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Parents and carers are usually the first to recognise when their child has difficulties with their emotions, thinking or behaviour. Sometimes, these difficulties may be more obvious at school where teaching staff have the opportunity to observe a range of children and their behaviour. Early signs of difficulty include having trouble managing emotions (anger and/or anxiety), or coping with change, thinking negatively about themselves (eg often saying, “I’m no good”), working cooperatively and/or making and keeping friends.

Look for B-E-T-L-S

The key things to observe when you are concerned that children may have mental health difficulties are:

  • Behaviour
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Learning
  • Social relationships.

 How to gather good observations

  • Focus on specific things that happen (what you actually see and hear rather than what you think about it)
  • Take note of when a particular behaviour happens, where it happens and how often it happens
  • Notice what things trigger children’s difficulties and what things make them better
Gathering good observations of particular behaviours is often a first step towards helping children. Looking for all the ‘B-E-T-L-S’ allows you to get a clearer understanding of a child’s difficulties. This means better decisions can be made about when children need help and how to help. Finding out how your child responds in different settings allows you to get a more complete picture about your child.
Observation clues

What to consider

Behaviours that parents and carers might notice

What are the specific things your child does that concern you?

Consider your child’s behaviour, emotions, thinking, learning and social relationships.

My daughter seems to worry a lot. It stops her from having fun. She gets worried about things at school. She worries that her homework will not be good enough. She worries that the other children won’t play with her.

When and where do they occur?

Are there any specific triggers?

Getting ready for school in the morning is the worst time, especially Monday morning.

How often do these things occur?



What makes them better or worse?

At least once or twice a week. She seemed to get worse when one of her friends was moved to a different class. 


She feels better when her friends phone her at home. She seems to feel included then.

How long has your child had this problem?

Since the start of the year. Some children were teasing her because she wears glasses. They stopped it but she stayed anxious.

Additonal factors to take into account:

How well the child manages feelings

Usually bottles things up, but then cries over something small. Once upset she can be hard to soothe.

How learning is affected

She does well in class because she puts in a lot of effort. But if she has to do a talk or present her work she gets panicky.

How well the child relates to peers and others

Seems okay with her close friends. But she is very shy with new people.

Any comments the child makes about him or herself or the situation.

She says things like “I’m dumb” and “nobody likes me.” She seems to put herself down a lot

Getting help for your child

If you are concerned that your child has excessive worries, fears, or feels 'bad' about him or herself and you are not sure how to go about getting help, try the following steps:

Find out more
Talk to teachers or others who have regular contact with your child and find out if they have concerns about your child.

Talk to your child’s school about seeing the school psychologist or counsellor

The psychologist or counsellor at your child’s school can listen to your concerns and discuss options for helping your child at home and at school.

See your general practitioner

Your doctor can explore any physical health concerns and help you decide about the need for further mental health assessment and professional support by referring you to a children’s mental health specialist if required.