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What are SEMH needs? (social, emotional, and mental health needs)

Updated: Feb 28, 2021

SEMH needs are a type of special educational need where a child communicates through behaviour in response to unmet social, emotional, or mental health needs.

Children and young people may experience a wide range of social and emotional difficulties which manifest themselves in many ways. These may include becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as displaying challenging, disruptive or disturbing behaviour.

Children with SEMH needs often have difficulties in managing their emotions or their behaviour. They can show inappropriate responses to their emotions. They can feel scared, anxious, and misunderstood. They may find it harder to make and maintain relationships.

It is estimated that around 150,000 children in mainstream and special schools are experiencing SEMH challenges.

Some behaviours children with SEMH needs might display could be:

  • Anger

  • Frustration

  • Verbal or physical aggression

  • Lashing out

  • Self-harming

  • Withdrawing

  • Being controlling

Below are some tips for helping a child with SEMH needs

  • Provide clear and fair boundaries and stick to them.

  • Help the child to identify their own challenges and give them strategies to develop self-responsibility.

  • Make every day a fresh start.

  • Be consistent.

  • Try to slowly build a relationship of trust.

  • Give them self-regulation strategies.

  • Notice and name their feelings

by Demelza Wall

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