Positive mental health is a key ingredient for children’s learning
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Positive mental health is a key ingredient for children’s learning

Positive mental health is a key ingredient for children’s learning

by Freya Lucas

October 04, 2019

A recent study into the factors which help children to thrive at school has found that strong and positive mental health is an asset for learning. 


Researchers undertook the investigation knowing that academic learning success is a key marker for the future health, development and life outcomes of children, especially when those children commence their schooling journey from a developmentally vulnerable position, and that Australia is experiencing a decline in academic skills


They were seeking to learn more about the role that the mental health of children has on their academic achievement. 


The study, conducted by researchers from the Centre for Community Child Health, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, the Australian Council for Educational Research and the University of Otago, supports an increased understanding on the early skills that help children to thrive at school. 


Researchers sought to learn more about whether children’s positive mental health when they start at school can influence their learning outcomes in year three, and revealed promising results.


For the purposes of the study, mental health was taken to mean both: 


  • mental health difficulties, such as depression and anxiety and behaviour problems, and
  • positive mental health (also termed mental health competence or social and emotional wellbeing) which refers to children’s psychosocial functioning.


The study found that children’s positive mental health when starting school related to their academic performance across a range of learning areas in year three, providing strong evidence to suggest that improving children’s mental health may help to optimise their learning at school.


Linking in with early childhood education and care (ECEC) contexts, the research has implications for the one in five children who begin school developmentally vulnerable or at risk, specifically in the domains of social competence and emotional maturity, as measured by the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC). 


Given that children from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience social and emotional difficulties during the pre-school period, improving children’s positive mental health in this time may support in changing the long term outcomes and academic success of those children.  


Evidence suggests that programs that enable positive and stable adult-child relationships in the home and early education and care settings help to promote social and emotional school readiness skills, researchers said. 


Once children begin school, nurturing teacher-child relationships, safe and inclusive school communities, and family-school partnerships are beneficial for building both social and emotional skills and creating stimulating learning environments, the researchers concluded. 


To read the full research, ‘Positive Mental Health and Academic Achievement in Elementary School: New Evidence From a Matching Analysisplease see here

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