North Chadderton

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Social, Emotional and Mental Health difficulties

In the UK, the category of social, emotional, and mental health difficulties (SEMH) was brought in to replace behavioural, social, and emotional difficulties (BESD). For many children their behaviour may be a result of these of underlying factors. The iceberg model shows five domains which can contribute to unexpected behaviour in a child. This behaviour should be regarded as communication, and a clue that something is not right. For this reason, the word 'behaviour' was removed to encourage professionals to focus on the underlying issues. A reward and sanction system may help address the behaviour, but does little to address the reasons for it.


Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) falls under the category of SEMH. However, it is often diagnosed alongside other conditions such as ASD or SpLD. Some of the strategies on this page may be of great help to someone with ADHD, but there are more specific strategies that can be found here.



Passive Behaviours: 
  • Anxiety
  • Low mood
  • Being withdrawn
  • Avoiding risks
  • Unable to make choices
  • Low self-worth
  • Isolated
  • Refusing to accept praise
  • Failure to engage
  • Poor personal presentation
  • Lethargy/apathy
  • Daydreaming
  • Unable to make and maintain friendships
  • Speech anxiety/ reluctance to speak
  • Task avoidance


Active Behaviours:
  • Challenging behaviours
  • Restlessness/over-activity
  • Non-compliance
  • Mood swings
  • Impulsivity
  • Physical aggression
  • Verbal aggression
  • Perceived injustices
  • Disproportionate reactions to situations
  • Difficulties with change/transitions
  • Absconding
  • Eating issues
  • Lack of empathy
  • Lack of personal boundaries
  • Poor awareness of personal space



Schools vary significantly in size, location, culture, socioeconomic background of pupils, and many other factors. These will influence the forms of SEMH difficulties that their students are more likely to encounter. Schools will also vary in their level of access to specialist support services for these difficulties. It is essential for schools to have systems in place that allow rapid identification of the early signs of SEMH, and lines of communication (internally and externally) that are effective in providing support. Many schools employ specialist staff to work with the children or to engage the services of external agencies via referral.

Safeguarding procedures in schools play a key role in the early identification of SEMH. The importance of understanding and following safeguarding procedures cannot be understated. Changes in, or patterns of, children's behaviour may be noticed by any member of school staff, and the safeguarding communication route allows this to be passed to the appropriate staff. What may seem insignificant and 'not really worth mentioning' may actually be an early warning sign that a child is developing an SEMH difficulty.