Observing children and young people is a great way of getting to know them. It’s also how educators can gather information about their mental health and wellbeing. This includes noticing their strengths, behaviours that may cause concern and possible signs of mental health issues.
Understanding why a child or young person behaves a certain way can inform the decisions and planning in relation to educators’ response.
Identifying when children and young people need extra support comes down to observations
Educators may have a child or young person in their early learning service or school whose behaviour has changed without any obvious reason or is out of character. If the change is prolonged, significant or disruptive, this can signal the development of a mental health issue or condition.
Some children and young people are at greater risk than others of developing mental health issues, therefore early identification is important. The earlier a child or young person receives support, the better chance they have of overcoming difficulties and reducing the risk of more serious mental health issues.
Observations about a child or young person’s behaviour should:
• focus only on what educators’ see and hear, not on what they think or feel about a child or young person’s behaviour, thoughts or emotions
• record the frequency, the situation and how the child or young person exhibits particular behaviour
• note what factors make the behaviour better or worse
• record the length of time the behaviour or behaviour lasts
• note what happens before and after the behaviour
• be recorded by different educators at different times and in different contexts.
Using the BETLS observation tool to observe children’s behaviour.
The Behaviour, Emotions, Thoughts, Learning and Social Relationships (BETLS) observation tool can assist educators in gathering information and documenting observations about a child or young person’s behaviour. This will allow educators to recognise and understand potential mental health issues.
The BETLS tool gathers and records information in five broad areas:
• Behaviour: what is the child or young person doing?
• Emotions: what might the child or young person be feeling?
• Thoughts: what might the child or young person be thinking?
• Learning: what learning areas are being affected?
• Social relationships: what social areas are being affected?
The BETLS tool also asks educators to consider:
• pervasiveness: who is present at this time? Where and when does this behaviour occur?
• frequency: how often does it happen?
• persistence: how long has it been happening?
• severity: how much is it influencing a child’s day-to-day experiences?
Once educators have an understanding of the nature of a child or young person’s difficulties and the reasons behind those difficulties, the BETLS tool provides a record of responses to concerns.
Conversations with families about a child or young person’s behaviour can be tricky. Documented observations can be a good starting point for these discussions.
Do you have a question about the BETLS observation tool or starting conversations with families? Educators who are part of a registered Be You Learning Community can ask Be You Consultants these questions.
There is Professional Learning support for educators in the Early Support domain.
All three modules can be accessed here.