Academics in the Department for Health have received funding to extend a project researching the best ways of teaching children coping skills to help them deal with their worries and stay happier.

The PACES (Preventing Anxiety in Children through Education in Schools) project is a large randomised controlled trial.

For the last two years, the researchers have been working with 1,360 children, aged nine and 10, and their parents from 40 primary schools across Bath & North East Somerset (BANES) and Wiltshire.

The study evaluates the effectiveness of an anxiety prevention programme, delivered to children in primary schools by teachers or health professionals versus normal Personal Social and Health Education (PSHE) lessons, on children’s emotional health.

Preliminary findings have shown an overall reduction in levels of anxiety and worries in all participating children.

The project has now received a further £308,000 in funding from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) allowing the team to undertake further evaluation of changes in levels of children emotional health as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.

Professor Paul Stallard, Clinical Psychologist and Professor of Child and Family Mental Health, who is leading the project said: “The transition to secondary school can be a very stressful experience for many young children. I believe it will be extremely valuable to assess whether the skills taught in the anxiety prevention programme in primary school make a difference to the way children deal with their emotions, solve problems and settle into secondary school.”

Improving the emotional health of children is an important public health issue which has become a major focus of recent Governmental policy. Studies suggest that one in five children will experience severe anxiety or depression, which, if left untreated, can lead to risk of developing further problems in adolescence such as poor academic performance, social phobias and drug dependency.

Whilst effective psychological treatments are available for children with mental health disorders few children receive these.

Results from the PACES project will provide evidence about the effectiveness of school-based approaches to the prevention of mental health problems and the most effective way of delivering them. If successful the intervention could be integrated within the school curriculum and be widely used across the country to improve the emotional health of children.

The PACES team now invites all participating children and their parents to register to take part in the final assessment. If your child has been involved and would like to take part please email the PACES team or call (01225) 385430.