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Support for parents and carers

What is Social, Emotional and Mental Health?

Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties, which can show in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, or behaving in a way that may challenge.  These are all types of communication and may reflect underlying mental health difficulties such as, anxiety, depression or unmet needs.

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Some children may have medically diagnosed disorders such as attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or attachment disorder.  The majority of children with SEMH needs do not have a medical diagnosis that directly informs the understanding of their SEMH needs.

Examples of communications a person with social emotional mental health needs might show

Children and young people with SEMH, as a special educational need may show both active and passive types of communication. Active and passive communication are shown in different ways. 

Active form of communication (a person shows their need or feelings)

Passive form of communication (a person may be unwilling to express their feelings or emotions)

  • Restlessness / over-activity
  • Challenging behaviours
  • Non-compliance
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsivity
  • Physical aggression
  • Perceiving injustice
  • Disproportionate reactions to situations
  • Difficulties with change / transitions
  • Verbal aggression
  • Lack of personal boundaries
  • Lack of empathy
  • Absconding
  • Eating issues
  • Poor awareness of personal space
  • Poor personal presentation
  • Lethargy / apathy
  • Daydreaming
  • Low mood
  • Anxiety
  • Refusing to accept praise
  • Low self-worth
  • Unable to make choices
  • Speech anxiety / reluctance to speak
  • Being withdrawn
  • Avoiding risks
  • Isolated
  • Failure to engage
  • Unable to make and maintain friendships


It is important to remember that we all show different levels of both active and passive forms of communication at different times, which in itself does not indicate a SEN or specific SEMH need. However when a child or young person demonstrates more extreme active or passive forms of communication over a prolonged period of time this should be investigated further.

Resilience helps us to cope with experiences of adversity or stress in our lives, such as loss, separation, relationship difficulties or traumas.  These are affected by our characters, as well as by the support we receive from others, our environment, and opportunities we have for positive activities and success. The same is true for children and young people.

Social, emotional and mental health difficulties will often occur in a context when the protective factors in place for a child or young person in all of these areas are not enough to enable them to cope with the risk factors and challenges that they are facing. It is therefore crucial that there is a loving environment and consideration of a broad range of influences at the heart of supporting children and young people with social, emotional and mental health needs.

Tips for supporting a young person who has Anxiety or Depression

These basic tips may be helpful to look through to reassure you about the approaches you take. 

  • Let them know they can talk to you anytime about anything – being available to both listen and offer support is vital to support your child’s emotional needs. The ability to talk through their concerns means that small worries do not build in to bigger concerns, which in turn can have a more significant impact on a person’s mental health.
  • Show them affection – try to tell them and show them how much you care, this strengthens your family bond and provides them with the reassurance that they are safe and can express their worries and concerns.
  • Don’t blame yourself – it is easy for a parent to blame themselves, somehow thinking they have caused the illness either through genetics or the environment they have raised their child in. However, in many instances this, is not the case at all.
  • Encourage social interaction with friends and family – encourage and support your child to go out and meet people and also to maintain contacts. Some examples of this would be to plan activity where you can involve your extended families / friends such as BBQs or trips to the beach.
  • Do activities together –.giving your child the time, space and emotional stability needed to talk about their worries or concerns. Having regular activities such as cooking together, caring for pets or going to the park / beach will strengthen the family bond. Ask your child what they would like to do. Enjoy the time you spend together but understand that your child might take time before they start enjoying activities again.
  • Feel confident that change will occur over time and will not happen overnight – be aware that supporting emotional or mental health needs can be a long and bumpy process.
  • Don’t be afraid to seek advice from mental health professionals. They can give you valuable help and advice. There are also support groups available for parents, guardians and carers such as carers support groups. There are many groups throughout Cornwall, their details can be found on the Cornwall SEND Local Offer.
  • It is okay to get frustrated - while yelling can be extremely natural for many of us, there are simple ways to stop yelling (or at least yell less).
  • The solution doesn’t have to cost a fortune - there are some simple ideas that can help to calm an anxious child.
  • Visual calendars or diary – the stress of knowing what is happening today, tomorrow or next week can be hugely stressful to some children and young people. A visual diary shows what is happening or going to be happening and can be easy to understand. The most effective visual calendars are made with your child, choosing the pictures signs, symbols and colours that they understand.
  • Not all children know how to play - some parenting advice dong not include information that your child might not be very social. They might seem immature or lack social boundaries. The good news is there are a few steps you can take to help teach social skills.
  • Sometimes you need help - sometimes parenting is bigger than we know how to take it on. Some days it can feel like there is no way to move forward because there are too many obstacles, while other days can feel like we are taking 20 steps backwards. Trying to muddle through this journey alone can be tough, exhausting, and defeating. Take the time to talk with friends, relatives, the dog, parents, support groups or professionals. The will give you the time to talk through your worries and either gain the reassurance that you are doing a great job or gain further advice and support. 
Tips for supporting a young person who have hyperkinetic disorders

This includes any disorder which negatively impacts a child or young person's ability to self regulate their emotions, concentrate on activities or maintain appropriate friendships.  These basic tips may be helpful to look through to reassure you about the approaches you take.  

  • Don’t overestimate the importance of medication - there’s no doubt that, for many children with ADHD, the right medication makes a huge difference in behaviour. But by no means is medication the only thing that makes a difference, and talking about it as if it were will leave the child feeling that good behaviour has little to do with her own efforts. When you catch your child doing something you’ve repeatedly asked them not to do, fight the urge to ask, “did you forget to take your medication this morning?” And don’t ever threaten to increase their dosage because they did something inappropriate.
  • Use positive reinforcement each time the child makes a good behaviour choice. Punishment, on the other hand, uses fear and shame to force the child to behave, which in the long term does not alter the behaviour pattern.
  • Distractibility is a common symptom of hyperkinetic disorders - something that a person  may be unable to control. When you repeatedly punish or criticise a child for a behaviour they cannot control, you set them up to fail. Eventually, their desire to please you stops and they think, “Why bother?” The parent-child relationship is likely to suffer as a result. The best approach in situations like this might be simply to remind your child to do what you want them to do.
  • Don’t be too quick to say “no” - All children need to be told “no” at certain times — to keep them from doing something dangerous or inappropriate. But many parents say “no” reflexively, without considering whether it might be OK to say “yes”. A child who hears “no” too many times may start to rebel. In many cases, a small change in the way you use the words “yes” and “no” with your child can mean the difference between a pleasant conversation and a challenging one.
  • Pay more attention to your child’s positive behaviour - sometimes parents overlook all the positive ways in which their child behaves. Reward good behaviour with things like comics, days out, going to the park together.
  • Be a good role model - parents are a child’s most influential role model, so think carefully about your behaviour. If you’re unable to control yourself, how can you expect your child to exercise self-control. Yelling sets a poor example of how your child should handle their emotions. Parents tend to think that, the louder they get, the bigger the impact on the child — but it doesn’t work. The only thing the child hears is the anger. The situation quickly spirals out of control.
  • It’s perfectly normal to feel angry at your child from time to time - it’s not OK to continually shout at them. You wouldn’t dream of screaming and swearing at friends or co-workers, so you know you can control your anger if you must. Next time your child does something that annoys or angers you, leave the room, take a few deep breaths, or do something else to calm yourself. When you demonstrate self-calming techniques in this way, you teach your child the importance of managing their emotions.
  • Seek help from others - some things in life simply cannot be done well alone, and raising a child with ADHD is one of them. Ask your family, friends for support or just time to let off stream. If things are getting too much go and see your school'ss SENCO, GP for support or support groups
Tips for supporting a young person who have attachment difficulties 

Every person with attachment difficulties is uniquely different and need different support strategies. Below are some tips that may help support your child with some common issues identified by parents within Cornwall.

Getting my child ready before we leave the house - review the routine with your child before your outing, this could be done using visual now and next calendars. As part of the visual scheduling the use of social stories.

Suggestions to help get your child ready for a new experience:

  • Talk about what your child should and should not do (eg “You need to stay in this part of the park.” “You should not make loud noises while in the restaurant.”).
  • Try role playing the activity with your child while at home, so you can model what your expectations are.
  • Remember to bring items to reduce sensory overload (sunglasses, hat, ear plugs, blanket, and favourite toy). The activity planned may be quite or low sensory by you do not know what other people or activity may be going on in the same location.
  • Prepare other people before the outing or activity - if you plan to involve your child in community events, social groups or extracurricular activities consider talking with the instructor or organiser about your child’s needs and interests. This will allow them to better prepare and arrange thing which would better  engage and support your child
  • Out and about - when going out and about, even if you have been there before you can never predict how they will react on another day. It is important to have something in place in case situations change:
    • If you might have to wait eg at a GP’s surgery, take favourite activities or snacks; give your child an activity to do eg crossing off the shopping  list as you shop.
    • Praise your child for their positive behaviour.
    • Continue to refer your child to appropriate social stories or visuals as necessary throughout the outing.
  • Sometimes, you do not have the ability to stop and speak to people your child may have upset especially if they are mid-crisis! Some people carry cards with them to distribute as they remove their child from the situation. The cards could say something as simple as “I apologise for my child’s behaviour. She has special needs.” Or, they could indicate that your child has autism, if you wish to divulge that information. You can view and download sample cards.
  • Remove yourselves from the situation as swiftly as possible to a quiet place where your child can calm down. 

What could your school be doing? 

Teaching approaches 

In the classroom there are many strategies that can be used to support children with SEMH difficulties. These strategies could be formed and altered to focus on the needs of the individual child, as responses can vary hugely from child to child. Having a range of techniques and approaches to support pupils with SEMH needs is really important to help in creating an inclusive learning environment.

Hyper kinetic disorders – some suggested support strategies

  • Shorten the length of tasks
  • Use visual cues or information to reinforce key learning principles
  • Vary the types of activity
  • Increase the use of active, physical or outdoor learning
  • Provide a quiet area
  • Increase opportunities to have tasks based on verbal discussion
  • Use instant praise and reward
  • Consider supported seating plans
  • Use consistent, visually based and systemic responses to unwanted behaviours
  • Consider the use of information technology assisted learning

Depression and Anxiety some suggested support strategies

  • Build positive relationships by showing interest in the pupil
  • Say something positive about the young person each day
  • Be approachable and make time to listen to their issues
  • Give the young person regular feedback on their academic, social and behaviour performance
  • Promote and or support social interaction amongst their peers within school and school clubs
  • Promote and support participation in sports, hobbies or interests
  • Avoid singling the young person out in front of the class
  • Keep a positive tone of voice and use humour
  • Provide a quiet area
  • Plan a specific learning activity to which the young person would excel, thus increasing confidence and self-esteem

Attachment difficulties some suggested support strategies

  • Give clear and short instructions with visual prompts
  • Provide checklists with visual prompts
  • Prompt engagement
  • Signpost change with regular instruction and now / next visual prompts
  • Don’t take offence
  • Provide process time between instructions
  • Provide limited choice
  • Use consistent, visually based and systemic responses to unwanted behaviours