A parent guide to the language of wellbeing

Wellbeing, SEL, mental health are just some terms that our young people are more familiar with than we ever were, writes Lucy Barrat. She explains the differences in this handy glossary.

Students are becoming more socially and emotionally literate – an outstanding shift in education, better preparing them for the world that awaits them. But as wellbeing vernacular is developing in classrooms, many adults supporting young people are feeling as though they missed that day at school. 

Here are some of the wellbeing buzz words that students are coming across in their classrooms:


Wellbeing is a complex idea as it incorporates many elements. Derived from Positive Psychology, the study of human flourishing, wellbeing is an ever-present state that is sometimes viewed as the presence of wellness or life satisfaction.

A common misconception associated with wellbeing is that it equates to happiness. Due to this, schools often approach the concept of wellbeing as the ability to balance the challenges an individual can face and the resources at their disposal. The research suggests that greater wellbeing, or flourishing, will increase academic achievement hence the increase in Social Emotional Learning (SEL – see below) in schools.  

A resource that comprehensively explores the complexities of what makes up ‘wellbeing’ is the All in the Mind podcast episode The Building Blocks of Wellbeing produced by Radio National.

Mental Health

The World Health Organisation refers to mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community’.

The topic of mental health is becoming less stigmatised and conversations around it are becoming more common. Something to keep in mind when talking about mental health is that it is a constant and it is less about if we ‘have it’ and more about the condition it is in.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Historically referred to as ‘soft skills’, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an arm of education that sits alongside academic learning. It looks to develop students’ ability to effectively communicate, to build and maintain relationships and to correctly identify and process emotions. Some schools have whole school frameworks that embed SEL into their culture (Positive Education, PERMA etc.) while others use a range of resources to build SEL into their everyday curriculum – many are aiming to do both. 

Character Strengths

Developed by the VIA Institute on Character, Character Strengths are becoming more prevalent in schools as the avenue for a strength-based wellbeing approach. In total, there are 24 Character Strengths that all people possess in varying degrees – and it is these degrees of difference that create unique identities/personalities.  

If you’re interested in finding out your top Character Strengths there is a free survey available on the VIA website. 

Fixed and Growth Mindset

Based on the theory developed by American psychologist Carol Dweck, Fixed and Growth mindsets relate to how people view their abilities and intelligence. According to Dweck, those with a Fixed Mindset believe their capabilities are set and can not change. Alternatively, those with a Growth Mindset believe that their abilities can be developed. Within the context of schools, teachers commonly refer to the attributes of a Growth Mindset (seeing failure as an opportunity to learn, embrace challenges etc.) to build resilience in students. 

A simple way to show support of a Growth Mindset is to add the word ‘yet’ to the conclusion of statements about intelligence or ability.

‘I can’t do mathematics’ – fixed. 

‘I can’t do mathematics yet’ – growth.  

Zones of Regulation

The Zones of Regulation concept was developed by educator Leah Kuypers and is commonly seen in primary school settings. It is an approach to teaching the regulation of feelings and energies and provides an easy visual for learners to name and process emotions. Divided into yellow, blue, green and red zones the Zones of Regulation is very effective in increasing the emotional literacy of students and therefore their management.  

The Zones of Regulation website has many free resources available.


Gratitude is feeling and expressing a sense of appreciation for the people or things in one’s life. It has been shown to increase life satisfaction, quality of sleep, resilience and physical health (see positive education). Many schools have been incorporating Gratitude Journals into their daily practice often providing time at the beginning of the day or post a break for students to complete them.  

Research out of the University of California, Berkeley has found regular Gratitude Journaling can change one’s neurological thought processes – those that journal for 21 days start to scan the world for positives more regularly.  


Mindfulness is very prominent in schools with ‘mindful moments’ and ‘ready to learn’ breaks commonly incorporated across the day. Often mistakenly understood to be purely meditation, mindfulness refers to being aware of the present moment and calmly paying attention to it. The act of mindfulness doesn’t have to be limited to guided meditations, it can include anything that allows the participant to focus on one task. Hence the popularisation of mindful colouring books! 

The benefits of speaking the wellbeing language

If those adults living with students have the knowledge and language to facilitate conversations about wellbeing, the social and emotional needs of our young people are more likely to be met. We know that conversation in the home about new concepts from the classroom can lead to long term learning.

Students tend to be naturally curious about how to best take care of themselves – ask them what routines they have a school that could be used at home.

Incorporating a ‘mindful morning’ or ‘brain break’ into your day, using Growth Mindset language or discussing the ‘pit and peak’ of your day at the dinner table are all small, sustainable acts of role modelling that won’t be super unfamiliar to your young person – it could even help them to flourish further

About the author

Lucy Barrat is a teacher and wellbeing advocate who has worked in education for 12 years. Along with classroom experiences, Lucy has worked for The Resilience Project and The Man Cave developing their content and curriculum. Lucy is passionate about supporting young adults in becoming exceptional communicators, critical problems solvers and resilient individuals with a developing sense of who they are and who they wish to be.  

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