Social and emotional mental health needs

Children and young people presenting with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) difficulties often struggle to manage their emotions and behaviour. They also find it difficult to make and keep relationships with adults and other children and young adults.

These difficulties may show as them becoming withdrawn or isolated as well as through challenging, disruptive or other concerning behaviour. Children and young people with SEMH often struggle to engage in a learning environment, often showing inappropriate behaviour and may benefit from additional support to reach their full potential.

Voice of children and young people with SEMH

We spoke to children and young people in Kent who have SEMH and asked them how they feel:

"I can't manage my emotions when I'm worried"

"Everyone is horrible, why will you be different to me?"

"I need to stay in control"

"I may not remember what happened when I was unsure"

"I feel chaos so it's easier if there's chaos everywhere"

"I don't know what to say and can't use the right words"

"I have felt hopeless before and I don't want to feel like that again"

Children and young people in Kent's voice as told to professionals

Support from your education setting

As well as ADHD and autism, your child or young person may experience one of the SEHM needs described below.

If you have any worries about your child or young person, you should talk to their teacher or the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO).

If they feel that your child or young person has SEN, extra learning support will be put in place. Over time they will learn more about your child or young person, and will go through a 4 part process called the 'assess, plan, do, review cycle' (the graduated approach).

All of the descriptions provided below represent how behaviours or presentation can be perceived by others. It is important to see these behaviours in the context of anxiety and possible language and or learning needs.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • appears anxious and withdrawn
  • appears to sabotage situations where things are going well
  • avoids eye contact
  • finds it difficult to join in with play or interactive games
  • lacks self belief and confidence
  • may experience intense and overwhelming emotions, including anger or loss of control
  • may lack any inhibitions, for example hugging people they don't know or being over friendly
  • struggles with impulse control
  • struggles with cause and effect thinking.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • consider reasonable adjustments
  • liaise with you for a shared understanding of their needs
  • liaise with Virtual School Kent for any training or advice, as well as working on the Attachment Aware Project
  • look into their past, whether they are:
    • adopted
    • a forces child or young person
    • child in need
    • looked after child or young person.
  • provide a nurture group
  • provide a robust and careful transition when they start school, taking into account their history
  • train all staff to be aware of them and how to respond at a single child level.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • appears to be dishonest
  • blames others
  • is disrespectful
  • is violent towards property or people
  • pushes friends away
  • refuses to follow instructions of comply with normal behaviour rules
  • self harms or has self sabotaging behaviour
  • steals
  • uses inappropriate language.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • bring your child or young person in at the end of assemblies
  • carefully consider seating arrangements in the classroom
  • communicate new routines in advance
  • consider movement and learning breaks
  • ensure consistent rules, boundaries and schedules whilst remaining willing to offer some flexibility
  • make tasks relevant and interesting, and link to their strengths and development needs
  • provide a secure and safe place
  • provide support through organised activities during unstructured times
  • support verbal input with visuals (demonstration, images, objects, key words).
  • think carefully about lesson content in relation to any previous known experiences
  • use strategies and approaches to develop understanding of presenting, for example the Iceberg theory.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • appears confused often
  • does not listen or interact
  • easily distracted and has difficulties with concentration and engagement
  • is clumsy
  • is forgetful.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • allow a buddy system approach
  • assess through teaching if there are parts of the curriculum that they find easier to manage than others
  • bring your child or young person in at the end of assemblies
  • introduce small group work, including friendship, social skills and nurture groups
  • investigate when the behaviour changed
  • liaise and collaborate with you to understand the wider picture
  • provide play based activities and establish their interests
  • provide substitutes for self-harming behaviours, for example elastic bands
  • seek advice around self harming or risk taking behaviours.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • frequently interrupts
  • often fiddles with objects
  • talks out of turn.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • allow a time out or quiet area in the classroom
  • describe and differentiate the differences between the use of voice, gesture and body language
  • focus on reducing anxiety
  • provide flexible and creative use of rewards
  • provide positive reinforcement of expectations through through speech or visual prompts.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • cannot cope with a large crowd
  • is quiet around others
  • likes to work alone, and does not want to get involved in group projects.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • allow a small group or nurture group of class mates to support their personal, social and emotional development
  • provide additional circle time
  • include a buddy system in the class
  • refer to our becoming an adult page, which outlines support groups and ideas to talk to others about their disability.

Characteristics of your child or young person

If your child or young person:

  • is soiling themselves
  • has stomach pains
  • often has headaches.

Support that may be given

If your child or young person is experiencing one of the above characteristics, your education setting may:

  • keep a log and analyse any patterns or trends that identify a trigger in a change to their behaviour
  • liaise with the school public health service
  • provide activities that are stress reducing, for example:

For additional support and guidance read the mainstream core standards which sets out how education settings should be supporting your family.

Support from the NHS

The NHS Mental Wellbeing and Information Hub provides advice for you and your family, including:

  • anxiety
  • eating disorders
  • mental wellbeing (Children and Young People Mental Health Services - CYPMHS)
  • low self esteem
  • stress

Visit NHS Mental Wellbeing and Information Hub.

If you are concerned about a young person’s mental health and are not sure what extra help is needed you can call the Single Point of Access (SPA) on 0800 783 9111. The SPA is there to help you explore the difficulties and find the most appropriate response.

Urgent support from the NHS

If a child or young person is in any immediate danger, or poses potential harm to others, call 999 or take them to A&E if possible.

National charities

In addition to the help provided by the education setting and the NHS, we recommend to reach out to a mental health charity: