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SCHOOLS AND THE MENTAL WELLBEING OF CHILDREN by Nancy Wanjiru Kabiru Founder and Lead Psychologist

SCHOOLS AND THE MENTAL WELLBEING OF CHILDREN by Nancy Wanjiru Kabiru Founder and Lead Psychologist

When assessing the mental wellbeing of an individual, mental health professionals examine the impact of the symptom or sign on three domains of the individual’s life. These include: social (how we relate to others), emotional (how we feel) and behavioral (how we act). These are examined on the individual’s overall life responsibilities and roles, such as family, occupational and daily functioning. However, when addressing minor clients, many professionals pay keen attention towards the wellbeing of the client and their academic capabilities and wellbeing at school. This is because, many minors spend approximately 35 day-light hours in school per week, as compared to their daylight time spent at home.


Unfortunately, when we observe the phenomena of mental health, children are often the most susceptible group which experiences various difficulties with their mental health. The vulnerable nature of children, as well as their ever-growing neurological, physiological and physical development, means they are unable to protect themselves from mental health difficulties. Children with mental health challenges experience difficulty at school for a variety of reasons who are unable to stay at school due to un-addressed mental health needs.

Research has highlighted that 1 in 5 children at school have a diagnosable mental health condition which affects their emotional, behavioral and cognitive development. Amongst this, 10% of children have severe impairment due to their symptoms, which often influences their levels of functioning within schools, homes and communities.

However, children are also viewed as the group which is ever malleable as creating new cognitive thought patterns and healthy behaviors within their early developmental years will overall influence their wellbeing in their adulthood. Thus, mental health problems are common and often develop during childhood and adolescence. Additionally, these challenges are treatable! Early detection and intervention strategies work in improving the resilience and the ability to succeed in school and life.


There are often two main surroundings for children: school and home. A child’s mental wellbeing can be affected in different ways within the school environment. The symptoms experienced by one child and the management of these symptoms can differ amongst children. One child’s symptoms may be really hard to manage at school while another child with the same condition may not have much difficulty. In addition, like all of us, kids with mental health challenges have good days and bad, as well as, times periods when they are doing really well and times when their mental health symptoms become more difficult to manage.

Additionally, poor maintenance and support within the classroom setting, may result towards poor management of the symptoms. For example, children and youth with anxiety disorders may often struggle in school because they are so pre-occupied with their ‘worries’ that it makes it hard for them to pay attention. They may have physical complaints like stomach and headaches and may be frequently absent. They may also have trouble starting or completing their work because they are worried that it won’t be right. Sometimes their fear of being embarrassed, or getting something wrong or their fear of having to interact with others may lead them to them to avoid group and social activities and perhaps school all-together.


Social interactions and performance are two components that determine the success of a child in school. However, these components are often the main areas affected by mental health challenges experienced by children. Although, by implementing strategies within schools, the mental wellbeing of a child can be improved by maximizing the strengths of these components over the weaknesses.

Often children with mental health need a variety of support mechanisms in school for them to be productive. For instance, a child with symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) often benefit by working on an activity which corresponds within their daily school routine. Likewise, a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder would benefit when teachers are trained to interact with them in a certain way. In addition, a child who struggles with disorganization would be best helped by being taught planning skills. Children who may become aggressive and those who get overly anxious may benefit from exploring what things lead up to those feelings and being taught strategies to recognize when it is happening and things to do to avoid the problem from escalating.

In some situations, when schools adopt specialized practices to assist children, the overall mental wellbeing of the child can be improved. For example, if a child needs help for difficulties with social interactions or communication difficulties, an occupational therapist and speech therapist can be introduced to help teach them new skills and have them practice using them by role-playing or trying them out in small groups.

Some other responses include:

  • Allowing flexible deadlines or allowing the student have an option to re-do work so they feel more confident turning it in.
  • Equipping the teacher to recognize escalating anxiety in a child and ways to intervene and help the child to implement strategies that help manage their anxiety.
  • Make plan for what to do when they are unable to focus due to worries.
  • Allowing for breaks or opportunities to de-stress.

Article written by:

Nancy Wanjiru Kabiru
Founder and Lead Psychologist

Hisia Psychology Consultants

Email: nancy@hisia.co.ke

Facebook: https://web.facebook.com/HisiaPsychology

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hisiapsychology/

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