What are SEMH needs?

Social Emotional and Mental Health, or SEMH, needs are a specific category of SEN (Special Educational Need) that relate to the support a child might need to manage their emotions and behaviour. There is often a range of different reasons why a child or young person can face difficulties in this area and these are not always easy to initially identify. Often these barriers to learning may be seen a choice by others and that can make responses and approaches focus on sanctions and rewards rather than meeting the unmet need a behaviour may be communicating.

Social  – children may need support communicating with others, trusting adults, developing relationships, understanding boundaries.

Emotional – children may experience difficulties managing their emotions, processing feelings or may experience poor sense of self worth. Their history may lead them to experience emotions in a different way to other students.

Mental Health – children may experience a diagnosable mental illness, have periods of poor emotional wellbeing etc

Reasons why a child may have SEMH needs can include:

  • Attachment difficulties
  • Experience of trauma
  • Mental illness
  • A lack of opportunity to develop certain skills
  • A neurodevelopmental condition that may lead to difficulties communicating, understanding, regulating emotions, tolerating environments, concentrating or forming and maintaining relationships.
  • And many more reasons.

SEMH needs may present very differently in different children and young people. Those with a historical experience of trauma may show particular sensory sensitivities that can lead to them to avoid certain environments and social situations, creating a situation where they may become isolated from others and avoid school or be unable to focus on learning. Autistic children may experience difficulties in communication that may lead to support needing to be put into place to enable them to have their voice heard and needs met. Children with a diagnosis of ADHD may find it difficult to maintain concentration for longer periods of time and may become agitated and overwhelmed when required to do so.

The key is to supporting children and young people with SEMH needs is to remain curious to the underlying unmet need. Routines and boundaries are important to all children, but cannot overcome the barriers to learning faced by SEMH needs alone.

For more advice and support see this tool here