Fostering positive mental health in preschoolers involves many factors. In previous blogs in our series on Addressing Project HELP Mental Health with Preschoolers, we have talked about what mental health is, ways to promote mental well-being in your preschool classroom, how to support preschoolers and families facing mental health challenges, and the various factors that impact preschoolers’ mental health.
Much of nurturing the mental health and well-being of preschoolers requires being attuned to the needs of preschoolers. The starting point for this is, of course, personal relationships.
Study after study tells us that personal relationships are pivotal to child development. Personal relationships are where preschoolers and children learn to love, trust, find security, and interact with others. Successful relationships center around meeting a child’s ever-changing needs.
We know that strong mental health is based on safety: physical safety, mental safety, and emotional safety. Developing and maintaining an environment of safety builds a sense of security in preschoolers and children that will contribute to their overall positive mental health.
What does this mean for preschool teachers? There are multiple ways to create and foster a safe environment for the preschoolers you teach.
4 Tips to Foster Positive Mental Health in Preschool Environments
Physical Safety. Keep equipment and supplies developmentally appropriate. Remove any items that could be physically hazardous or could impede preschoolers from age-appropriate movement (e.g., declutter and provide open space to move around freely).
Mental Safety. Be the encourager in a preschooler’s life. Identify each child’s strengths and potential and celebrate them. Help preschoolers understand that you believe in them and love them for who they are (e.g., compliment Susie for craftsmanship with blocks and Billy for creativity with crayons, not only in your classroom, but when you see them other places). This grows feelings of acceptance, appreciation, and inclusion, and increases general happiness.
Emotional Safety. Be trustworthy. Do what you say you are going to do. Be consistent. Trust preschoolers. Show them that you believe they are worthy of your trust by entrusting them with tasks. Be the place where preschoolers can try new things without fear and express themselves without judgement.
Create a Love-based Environment. Love is an action word. Its focus is on others and their needs. Love preschoolers for who they are, for who they are becoming, and for their uniqueness. Remember Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (NIV).
by Gina Smith
Disclaimer: The information shared on this page is not meant to diagnose or treat a mental health condition. We encourage you to follow up with your health-care provider and seek a mental health professional for individual consultation and care.