These days, mental health and behavioral disorders affect more children than ever. As the CDC reports, 1 in 7 children aged 2-8 years old has a diagnosed with a mental, behavior, or developmental disorder (MBDD). And those are only the children who have been formally diagnosed.
MBDD’s are most prevalent in boys, non-Hispanic white children, children between the ages of 6 and 8, and children living in poverty. But they can affect any child, and we need to each do our part in addressing this issue—giving kids all the resources, assistance, coping mechanisms, and TLC we can.
You’d think that schools—where young kids spend the majority of their days—would be on top of these issues. And certainly many teachers are. There are countless teachers who look at their students as they would their own children, and shower them with the utmost love and care. But is that enough?
Are schools doing all they can to zero in on the socio-emotional wellbeing of their students? Why aren’t mental health issues a focus of a school’s curriculum, just as much as math and reading are? It seems that learning to be a kind and cooperative member of society is something that should be taught in schools with as much vigor as anything else.
Tina DuBrock—who has been teaching kindergarten at Protsman Elementary School in Dyer, Indiana for 15 years—couldn’t agree more. DuBrock recently wrote an important and inspiring Facebook post where she addressed these very issues, remarking that she wanted her students to “succeed not just for a test score but as a person,” and describing how she goes about nurturing her students’ mental health along with their academic achievements.
And let me tell you, this women is #teachergoals. We could all learn a ton from what she does with her students, who are lucky as anything to have her.
“I have been losing a lot of sleep lately,” DuBrock writes. “My news feed is full of school shootings, school safety plans, gun control debates, and arming teachers. What bothers me most is parents blaming schools/teachers and teachers blaming parents. I am not here for this part of the debate.”
So what does DuBrock feel we need to be thinking about now? It’s all about real-life, tangible actions and conversations that teachers can have with their students to address mental health. “I shape children,” says DuBrock. “I am their first step out of the home. I can make school a place they want to be and teach them that learning can be fun. I choose to do so. My students become my kids.”
DuBrock shares that she worries about her children day and night. Every morning she greets her students at the door and offers them as much love and warmth as possible, knowing that, for some, her hugs might be the only affection they receive all day. She brings hungry children extra snacks, and low-income children shoes, coats, and clothing.
These little things make a huge difference in the lives of these kids, and are as important as teaching them how to add and spell.
“Over the years I’ve had children that have been abused, neglected, a parent or both parents in jail, more parents that have been terminally ill than I can count, and children that have lost a parent to illness and a few to suicide,” writes DuBrock. “Other students come in with parents that are inflicted with addictions, depression, and other mental illnesses.”
She adds that many of her students have their own mental health issues, many with anxiety elevated enough to require weekly counseling. “All these situations use to be rare or even unheard of but now it is part of a sad norm,” says DuBrock.
But DuBrock knows that it’s more than just showering these kids with love and meeting needs that may be neglected at home. She believes that schools need to implement programs that address kids’ mental health. And because she doesn’t see that happening nearly enough, she is stepping up to the plate to do it herself.
As she explains in her post, last year she successfully applied and received a grant for an afterschool yoga and mindfulness program. “Over 100 kids signed up,” DuBrock says. “This was my first step to start a change.”
That. Is. Amazing. But DuBrock wanted to do even more, and that’s where her latest venture comes in.
“I am here to do my part to start a movement to prioritize mental health education in schools,” she writes. “Self management, growth mindset, social awareness, respect, and responsibility need to be taught in the schools. I would love to see this be a part of our school’s curriculum, however due to budget restraints and lack of school funding from the state it is an item that gets pushed to the side.”
In her post, she shared her awesome idea for how to implement this. It’s a mental health reading list that can be used as a springboard for a mental health awareness curriculum for young children. DuBrock shared the list on her Facebook post via an Amazon Wish List.
Books on the list include topics like divorce, grief, incarcerated parents, living with autism, how to be a good citizen, fostering friendships, and embracing differences and adversary. These are real, concrete, and necessary issues that need to be talked about openly—and it’s so fantastic that this teacher has taken it upon herself to put together a curriculum like this.
DuBrock told Scary Mommy that not only has this “wish list” been totally fulfilled for her own school, but the list has been shared all over, and now many schools have been receiving these books for their classrooms.
“It feels good to know that others are using my wish list to start their own movement,” DuBrock shared with Scary Mommy. “I have heard back from teachers, librarians, administrators, counselors, and parents all looking to use this list as a starting block to support their ‘kids’. It is an honor to be a part of this movement and I look forward to watching it grow.”
The world needs more teachers and leaders like DuBrock. She truly has started a movement, and opened up a conversation we all need to be having. Now, more than ever, we can’t forget to nurture our kids’ mental and emotional health. It warms my heart to see educators taking this important issue into their own hands, and showing up for our kids in this vital way.