Over half of primary school children have emotional health issues: New app is developed to support parents and children  

Over half of primary school children have emotional health issues: New app is developed to support parents and children  

More than 50% of three to seven year olds are struggling with emotional health problems and this is rising steadily into teenage life, with only a fifth of parents believing that their child can effectively manage their emotions. 

The main emotional health issues that parents report include concerns over anxiety (46 %), neurodevelopmental conditions (32%), and low mood (29%). 

Two thirds (69%) said that their child has emotional challenges such as identifying or defining their feelings, communicating how they feel or managing them in unfamiliar situations, revealed a survey of over 1,000 parents by Embers the Dragon, a new app designed to build emotional resilience in children and their families. 

With one in every six children being diagnosed with a mental health condition in the UK, early intervention is key. However, many children are not getting the support they need as they do not meet the minimum threshold for specialist care or are on a long Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) waiting list. When emotional issues are missed in younger life, they can lead to bigger mental health issues arising in teenage years. 

Behaviour is also a cause of concern for this age group, with 51% of parents saying they are worried about how to manage certain behaviours. 

Embers the Dragon, a collaboration between clinicians, storytellers and educators, has developed an app, which is undergoing a major clinical trial run by the School of Applied Sciences at London South Bank University. 

Daniel Frings, Professor of Social Psychology at London South Bank University, said: We are seeing rises in identified mental health needs in children and the current provision is woefully inadequate. It is our hope that identifying any barriers to access or usage can help develop a more effective way to reach all groups, especially those in greater need. There is much needed scientific evidence for the effectiveness of digital technologies for the growing number of children needing wellbeing support, however with widespread use of digital, this could be an effective solution to reach large numbers of children and their families with every day emotional support.” 

Parents also expressed significant worries about their ability to understand and support their child’s emotional wellbeing, especially around the time their child enters primary school education with just one in four parents saying they feel completely tuned into their child’s emotions. 

Less than half (45 %) of parents said they would seek external support from friends and family, experts or support groups and this is even lower for dads at 39%. 

Emma Taylor, Mental Health NHS Nurse Specialist and Co-founder of Embers, said: “Understanding and supporting children’s emotional development can be a complex and challenging task for parents and caregivers. Feelings aren’t things you can see or touch, they vary between people, over time and in different situations. The problem is that this sort of decoding skill isn’t something we are necessarily born with, and sometimes for a whole range of reasons related to our own history, personality types and life circumstances, it can be surprisingly difficult to learn.  

There is a need for accessible and clinically endorsed support, especially in the digital age, to help parents navigate these challenges and foster healthy emotional development in children from a young age. That’s why programmes like Embers the Dragon, a proactive approach to preventing issues and alleviating pressure on health services through clinically backed mental health support, has the potential to improve child behaviour, confidence, and academic potential and in turn reduce the need for clinical mental health interventions among young children.” 

When it comes to parental priorities, parents ranked understanding and managing emotions (23%) and learning daily living skills (22%) as top priorities for their child’s development, over literacy and numeracy. 

Almost all parents in the research allowed screen time for their children, with many citing the educational benefits. However, they expressed caution and desired more clarity on its impact on child development and emotional health. 

Seeking support 

Younger parents (aged 18-24) were more likely to have concerns about their child with 75% of younger parents worrying that their child has experienced difficulties with their mental wellbeing and anxiety in the past. However, younger parents were less likely to seek support from health professionals with 44% saying they would go to health professionals compared with the group average of 50%.  

Tackling the issue 

Designed for children aged three to seven and their families, Embers integrates Social Learning Theory and Self Determination Theory into a combination of children’s entertainment and parental education, which empowers parents to better understand and support their child’s emotional well-being.  It includes an animated series narrated by Jo Brand and a host of celebrities as characters, games and activities for children, as well as an accompanying course and standalone resources for parents, carers, and educators. 

Professor Frings, who is leading the trial to test the effectiveness of the digital intervention, added: “This is a compelling project as it is aimed at the mental health of both children and their families. Using rich visual materials like animations seem sensible to help provide support for children’s wellbeing but it doesn’t quite fit the traditional mould of what many funders would consider to be traditional health care provision. For us, that made this project exciting and we look forward to seeing the results”. 

Parents and caregivers with a child aged four to seven, as well as educators and clinicians, can register for the trial at www.embersthedragon.co.uk

Click below to share this article