How to Foster Mentally Healthy Schools

How to Foster Mentally Healthy Schools

We are delighted to share this guest blog from Catherine Lynch of


What is good mental health and what does good mental health in schools look like? The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

“a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”




In a mentally healthy school, you might expect to see happy teachers who are able to cope with the daily ups and downs of teaching. As well as pupils who approach challenges with confidence and resilience and enjoy being at school.




Luckily, there are lots of small changes we can make to help our pupils improve their mental health and grow up to be the resilient world-changers we know they can be. When we share our calm, not our chaos, with others the impact is huge.




A good place to start is understanding what it looks like, and feels like, to be in crisis. This feeling can affect anyone. It is not limited to the children in your class, so keep an eye out and offer a friendly face to any colleagues you think could do with some help, too.


Fight, flight, or freeze. The acute stress response.

The phrase ‘fight, flight, freeze, or flop’ is also called the acute stress response or flipping your lid. In very simple terms, someone who has reached this point is unable to engage the ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ parts of their brain. They are in survival mode.


What might fight, flight, or freeze look like?

Someone in ‘fight’ can look hot and bothered. They can be angry, aggressive, controlling, or argumentative. Someone in ‘flight’ can look very busy, hyperactive, or silly. They might be unable to cope with free time or literally remove themselves from the situation. Someone in ‘freeze’ can look bored or confused. They can come across as forgetful or daydreaming. Someone in ‘flop’ can look bored or tired. They can come across as disinterested or unengaged.




We hope that you don’t see this state presented often in school but, if you do, remember that someone in crisis cannot engage the ‘thinking’ or ‘feeling’ parts of their brain until they feel safe. Once they feel safe you can begin working on rationalising the problem and thinking of different strategies to manage it.


What can we do to improve mental health in schools?

Embedding mental health into everyday life is important. If you make time to have conversations about feelings and emotions when they arise, and before the person has reached a crisis point, they can have a huge impact. In fact, the sooner feelings are acknowledged and valued, the less likely they are to become overwhelming. These conversations do not have to be long. Short and often is more effective than delayed and long.




Talking and remembering can help grow new brain connections that teach us over time how to respond to stressors. It helps us to understand that feelings are transient which can in turn help to change mindsets. So, when the dust has settled, talk. Remind yourself, your colleague, your students that things seemed pretty bad earlier, but they don’t anymore.



When reading books together, make it a habit to discuss how the characters feel, and talk about situations in which they might have felt the same way. The more your pupils are able to make connections between actions, reactions, and feelings the better.


10 practical ways to improve mental health in your classroom

  1. Create a nurturing environment where everyone feels valued and safe.
  2. Allow everyone to have a voice. This can be done in several ways, for example by implementing discussion partners or giving children the opportunity to write their ideas down.
  3. Be playful and have fun. Play fosters creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving all of which are important for good mental health.
  4. Name feelings and emotions as they arise. This gives children and adults the language to describe how they are feeling. In the words of Dan Siegel ‘Name it to tame it’.
  5. Take a mood register, either verbally or as a self-registration board to check in with the feelings in the room. Learning to listen to ourselves is often a neglected skill.
  6. Create an atmosphere where all feelings are allowed. Give feelings an appropriate outlet. Put boundaries in place around behaviours to keep everyone safe and develop strategies to help reinforce those boundaries. For example, you are allowed to feel happy, angry, or sad, you are not allowed to bully or hit.
  7. Focus on the bigger picture, help children and staff to see past the latest potentially stress-inducing initiative.
  8. Take learning outside and make it active as much as possible. Learning outside of the classroom provides stimulating and rich real-world experiences.
  9. Read stories. Take the opportunity to discuss the feelings and actions of the characters. Is there a better way they could have reacted? What led up to the crisis point?
  10. Encourage calm classrooms. Embedding periods of calm into your classroom through simple activities will help your pupils to feel safer and more peaceful.



Catherine Lynch is an experienced teacher, play therapist, and senior manager at PlanBee. PlanBee creates teaching resources for primary school-aged children (aged 5-11). The resources have been created to meet the English National Curriculum objectives.


