experiences in a school setting have the opportunity to be a powerful influence on the rewiring of neural pathways (Davidson, University of Wisconsin – Reference Needed!), the researchers say that addressing these eight factors can help improve or maintain good mental health as children grow and mature.

Those eight factors are:

Self-awareness A child’s realistic understanding of her or his strengths and limitations and consistent desire for self-improvement.
Self-management A child’s success in controlling her or his emotions and behaviours to complete a task or succeed in a new or challenging situation.
Social awareness A child’s capacity to interact with others in a way that shows respect for their ideas and behaviours, recognises her or his impact on them, and uses cooperation and tolerance in social situations.
Relationship skills A child’s consistent performance of socially acceptable actions that promote and maintain positive connections with others.
Goal-directed behaviour A child’s initiation of, and persistence in, completing tasks of varying difficulty.
Decision making A child’s approach to problem solving that involves learning from others and from previous experiences, using values to guide action, and accepting responsibility for her or his decisions.
Personal responsibility A child’s tendency to be careful and reliable in her or his actions andin contributing to group efforts.
Optimistic thinking A child’s attitude of confidence, hopefulness and positive thinking regarding herself or himself and her or his life situations in the past, present and future.

By incorporating tasks or strategies into classroom or schoolyard practices that aim to encourage or develop these eight factors, such as circle time, role-play exercises or peer-coaching activities, teachers and parents can help to foster positive mental health and wellbeing amongst students.

These activities may also serve to help identify students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties, and allow for early intervention or identification of potential social-emotional problems using a tool such as the Devereux Student Strengths Assessment, making them an important component of learning and development.

Related item(s):

Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA)