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It’s now estimated that 1 in 7 children experience mental health difficulties. Half of all serious mental health problems begin before the age of 14. We also know however that early intervention to address difficulties can improve the chance of long-term mental health and wellbeing (KidsMatter, 2015).

The work of Paul A. LeBuffe, Valerie B. Shapiro, & Jack A. Naglieri at the Devereux Center for Resilient Children (DCRC), focuses on eight key within-person protective factors that have been found to be particularly important for school-aged children:

  1. Self-Awareness: A child’s realistic understanding of their strengths and limitations and consistent desire for self-improvement
  2. Self-Management: A child’s success in controlling their emotions and behaviors to complete a task or succeed in a new or challenging situation
  3. Social Awareness: A child’s capacity to interact with others in a way that shows respect for their ideas and behaviors, recognizes his/her impact on them, and uses cooperation and tolerance in social situations
  4. Relationship Skills: A child’s consistent performance of socially acceptable actions that promote and maintain positive connections with others
  5. Goal-Directed Behavior: A child’s initiation of and persistence in completing tasks of varying difficulty
  6. Decision Making: A child’s approach to problem solving that involves learning from others and from previous experiences, using values to guide action, and accepting responsibility for their decisions
  7. Personal Responsibility: A child’s tendency to be careful and reliable in their actions and in contributing to group efforts
  8. Optimistic Thinking: A child’s attitude of confidence, hopefulness and positive thinking regarding themselves and their life situations in the past, present and future.

The eight protective factors defined by the Paul LeBuffe et al at the DCRC support the research of Dr Richie Davidson from the University of Wisconsin, who speaks about “every behavior intervention being a biological intervention” and that “a young person’s repeated experiences in school have the opportunity to be a powerful influence for rewiring of neural pathways that is necessary for habits to be built and sustained”.

Some classroom strategies which can easily be incorporated into everyday teaching practice that may foster healthy mental health and wellbeing are:

  •         Circle time
  •         Role Play
  •         Peer coaching
  •         Brain breaks

 – Alexia Nicholson

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