In this final instalment of this series for Children’s Mental Health Week, we will have a brief recap on both the low arousal and low demand approach and then bring them together to discuss the benefits of implementing both within your practice.
Recap on the low arousal approach
The low arousal approach is a collection of different strategies, which have a shared aim of reducing children’s stress, fears, frustrations, and anxieties. This can help children to feel safe, secure and regulated. If a classroom is full of colour, clutter, and high sensory stimulation, such as loud noises or strong smells, it can become a very stressful and overwhelming environment for many children. Reducing any unnecessary sounds, smells, resources and keeping the classroom décor natural/neutral can go a long way to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of children.
Children’s agency is fundamentally important in supporting a low arousal approach. Children need to feel respected and valued and part of this is by giving them meaningful choices and respecting the decisions that they make. It is also important that you are making learning activities engaging and stimulating for children, so that their own needs are met, rather than being a ‘tick box’ exercise to meet curriculum outcomes. By delivering activities in this way, children are more likely to participate in them as the feelings of frustration and boredom are reduced.
Recap on the low demand approach
As an extension of the low arousal approach, the low demand approach works in a similar way, in that it aims to reduce anxiety, stress, fear and frustration that children may encounter. The key tenet of the low demand approach is to reduce the demands and expectations that you place on children. This is not to say that you let children do what they want, how they want and when they want, but to reframe how you present the perceived demands to them. You can implement a low demand approach by considering your communication style and the language that you use. Something as simple as rephrasing an instruction such as “go and put your coat on” to “lets all go and put our coats on” can make a big difference in how children perceive and accept the instruction.
The benefits of using a low arousal and low demand approach together
The low arousal and low demand approaches share a common aim of reducing children’s stress, fear, frustration, and anxiety. This can help children to feel safe, secure and regulated which can have positive effects on children’s overall mental health and wellbeing. As highlighted in part 1 of this series, the Mental Health Foundation (Children and young people | Mental Health Foundation) stated that children and young people with SEND are more likely to have difficulties with their personal, social and emotional development (PSED) and mental health. The foundation highlighted that 75% of children and young people who experience mental health problems do not receive the help that they need. As we are all aware, poor mental health and wellbeing in childhood can have significant detrimental impacts on future outcomes in adulthood. Therefore, as practitioners we have a responsibility and duty of care to create enabling environments, which promotes children’s learning and development, while fostering their social, emotional, physical, and mental health and wellbeing.
Creating an inclusive, enabling environment and reflecting upon your role as an education and care practitioner can take time. We are not always comfortable with change and new strategies can need lots of practice to fully embed them. However, the benefits of using the low arousal and low demand approach in practice is invaluable. Both approaches, when used together can help support all children, particularly children with SEND to reach their full potential through providing them with an optimum learning environment, which minimises their anxiety and stress.
These approaches are low cost, with the only financial implications being if you may decide to extend your knowledge and understanding of the approaches by undertaking further training or purchase some new furniture/resources for your classroom. However, overall, the approaches and some of the suggestions in this series of how to implement the two approaches require little or no resources and you can start practising them straight away. The suggestions made throughout this series are just that – suggestions. Not every strategy is going to suit every child, what works for one child, may not work for another. However, through trial and error and knowing each child, you can figure out what suits them the best.
Further information and resources
Although this mini-series is aimed at young children, it can be used with children of all ages, including adolescences and even adults. Both approaches can be adapted and personalised to meet the individual needs of the child or person you are working with.
As I stated at the very beginning of this series, I am quite new to the low arousal and low demand approaches. I have begun to implement them into my own practice and can already see the positive effects they have on a child’s social, emotional, and mental health.
The aim of this series was to start a ripple of thought surrounding your own approaches within practice and the benefits of exploring alternative approaches. I am still on a journey of expanding my own knowledge and understanding of the low arousal and low demand approaches and I invite you all to continue this learning journey with me. To find out more, check out the following websites, which have some great resources and please do share any of your own experiences and knowledge on the SEND Network too!
- The PDA society: Helpful approaches – children – PDA Society
- Bridging the neurodivide - Autistic | Tiggertraining/Bridging The Neurodivide | England
- In another article, Hannah also explored using the Leuven wellbeing scale in observations to assess children’s mental health and wellbeing more effectively. Find it here.