PSHE's role in supporting emotional regulation and mental wellbeing

Apr 24, 2024 4:44:50 PM
Learning how to distinguish accurately between discrete emotions using nuanced and varied vocabulary can be beneficial to our mental health and emotional wellbeing. This is partly because those who can generate a clearer sense of what emotion(s) they are experiencing, and name them using more precise terminology, are often in a better position to choose the most effective, context-specific ways of managing them.


Being able to distinguish between feeling ‘disappointed’, ‘frightened’ and ‘frustrated’ rather than simply saying that we feel ‘upset’, for example, can be useful because these emotions often require different ways of managing them. For example, a pupil who is feeling disappointed with their performance in a school play may benefit most from reframing how they are thinking about it (e.g. by reflecting on what went well and what they can learn from the experience). In contrast, a pupil who is feeling frightened ahead of performing in a school play may benefit most from taking several, slow-paced breaths, focusing their attention on ‘friendly faces’ in the audience (e.g. their friends, parents, guardians or carers) and reminding themselves of the reasons why they are participating in it (e.g. because they believe that the play has an important message or because they wish to bring other people joy).

Those who are more adept at managing their emotions are considered to possess enhanced emotional self-regulation (or emotion regulation) and often experience better mental health and emotional wellbeing during childhood[1], adolescence[2] and adulthood[3]. Illustrating this, a longitudinal study involving 13,500 Year 7 pupils in England found that better emotion regulation was associated with fewer (parent-rated) mental health difficulties and higher (self-rated) subjective wellbeing a year later (when the participants were in Year 8)[4].

A separate longitudinal study involving 1000 participants in New Zealand found that those who were better able to manage their attention, behaviour and emotions between the ages of 4 and 11-years-old were more likely to experience high life satisfaction (an indicator of emotional wellbeing) and fewer health difficulties, amid a range of other desirable outcomes, as 38-year-old adults[5]. (This group were also less likely to begin smoking or drop out of school as teenagers). Findings such as these strongly suggest that proactively promoting emotion regulation during primary and secondary school may meaningfully contribute towards supporting the development, mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people.

So where does PSHE education fit in?

Pupils of all ages can be taught how to improve their ability to manage their emotions[6] through their PSHE education lessons. This might involve introducing pupils to age-appropriate emotion regulation strategies that can help them to dampen the intensity of unpleasant or potentially disruptive emotions (e.g. anger, fear or overexcitement). Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • acknowledging, validating and labelling emotions[7] (this is an emotion regulation strategy in itself!)
  • age-appropriate breathing exercises[8] (e.g. taking a few, slow-paced breaths)
  • redirecting attention[9] (e.g. distracting oneself)
  • journaling (e.g. writing expressively about feelings or emotions)
  • and spending time in nature[10] (e.g. a park).

During PSHE education, distanced learning can facilitate opportunities for pupils to reflect objectively on when specific emotion regulation strategies might be most useful or appropriate by presenting them with stories in which fictional characters need to manage a range of emotions across a variety of increasingly complex, relatable situations. This also provides an opportunity to remind pupils that it is important to build a repertoire of emotion regulation strategies and to seek support from trusted adults if unpleasant or disruptive emotions are experienced particularly often or intensely.

While it is important that pupils learn how to manage unpleasant or disruptive emotions during PSHE education, it is also important for them to learn ways to initiate and sustain pleasant emotions as well. This can be achieved in a variety of ways. For example, during periods of personal reflection, pupils can be encouraged to privately reflect on activities that elicit, for instance, awe, gratitude, contentment or a sense of connection or meaning (it has been found that children at least as young as 9-years-old can experience a sense of meaning[11]. Additionally, pupils can be encouraged to plan when to engage in such activities (e.g. painting, spending time with friends or contributing to a community garden), as this is likely to increase the chances of them participating in them[12].

Of course, there are many factors beyond emotional self-regulation that influence our mental health and emotional wellbeing, such as sleep, diet, time spent outside or online, friendships, loneliness and bullying. And it is during PSHE education that pupils encounter unique opportunities to learn about these. Furthermore, the statutory guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education[13] (RSHE) states that by the end of primary school, pupils should know, for example, ‘the benefits of physical exercise, time outdoors [and] community participation… on mental wellbeing’, as well as ‘simple self-care techniques, including the importance of rest’. And that that by the end of secondary school, pupils should know ‘how to critically evaluate when something they do or are involved in has a positive or negative effect on their own or others’ mental health.’ This is both a critically important and a challenging task.

But we have you covered.

Our upcoming Top tips for teaching about mental health Twilight CPD course (secondary, 29 April) will build your confidence in teaching about statutory mental health and emotional wellbeing effectively. You’ll explore the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to safely teach this crucial but challenging part of statutory Health Education, and the role it plays in safeguarding students.

We also have a range of guidance and Quality Assured resources on mental health related topics. And as part of our primary mental health project, we’ll be developing brand new training and resources as part of our primary mental health project over the coming months. Watch this space!



1 Daniel, S. K., Abdel-Baki, R., & Hall, G. B. (2020). The protective effect of emotion regulation on child and adolescent wellbeing. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 29, 2010-2027.

2 Robson, D. A., Allen, M. S., & Howard, S. J. (2020). Self-regulation in childhood as a predictor of future outcomes: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 146(4), 324-354.

3 Hu, T., Zhang, D., Wang, J., Mistry, R., Ran, G., & Wang, X. (2014). Relation between emotion regulation and mental health: A meta-analysis review. Psychological Reports, 114(2), 341-362.

4 Lereya, S. T., Patalay, P., and Deighton, J. (2022). Predictors of mental health difficulties and subjective wellbeing in adolescents: A longitudinal study. JCPP Advances, 2(2), e12074.

5 This finding held true even after social class was taken into consideration. Moffitt, T. Poulton, R., & Caspi, A. (2013). Lifelong impact of early self-control: Childhood self-discipline predicts adult quality of life. American Scientist, 101(5), 352-359.

6 Pandey, A., Hale, D., Das, S., Goddings, A., Blakemore, S. & Viner, R. M. (2018). Effectiveness of universal self-regulation-based interventions in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(6), 566-575.

7 Torre, J. B., & Lieberman, M. D. (2018). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling as implicit emotion regulation. Emotion Review, 10(2), 116-124.

8 Obradović, J., Sulik, M. J., & Armstrong-Carter, E. (2021). Taking a few deep breaths significantly reduces children’s physiological arousal in everyday settings: Results of a preregistered video intervention. Developmental Psychobiology, 63(8), e22214.

9 Eisenberg, N., & Sulik, M. J. (2012). Emotion-related self-regulation in children. Teaching of Psychology, 39(1), 77-83.

10 Lopes, S., Lima, M., & Silva, K. (2020). Nature can get it out of your mind: The rumination reducing effects of contact with nature and the mediating role of awe and mood. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 71,

11 Shoshani A., & Pninit Russo-Netzer, P. (2017). Exploring and assessing meaning in life in elementary school children: Development and validation of the meaning in life in children questionnaire (MIL-CQ). Personality and Individual Differences, 104, 460-465.

12 Gross, J. J., & Thompson, R. A. (2007). Emotion regulation: Conceptual foundations. In J. J. Gross (Ed.), Handbook of emotion regulation (pp. 3-24). The Guilford Press.

13 Department for Education. (2019). Relationships education, relationships and sex education (RSE) and health education: Statutory guidance for governing bodies, proprietors, head teachers, principals, senior leadership teams, teachers. London: Department of Education.