More help, sooner


Staff Writer

When thinking about anxiety, you think of college students, or high school students.

What you might not consider is that anxiety and other mental health issues can start as young of an age as four.

The Niagara Catholic District School Board’s (NCDSB) role in mental health is using the program called “Tier 1,” says Mental Health Lead, Andrea Bozza. She added that there are three tiers in which children may indicate being or feeling at any given moment.

“The number one concern with students right now is anxiety,” says Bozza.

The tiers have different levels of mental health. Tier 1 is the educational portion of the program. School staff are taken through plans and given protocols to adhere to in certain situations.

Tier 1 is focused on prevention and awareness. Tier 2 involves the programming side of things in an effort to help children who are showing signs or symptoms of Tier 3.

Tier 3 is for the extreme cases, Bozza says. These children display signs of severe anxiety and may show behaviour that could be considered precursors to suicide.

“Early intervention would generally fall into Tier 2,” says Bozza. “That’s looking at what are we doing for the students who we are notice are struggling.”

Tier 2 is mostly for children, as young as Early Learning Kindergarten Program (ELKP), who will show signs of struggling with anxiety, attachment from parents, or social anxiety. This doesn’t necessarily mean the school would have a crisis intervention, but would come up with supports that could be put into place for the students who are having a hard time.

“At-risk children can be identified by many different things, but the most common few being when they become more withdrawn from their friends or classes, children may miss school because of their anxieties,” says Bozza.

Children from a young age, usually in ELKP, will learn something called “zones of regulation.” These zones are differentiated by colour, using green, blue, yellow and red.

When a child indicates they are in the green zone, they are calm or happy. Blue represents sadness, fatigue, or hunger. Yellow zone is for confused or silly, while red indicates anger or when a child feels as if he or she is about to explode.

These zones are taught to ELKP students to help them understand their emotions and to help them take that knowledge and apply it to everyday experiences as they get older.

“Not only do we teach children the different zones, but we also teach them coping strategies to get into that green zone,” says Bozza. “That’s our focus right now for the ELKP years.”

Another type of early intervention the NCDSB has started is called “Safe Talk.” This program is taught to Grade 7 and 8 teachers, as well as Grade 9 religion teachers, and is used to instruct teachers how to speak with children and see the signs of suicidal thoughts when speaking to them.

The NCDSB has at least three to four teachers trained in Safe Talk district-wide.

“If a student is really struggling, a teacher will know how to ask,” says Bozza. “Not all young students know how to ask for help.”

These videos are an example of part of the District School Board of Niagara’s grade 1 curriculum. They help teach children how to deal with their emotions. Adults might learn a thing or two as well!

Sesame Street: Common and Colbie Caillat – “Belly Breathe” with Elmo

Sesame Street: Me Want It (But Me Wait)