10 Bullying Prevention Resources You Need To Know About

10 Bullying Prevention Resources You Need To Know About

This year, more than ever, we have learned to value the importance of friendship and connection. We have gained a huge insight into what it feels like to be isolated from others. Sadly, some members of our school communities have been targets of bullying behaviour and are all too aware of what it feels like to be left out of the “tribe”. Did you know that according to the Anti-bullying Centre more than a quarter of Irish children have experienced cyber bullying during lockdown? (Source: The Irish Examiner, November 2020).




Anti-bullying Week 2020 takes place from the 16th of November to 20th November. You may prefer to reframe this bullying prevention initiative as "Friendship Week". 

In this post, we are going to share a range of bullying and cyberbullying prevention resources that range from raps to using puppets to creating a whole class book. The aim is to promote a culture of kindness. It’s also important to think about how we can create friendly school communities throughout the year as bullying prevention should not be a standalone initiative. Many of the resources featured in this post can be referenced throughout the year as a reminder of the type of school community we would like to be part of. 


1. Happy Suns and Sad Sheep

Happy Suns and Sad Sheep is an anti-bullying pack for use with the under fives. The resource adopts a play-based approach to teaching younger children about feelings and emotions, self-esteem, and accepting difference. It consists of a range of icebreaker games, trust games, parachute games and puppetry to explore the themes. Puppets are used to explain to young children about bullying behaviour in a way that is developmentally appropriate.




2. Plant, Love, Grow Friendship Building Resources

There are a wealth of free resources available on Plant, love, grow to support Anti-Bullying Week. The resources include discussion prompts, tips on making new friends and helpful worksheets that explore healthy boundaries in friendships in a child-friendly way.




3. Making and Keeping Friends Activities

This blog post features a range of sample activities used by a school counsellor on the topic of making and keeping friends. It includes templates for creating a whole class friendship book and a poster to remind the children of the key to being a good friend. Another useful concept that’s explored is the friendship triangle, where one child can feel left out of a friendship group.


4. How to encourage children to stand up for others.

Often when children (or adults) witness incidents of bullying behaviour they do not intervene. There are many complex reasons behind this, one research finding indicates that sometimes it’s simply because children are unsure how to respond. Dr Michele Borba provides a simple mnemonic (bully BUSTER skills)  in this blog post that makes it easy for children to recall how they can help. After teaching the children about the types of behaviour that can be classed as bullying, this mnemonic can be very helpful. It’s a good idea to revisit the mnemonic frequently to instil the importance of standing up for others. This is a very simple tool that could be used by all members of the school community.




5. The National Anti-bullying Website

The “app watch” tab is a very useful resource for parents, guardians and teachers as it explains the features of apps such as House Party, Tik Tok, etc. It explains how parents/guardians can check if their child has downloaded a particular app and also advises on features of the app that the caregiver would need to be mindful of. Under the "resources" tab there are links to downloads, publications and articles that can be used in the classroom or shared with parents and guardians.


6. Free Downloadable Internet Safety Resources

Webwise shares a huge range of child-friendly Internet Safety and Cyberbullying prevention resources. For example, the HTML Heroes Programme specifically addresses how to integrate the topic of Internet Safety in an age-appropriate way for 3rd and 4th class children as part of the SPHE curriculum. The MySelfie and the Wider World Teacher's handbook links to short animations targeted at 5th and 6th class pupils.



7. Anti-bullying Campaign 

This website features a range of resources in English and Irish aimed at supporting
school-based anti-bullying initiatives at both primary and secondary level. Under
the"Primary School" tab there are also a number of recommended resources aimed at
fostering kindness and respect suitable for younger children (infant level). The site
features printable teacher handbooks, interview templates (for investigating and
resolving alleged incidents of bullying) and many more practical tools to complement
existing practice.




8. Anti-bullying Alliance Packs

This UK based website features a primary pack and a secondary pack full of resources aimed at supporting you to raise awareness about bullying prevention. Resources include lesson plans, handouts, PowerPoint presentations and a downloadable poster. For 2020 the resources have been specially designed so that they are suitable for using online, in small group settings or with the whole class.


9. Don’t Suffer in Silence Video

This is a very powerful 60-second Anti-bullying resource highlighting the need to tell others if a child is a target of bullying behaviour. The short clip could be used as a stimulus for a class discussion encouraging children to talk about who they could tell and how to ask for help.




