This project was delivered by Verbal with support from the Community Foundation for Northern Ireland. Verbal designed and delivered two Shared Reading programmes within schools across Northern Ireland. While the Building Resilience programme aimed to improve resilience in children aged 8-11 years, the Managing Difficult Emotions programme aimed to help children aged 6-9 years understand and manage their emotions.

Providing young children with these skills is vital in the context of relatively poor childhood mental health in Northern Ireland (Bunting et al., 2020) and funding cuts to mental health services in schools that are posited to leave children “without vital support” (British  Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, 2023).

The programme adopted a whole-school approach. Sessions were delivered by teachers and supported by classroom assistants. Programme delivery was carried out in 20 schools between September 2022-June 2023, reaching a total of 482 students.

The Building Resilience programme improved resilience and mental wellbeing in 46% of children and 44% of children respectively. The programme significantly helped children to feel closer to others and encouraged help-seeking behaviour. Children felt more energised and enthusiastic about their lives after taking part.

The Managing Difficult Emotions programme improved wellbeing by 36% and improved the ability to understand and manage emotions in 47% of children. Children particularly improved in their ability to self-soothe when upset, in identifying their strengths, and in empathising with others. The youngest children significantly improved their ability to persevere when struggling in school.

Programme feedback was positive from both children and teachers. Children enjoyed stories and illustrations and felt listened to during classroom discussions. Children learned lessons from stories such as being kind to themselves and others and what they should do when they are feeling overwhelmed. Teachers used stories to reinforce school values and would lead to so much discussion that teachers would plan follow-up lessons for additional learning.

Our programmes improved mental wellbeing, boosted resilience, and helped children to understand and manage their emotions in an enjoyable and relatable manner. These findings indicate that Verbal’s programmes are effective in improving children’s mental health and wellbeing. Furthermore, they suggest that Shared Reading can both improve mental wellbeing and embed mental health knowledge and support directly within schools, helping to reduce stigma and to make mental health support more accessible.

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