In partnership with parents and carers, school staff and early childhood educators play an important role in children’s development. As they have a great deal of contact with children, staff and educators are in a position to notice when children are experiencing mental health difficulties. They can make a positive difference to children and their families by assisting them to access help for children’s mental health difficulties.

Children showing early signs of difficulty may have trouble managing their emotions (anger and/or anxiety), coping with change, working cooperatively and/or making and keeping friends. Some of the signs of difficulty that staff and educators might notice include the following:

Behaviours

  • Frequently avoiding situations that are challenging 
  • Fussiness
  • Withdrawal 
  • Perfectionism
  • Poor concentration 
  • Constant tiredness
  • Overactivity 
  • Being easily distracted 
  • Impulsivity 
  • Destructive behaviour 
  • Defiant behaviour 
  • Non-compliance
  • Repetitive behaviours 
  • Unusual and restricted interests

Learning issues

  • Lack of problem-solving skills
  • Academic difficulties (older children)
  • Difficulties maintaining focus/attention 
  • Not hearing all of the instruction 
  • Not completing work (older children)

Thinking

  • Self-blaming
  • Low self-worth
  • Persistent negativity/pessimism, excessive worrying
  • Thinking others are ‘out to get them’
  • Thinking in strange or unusual ways

Emotions

  • Nervous temperament 
  • Fearfulness
  • Sadness and feelings of hopelessness that don’t go away 
  • Persistent moodiness
  • Poor self-control 
  • Irritability
  • Challenging temperament 
  • Excessive anger (more than what would typically be expected in the situation)

Social issues

  • Severe shyness
  • Being isolated
  • Lack of perspective-taking skills 
  • Over-talkativeness 
  • Poor social skills 
  • Being argumentative 
  • Aggression towards others
  • Communication difficulties 
  • Problems in relating to others

These kinds of behaviours occur in all children some of the time. It is not the role of schools or early childhood services to provide assessment or treatment of individual children, but there are some things that can be done to help: 

  • Support parents and carers by listening to their concerns and by helping them to access information and further advice regarding children’s mental health 
  • If the child is school age, seek advice from the school or welfare team, including the school psychologist or school counsellor, when there are concerns about a particular child.
  • Talk with parents and carers to work out the best way to assist the child together. This may involve encouraging parents to access professional support (ie pediatrician, GP, psychologist, speech therapist etc.).
  • Adapt teaching and behaviour management strategies to cater for children’s mental health and learning needs
  • Continue to provide assistance for children and for parents and carers while children are receiving professional support for mental health difficulties
  • Ensure that there are policies and practices within the school or early childhood service to support children and families to seek help for mental health difficulties

See also:

Should I be concerned: Suggestions for families

Should I be concerned: Further resources