10. Respect Rap

This video features children performing a rap (and some very well-choreographed dance moves!) all about how to treat others with respect.

Bookmark this post to use yourself, or feel free to share it with a colleague who may find these resources helpful.

Marie O'SullivanAnokha Learning

Marie O’Sullivan is an experienced teacher and counsellor with an M.Sc. in Child and Adolescent Counselling. She was awarded a distinction for her Master’s Thesis on Bullying Prevention. She is a Course Author at Anokha Learning.



Free Download: Inspirational Bookmarks

We created free downloadable Inspirational bookmarks featuring quotes from children's books to tap into the magic of childhood and to promote a feeling of hope and optimism. There are 28 different bookmarks, so you can choose your favourite (featuring characters such as Mary Poppins, Snow White, Cinderella, Winnie the Pooh, etc)! Print and laminate the bookmarks and share them with anyone who could do with a little boost to serve as a reminder that brighter days are coming.

Spotlight Series: Guest Post from ISPCC Childline

Spotlight Series: Guest Post from ISPCC Childline

We are delighted to bring you this Guest Post from Louise Lunney on behalf of ISPCC Childline:


Many of you may have already heard about ISPCC Childline but may be unsure how to access our services. We hope this post provides clarity on the services provided by ISPCC Childline and information on how you can get easily get in touch.

The ISPCC is for children. Our purpose is to listen to them, empower them, strengthen their resilience and enable them to live their best possible lives. The ISPCC provides a range of services directly to children and families and advocates for change to enhance the lives of children in Ireland.


ISPCC Support Line

The ISPCC Support Line provides a confidential listening service, offering information, advice and emotional support to members of the public who contact us on any issue in relation to child protection and welfare. This service is open to anyone who has concerns in relation to children, including family, teachers or any member of the public. This service enables the individual caller to talk over their needs with a professional ISPCC staff member who offers non-judgemental support, information and guidance. The ISPCC Support line can be contacted between 9 am and 1 pm Monday to Friday, by calling 01 243 2000, emailing or by writing to any local ISPCC office.



Childline is a 24-hour national listening service run by the ISPCC for all children and young people (18 years of age and younger) in Ireland. It is private, confidential and non-judgemental and can be contacted for free from anywhere in Ireland. Childline can be contacted by any child or young person by calling 1800 66 66 66, texting to 50101 or chatting online at 24 hours a day, every day. Children contact Childline to talk about any issue on their mind. Some children who contact Childline may feel upset, or isolated, while others simply contact Childline to chat about their day or share their hopes and dreams.




Childline Therapeutic Support Services

Our Childline Therapeutic Support Workers provide free one-to-one child-centred services for children, young people and parents/carers. Childline Therapeutic Support Workers work in partnership with the child, young person or family developing tailor-made plans to meet their needs. This service provides children, young people and families with therapeutic support during difficult or traumatic times in their lives. Referrals to the service are made for support for a wide range of emotional and behavioural difficulties such as parental separation, bullying, low self-esteem and child/parent relationship issues.


Group Programmes/Courses

The ISPCC delivers a range of various group work programmes each year. The group works/courses facilitate a safe learning and supportive environment for participants to develop skills and share experiences. Through the group setting, participants gain social support from peers, as well as an understanding and awareness of relevant issues.




Recent programmes have included:

  • ISPCC Resilience Group Work Programme
  • Non-Violent Resistance Programme including Resilience-building for Caregivers
  • School Talks highlighting the Childline Service

If you would like to find out more about the ISPCC’s Childline Therapeutic Support Services, contact ISPCC Head Office at 01 243 2000.


Missing Children’s Hotline

The ISPCC’s Missing Children’s Hotline provides emotional support and advice to young people and adults alike in relation to missing children. The Hotline can be contacted for free 24 hours a day, every day, by calling 116 000. The service is available to take calls from the general public, family members of a missing child and children who are missing.

For further details on other aspects of our work please go to
Further support and information for children and young people, as well as access to the Childline Live Online Chat service, is available at




Louise Lunney is a graduate of Maynooth University (BA Psychology). Louise is a Masters Student currently on placement with ISPCC Childline from UCC. Her Masters is in Applied Psychology.


Reflections on Bereavement



We are delighted to share this guest blog from Anne Marie Tymlin.


