How to look after children’s mental health as they go back to school
Following disruption caused by the pandemic, school children are more anxious than ever
Children returning to school after the summer holidays, or starting new schools, are likely to feel more anxious than ever following disruption caused by the Covid pandemic.
They may feel nervous about how their daily school lives will now run or be starting new schools without experiencing the usual introductory tours or knowing fellow pupils.
Indeed, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health say that without proper plans and support in place, the effects of the pandemic will limit the chances of children and young people for years to come.[i]
A shocking recent report by iSpace Wellbeing’s Children’s Advisory Board, a working group of 8-13 year olds from both independent and state schools, found 1 in 20 children considered suicide and the same number self-harmed in the past year. The survey of 1,000 children revealed nearly half (44%) have been feeling anxious over the past year and more than a quarter (28%) have felt increasingly lonely throughout the pandemic. One in ten (11%) said they have been bullied and more than one in five children (22%) have felt that their parents were too busy for them.
Paula Talman, iSpace Wellbeing founder, says: “Going back to school or starting a new school can create a wide range of feelings and responses for children.
“I make sure I ask my daughter what will help her transition from holiday mode to school mode calmly a couple of weeks before to make sure we are ready.
“Returning to school can be challenging in different ways but remember a child’s role is to explore, push boundaries and express emotions. Our role is to validate their emotions, be empathic and set boundaries so that they feel safe and secure.”
Jo Charlton Educational Psychologist believes being on the lookout for behavioural changes is key:
“For many children, although going back to school and reconnecting with friends is enjoyable – there is a lot of readjusting back to the routine, organisational and curriculum demands and long days away from parents and home.
“Children often cope for the first few days or week but then we frequently see some tiredness and associated behaviour emerge as they adjust.
“It can be really helpful to try to recognise this and be empathetic to your child as they adjust. Giving your child some help organising themselves, some focused, dedicated enjoyable time after school, favourite meals and make sure they get plenty of sleep for the first few weeks can really support this transition.”
Paula’s tips whether your child is starting school, moving to a new school, or returning after the holidays:
- Encourage your children to start going to bed on time a week before school starts. This helps their body clock get back into school mode and to sleep better. A good sleep routine will also help avoid rushing in the morning and skipping breakfast.
- Label everything for younger children – you don’t want them to worry about losing things.
- Make sure that your child meets up with some friends who will be in their class/school before the start of term, to ease any apprehension and so they have someone to look out for on day one.
- It’s not just the children that can find this time stressful – asking your child about their thoughts or worries about going back to school or starting school can help you too.
- If you know what your child is thinking about you can help to prepare and support them. Addressing things in advance can help ensure a positive start to the term.
- Start a conversation with your child about how they are feeling about going back to school? Ask if there is anything you can do to help? Our iSpace Wellbeing resources can help you with this. The story book Have you ever had a Stressor (available at ispacewellbeing.com) is ideal for small ones starting school and encourages children to identify small niggles and bigger worries and advises how to deal with them.
For more information or to request interviews contact iSpaceWellbeing@Four.Health.