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Early Years Student Mental Health

Brief overview

The early years are a wonderful time to begin to build positive mental health. From a young age, children can learn social and emotional skills in order to

  • form close and secure adult relationships
  • experience, manage and express a full range of emotions
  • explore the environment and learn within the context of family, community and culture

Parents and families are a child’s first teachers and many of these skills are learned naturally through day-to-day experiences at home.

Kindergarten classrooms offer another rich environment through which children can learn and practice social-emotional skills. These settings have many opportunities for students to gather confidence and competence in navigating social relationships, regulating their emotions, learning routines and persevering with challenging activities.

Sometimes young children struggle with their emotions and behaviours in the school environment. Often, this is a developmental or adjustment issue that resolves as the student matures or gets accustomed to this new setting. At times however, the student’s social or emotional difficulties are more long-lasting or concerning. 

The role of the SMH professional

Helping educators understand and optimize their role in promoting good mental health in kindergarten and primary classrooms is an important contribution that SMH professionals can make. Offering information about strategies for good welcoming, self-regulation and social-emotional skill-building can help educators to set up for success.

SMH professionals can also assist with early identification of mental health problems. It can be difficult for educators to identify mental health problems in young children, particularly given the range in development observed in kindergarten classrooms. With your background in child development, and sensitive and specific tools for assessment, you can help to determine if a student’s difficulty in regulating emotions and behavior, aggression, social withdrawal, shyness, etc. is within the normal range or something to be concerned about.

Finally, as a SMH professional, you can provide consultation and support for young students struggling with a mental health problem. This might include suggestions for the teacher to offer a higher “dose” of social-emotional skill development or assistance with self-regulation. It might also include help with classroom management or support for parents/caregivers.

For more information

Special Interest Group materials

Title: Early years mental health: Building a strong foundation

Presented in partnership with Ontario Centre for Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health April 2018

Title: Infant Mental Health

Presented by Dr. Jean Clinton, April 2018

If you are a school mental health professional registered with a professional college and would like access to this material, please contact us.

Have a question about this topic?

Contact us. We can review relevant research to help to answer your question. In cases where several requests focus on the same theme, we can arrange for a more comprehensive review which will be shared on the School Mental Health Ontario site.

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