Allow the Bereaved to Grieve

I have been fascinated by the subject of death all my life. This may be in no small part because death accompanied me through my childhood and beyond. As a society, we Irish people tend to do a great funeral but have not always been able to continue the support for bereaved people on an ongoing basis. Often the widow or widower or the bereaved mother or father will gradually find that they are no longer receiving invitations to events. This might be because others do not know how to approach the pain of the bereaved, or maybe they refused the first few invitations. What we fail to recognise is that the bereaved need to be allowed to grieve. There are many theories on grief and loss which can help us all understand what the emotional journey might be like. As a bereavement specialist and a therapist learning about them has helped me to work successfully alongside children and their families when a death occurs.




Never Make Assumptions

The circumstances surrounding a death, for example, sudden death, suicide, or violence can impact the grieving process. Death after a long-term illness, the death of a child, the loss of a parent, or a partner can also include secondary losses, i.e. change of circumstances such as moving house or financial changes. Often the extra layer of worry that accompanies these secondary losses is unrecognised by others. In addition, outsiders can make assumptions about the relationships between the bereaved and the person who has died. Perhaps someone may not have been a positive figure in the lives of the people who remain. When we assume that all bereaved people will go through the same process we miss the experience of the person in front of us. Others may foist their expectations on the bereaved about what they may be going through, however, these assumptions can compound the hurt and pain.


Respect the Natural Grieving Process

In my role as a bereavement specialist, I am regularly consulted by schools and other agencies wondering if a referral needs to be made for a child or grownup to access therapeutic interventions. Often my response is simply “not yet”. In many cases, there is a natural grieving process. However, suicide or violent deaths are exceptions and require immediate intervention. As we have explored, people's experiences of death can vary and what one person goes through can be different from how it was for us. There will of course be similar emotions and feelings to contend with but every person who is bereaved of a loved one will have to do this hard work themselves. When we remember this, it allows us to be kind and gentle with the bereaved person. It informs our attitude to become a better listener and reminds us to be wary of offering our opinions on “what you should do now is”.

There are many metaphors that are used to make death more acceptable and we use them all the time. Sometimes it can be difficult to use the word “dead” when we are talking about a loved one, so we say we have lost them, or that they have passed. The permanence of death is difficult to comprehend, that space, the gaping wound of heartbreak, the guilt of us still being alive if they died young, the guilt of us living and laughing while they are no more can often be too much for us. As a parent or partner, we often feel helpless that we could not have saved them.

A young mother or a cherished grandmother, a committed father or a supportive grandfather, a teenager, a child, a troublesome relative that has caused grief to some, all have had a relationship with us that can never be replaced. Their presence in our life will never be forgotten and we will remember them throughout the years on every occasion that they will now miss.

I often hear adults’ comment on how children are “young enough to get over it” that young people will “move on and find someone else", that older people “had a great innings”. Some people even tell you the dead person is in a better place; they are at peace now. I have experienced the overwhelming need sometimes to scream in their face and say “I do not care, I want them here with me.” Of course, politeness and society dictates that we should smile benignly and agree.




Over the years I have a list of things that bereaved people have been told me that they would love to say in response. As adults, we often feel uncomfortable and we do not know what to say so the correct response is always JUST BE THERE for the person. Nothing you can say will fix or mend or take away the pain and when the time is right, they will know they can turn to you for support if they need it. The grieving process takes time and energy.


Anne Marie Tymlin is a Bereavement Specialist and Creative Arts Therapist who holds an M.A. in both Drama and Dramatherapy and an M.Sc in Bereavement Studies. Over the years she has supported hundreds of children and families to resolve their feelings around issues such as family grief and loss. She has also worked as an eTutor facilitating teacher CPD at Anokha Learning. She regularly hosts workshops in person and online on topics such as bereavement, self-care, personal development, and mindful approaches to relaxation and stress management.


How To Support Bereaved Children In The School Community




We are delighted to share this guest blog from Anne Marie Tymlin.




Confronting our own Grief

Each one of us will be faced with bereavement many times in our lifetime. If this bereavement is very personal to us, we will have to bear it with courage and if we are blessed with strong support this will help when the mists envelop you. Parties often grieve in different ways and even at different times to each other. In any partnership, one may be better able to organise the practical side of the rituals involved in the death of a family member. This may even allow that partner to manage the overwhelming emotions that arise in the immediacy of death. External mental health support may be needed during this time. What we know for definite is that there is no right or wrong way to behave and react.

