Early years: social, emotional and mental health difficulties (ordinarily available)

Strategies and approaches to support children with a range of social, emotional or mental health difficulties.

In addition to the quality first teaching expectations outlined in Section 1, additional provision and interventions maybe required. Examples of presenting needs and suggested strategies are given below as a starting point for your planning and classroom practice.

What is the child’s behaviour communicating? Why is the child displaying this behaviour?


  • Is there an understanding within the setting that behaviour that challenges/ behaviours of concern are a form of communication? Communication has a function.
  • Understand the function of the behaviour before implementing strategies – try to identify why the child is displaying behaviours before planning how to support them. 
  • Identify what is not working well through engagement with the child as early as possible. There is a positive robust key person system in place that supports the relationship.
  • Consider what the behaviour may be reflecting. Are the behaviours communicating a sensory, escape, attention or tangible need? Is there an unmet communication, or social, emotional and mental health need?
  • Look at the history, when did the behaviour start to change? Can you identify triggers? Talk to the parent carers to understand the child’s experiences at home and if the family have similar concerns.
  • Liaise and collaborate with home to understand the wider picture.
  • Keep a note of concerns, liaise with designated professional (SENCO, Key Person or safeguarding lead) within your setting
  • Be aware if children have been prescribed medication, feedback any changes or concerns to the parents so that they can discuss with their GP to rule out health issues.
  • Unpick the behaviours – negative and positive behaviours – what lies behind them?
  • Facilitate the implementation of specialist advice, e.g. substitutes for self-harming behaviours such as elastic bands or marbles.
  • Consider a low arousal approach.