Written by Rhiannon Phillips-Bianco, a Year 4 Class Teacher and ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing Curriculum Leader’ at the British School in the Netherlands.

Student Wellbeing and Mental Health at The British School in the Netherlands

Student wellbeing and mental health are prioritised at the British School in The Netherlands. In order to learn, children need to feel happy, safe and secure, which is why the BSN approach focuses on developing, and supporting, ‘head, hand and heart’. 

In this blog, I would like to focus on six essential elements that I believe are needed to boost children’s ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing’, at home and in school.

  1. Positive Relationships and a Sense of Belonging

Our teachers and teaching assistants always aim to achieve a positive and strong relationship with each, individual student. This ensures that they feel supported, heard and understood; and are also clear about who they can turn to in moments of difficulty. In addition, we strive to create a sense of belonging within each class, on every campus and across the wider BSN community. This helps our international students feel more at home.

2. PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education)

Through weekly PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) lessons and assemblies, key topics regarding wellbeing and mental health are explored and discussed in an age-appropriate way. These include learning to cope with change, dealing with friendship issues and internet safety. Discussions, activities and reflection time allow students to develop deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them, as well as empathy for one another. Students are very proud of their PSHE ‘Big Books’ in which the whole class shares their ideas and thoughts about these topics. The books are read and re-read, enhancing both that sense of belonging and understanding of one another.

3. Developing Resilience

In addition to this, our BSN Character Profile, which is prominent on every campus, includes a significant emphasis on perseverance. Teaching students to persevere, and therefore develop resilience, is a crucial component of good mental health. We use James Nottingham’s ‘Learning Pit’ concept to help develop that resilience.

It is a powerful, visual tool that enables students to understand the learning process and the difficulties they may experience when going through a challenge. They regularly discuss and share strategies that they could use to help them both problem solve and deal with tricky emotions. These may include choosing a classroom resource, asking a friend for help or having a drink of water. All simple approaches that teach students how they can help themselves. “The Learning Pit is about learning to know what to do when you don’t know what to do.”

* This is a valuable skill that our students will be able to apply throughout their lives.

4. Compassion and Self-Compassion

On the other hand, they are also taught that compassion towards others, and themselves, is important when they are struggling. Our Character Profile teaches them that demonstrating compassion means being empathetic, tolerant and reflective. That is developed further by explaining that self-compassion involves showing the same understanding towards ourselves. Therefore, when a student is self-critical, we will guide them to consider how they can be kinder to themselves, just as they would be to a friend.

5. Emotional Literacy and Coping Strategies

Our ‘Healthy Minds’ initiative aims to provide students with the awareness and the strategies they need to cope with daily challenges. Using our ‘How Do You Feel Today?’ poster, we teach them to identify, name and express their emotions. Research demonstrates that people who can do this are far more likely to be able to manage their feelings. In an international environment, in which students can find it difficult to find the right word to express themselves, this development of emotional literacy is particularly important. Students are also taught how to look after their mental wellbeing through key basics such as regular exercise, sleep and fresh air; as well as relaxation strategies and breathing techniques to support them during moments of need.

6. Contact with parents

Parent Engagement Evenings enable us to explain our approach in greater detail; and parents are always encouraged to contact their child’s Class Teacher should they have any concerns about their wellbeing.

And finally, below you will find 8 tips for building mental health at home!

8 Tips for Building Mental Health and Wellbeing in Children [in the classroom and at home]

As promised, below a list of simple and easy to apply tips that you can do at home with your children.

  1. Breathing Exercises – the fastest way to achieve wellbeing, and the one resource we all have access to! Try ‘Hot chocolate breathing’: Hold out your hands like you’re holding a mug of hot chocolate, breathe in slowly through your nose, as if you are smelling the cocoa, breathe out slowly as if trying to cool down the drink.
  2. Read a book or look at feel-good pictures.
  3. Use a tool from the ‘Calm Box’ (a collection of small things which make your child feel happy or relaxed).
  4. Listen attentively to anything your child wants to tell you, no matter what. This will ensure that they are more likely to speak to you in times of difficulty
  5. Make conversations about mental health a normal part of life.
  6. Keep your morning routine as calm and unrushed as possible (get up 15 minutes earlier if it helps to take the pressure off).
  7. Use ‘GoNoodle’. Sign up is free and it’s great to do together. This app has 1-4 minute videos that encourage movement and mindfulness.
  8. Build positivity or gratitude as a family. For example, at dinner time, every family member could share what has gone well that day. They could also write what they are grateful for and place it in a Gratitude Jar. The contents of the jar can be emptied and shared once it is full. Practising gratitude in this way has been proved to boost mental health.
Healthy Minds at the BSN
Rhiannon Philips-Bianco

Rhiannon Phillips-Bianco is a Year 4 Class Teacher and ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing Curriculum Leader’ at the British School in the Netherlands. She has been teaching for nineteen years and has a keen interest in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing Coaching. Rhiannon is married, has twin teenagers and enjoys reading, writing and running in her free time.