20 September 2021

Anticipate, monitor, and plan for responding to child stress

Suggestion for implementing the strategy ‘Support emotional wellbeing and positive mental health’

Ensure students are known

Ensure students are known

Get to know and understand each student and identify potentially difficult times or situations that may be stressful or difficult for them.

Keep up-to-date and maintain an interest in a student’s life beyond school.

This will help you to:

  • eliminate or minimise situations that may cause unnecessary stress (for example, changes in routine, rushing, illness, sensory overload, turn taking, being reprimanded in front of others, things happening at home)
  • identify the student’s personal signs of stress or unhappiness and intervene early 
  • have a timely conversation with a student about what you have noticed and how to develop coping strategies
  • more accuratelly interpret wider classroom/playground behaviour and pre-empt potential areas of conflict.

Source: Guidelines for registered schools in New Zealand on the use of physical restraint (opens in a new tab/window)

Watch for external and internal behaviours

Watch for external and internal behaviours

Remember, children and young people can express feelings outwardly or internalise them.

Pay attention to unusually quiet behaviour as well as “loud” exhibitions of behaviour.

Pay attention to specific needs or sensitivities

Pay attention to specific needs or sensitivities

Make a point of understanding particular stressors for children and young people.

Ask students and their whānau:

  • What situations create stress, such as certain types of noise, changes in routines, pain, or discomfort?
  • What can you as the teacher do differently to remove or minimise stress points?
  • What can we change in the classroom or school environment to reduce stress points?
  • How can the student help themselves to return to a calm state if they become stressed?


Monitor overload

Monitor overload

Students experience cognitive stress and overload when a task or situation is overwhelming.

As cognitive fatigue accumulates through the day/week, it may impact self control and heighten sensitivities.

  • Regularly connect with the student and parents/whānau to discuss their workload and what is happening at home.
  • Work with the student and their family to prevent overload. (For example, negotiate in advance the expectations around completing tasks.)
  • Find out what the signs of the student being overloaded are.
  • Find out what triggers overload for the student.
  • Discuss with the student what support they need to self-manage when they are overloaded. For example, use a break card, withdraw to a quiet space, tell the teacher they are overloaded.

Questions to discuss with students

Questions to discuss with students

Discuss and agree as a class.
  • How can we communicate if something is too hard?
  • How can we ask for help?
  • How can we look after our friends and recognise when they are stressed?
  • Where we can go if we are stressed?

Useful resources

Useful resources


The incredible 5-point scale

Publisher: Kari Dunn Buron

Visit website

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Mental Health Matters

Read time: 89 min

Publisher: Ministry of Health | Manatū Hauora

Download PDF

Screen Shot 2020 07 31 at 11.24.34 AM

He māpuna te tamaiti: Supporting social and emotional competence in early learning

Read time: 160 min

Publisher: Ministry of Education | Te Tāhuhu o te Mātauranga

Download PDF (340 KB)

Next steps

More suggestions for implementing the strategy “Support emotional wellbeing and positive mental health”:

Return to the guide “Behaviour and learning”

Guide to Index of the guide: Behaviour and learning

Strategies for action: