Classroom strategies to support mental health in early childhood

Classroom strategies to support mental health in early childhood

Symptoms of depression and anxiety often go unnoticed in childhood. This can result in a lack of preventive support and leave children vulnerable to developing clinically-significant symptoms like chronic pain, nausea and fatigue.

Wendy Hoglund, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, and her team spent two years on the “Early Experiences Project” studying how home and classroom characteristics support vulnerable children’s self-regulation and social-emotional adjustment.

Several years later, Hoglund and her team are still working to unpack the data collected from 435 students across 43 preschool classrooms and more than 60 kindergarten classes.

“There is so much rich data for us to explore,” says Hoglund, who researches the development of socially and economically vulnerable children and factors that affect their resiliency.

“We shared our initial findings with the teachers and families through newsletters and provided tips and strategies that support children’s behavioural, attentional and emotional regulation skills.”

Some of the suggestions, which were incredibly well-received, included: playing games such as Simon Says to help build impulse control, practicing breathing techniques to help control frustration, and rewarding positive behaviours with praise and attention.

 As Hoglund continues to dive deeper into this project’s data, a number of her undergraduate and graduate students are following suit, like doctoral student Brenna Zatto.

Ongoing research

Zatto completed her master’s thesis using the project data, and is now building on that work with her PhD studies.

She’s working to identify early individual risk factors of depressive and anxious symptoms, such as emotion regulation, and the underlying mechanisms that link risk factors to these symptoms.

Through Zatto’s doctoral project, funded by a WCHRI graduate studentship, she also intends to develop evidence-based practices aimed at supporting children vulnerable to depression and anxiety.

In the future, Hoglund hopes her team will continue to seek strategies that improve children’s experiences in early education. Based on broader classroom data, they also plan to create support materials for teachers, families and students.

“There is still so much we can learn from the Early Experiences Project. As we peel away the layers and gather new insights on childhood mental health, we will look for the best ways to support these vulnerable students and improve their classroom experiences,” says Hoglund. 

Wendy Hoglund’s project was funded in part through the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

Brenna Zatto’s graduate studentship is funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation through the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute.

 

 

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