When teachers are faced with the reality of death within their school, this can be both challenging and difficult to manage. Professional supports are available to schools to help you to adopt a policy and approach to respond to bereavements within the school community. It is very important to think about how you can alleviate the impact on the staff and the children involved.

When exploring bereavement in the school community from the perspective of a Bereavement Specialist, what must be considered is that the whole school community may have been affected by the grief in different measures. Some may have known the deceased more intimately than others. Some may have children from the family in their class. If a child has died, staff members may have their own children who are the same age as the deceased. All these considerations will change the level of awareness and confidence in handling the death situation now being faced.


Organising Supports for Children and Staff

Organising age-appropriate support for the children and support for staff may be helpful and can diffuse confusion for children directly affected by the death. Allowing the children to take part in small group activities where they can ask questions might be challenging for teachers. You may naturally feel nervous around discussing what has happened and what to say if awkward questions are asked by the children. Children will often be told by well-meaning family that the person who died is looking down on them all the time, that they can see everything they are doing. It is important to remember that children often feel afraid of this concept. It could be that it is more helpful to encourage the child to hold the person’s memory in their heart, for example.




It may be helpful if we use the above quote “When in doubt be still and wait”, and if the difficult questions come, often another child may offer an opinion. You could follow this up by asking “what do you think”? This question can help to elicit any misconceptions that may have arisen. Children can often become upset within these groups and our first reaction may be to contain the emotion. As adults, we may feel uncomfortable with tears. What we should be doing is allowing this expression of grief. It is a valid response. You might even encourage the children to acknowledge that their sadness is a reflection of the sadness felt by the bereaved family. You can then begin bringing their awareness to their own breathing and their sitting positions. A creative way to help them to let these feelings go might be to throw the sadness out through their hands into the ground with a “whoosh” sound. It can be helpful for the children to then experience some physical movement, yard time, games, even P.E. to ground them and not have them feeling stuck in the sadness. If the children see you being able to hold that safe space for them, they will respond positively. It can be difficult for all the reasons I mentioned earlier, and it is not easy to accompany children at these difficult times.




Involving Children in Rituals

Practical responses like involvement with funerals, rituals, choirs, etc. would usually occupy the schools in the immediate aftermath of a death. However, these types of rituals may not be accessible at the moment. Therefore it is critical to provide an outlet for the expression of grief within the school setting. We also need to be mindful that the days and months following can often be the time children need support.

Different types of deaths can also make a difference to children and young people in our care. If it is a sudden death or a suicide, for example, their response and behaviour may need extra monitoring for expressions of despair and lack of hope, suicidal thoughts, and comments. If it is a parent or close grandparent the despair and hopelessness may be accompanied by feelings of worthlessness, confusion, lack of control, and insecurity. Often children will be afraid to return to school in case someone else they love will die if they leave them.


Navigating Special Occasions




Throughout the year occasions arise such as Mother’s Day and Father’s Day that teachers typically navigate very sensitively. However, there are hidden pitfalls that occur. In these instances a bereaved child’s coping mechanisms can break down, their need for support may be shown through challenging behaviour. Be mindful of birthdays, the first Easter, and Christmas. These can all be times when the child’s carer may be struggling. They may be emotionally unavailable to the child because of their own sadness. This may seem a lot of responsibility to expect a teacher to assimilate into their already busy schedule. Yet in the spirit of heading the breakdown off at the pass, a reminder on the confidential school calendar of significant dates that may impact the more vulnerable might be helpful. I finish with a gentle reminder that self-care should be your priority as your position is so important in your family and in your work.



Anne Marie Tymlin is a Bereavement Specialist and Creative Arts Therapist who holds an M.A. in both Drama and Dramatherapy and an M.Sc in Bereavement Studies. Over the years she has supported hundreds of children and families to resolve their feelings around issues such as family grief and loss. She has also worked as an eTutor facilitating teacher CPD at Anokha Learning. She regularly hosts workshops in person and online on topics such as bereavement, self-care, personal development, and mindful approaches to relaxation and stress management.

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