Mind Matters – Back to school with a difference?

There has been much in the media about the impact on the mental health of children and young people as a result of the pandemic, lock down and schools being closed.

This week the news has focused on GCSE, A level and college results. There continues to be much criticism of the government’s handling of situations and this will have an impact on how children, young people and their families feel about the return to school. However, the overall consensus appears to be that not being able to go to school has been detrimental not only to learning but also to wellbeing and so most people are in support of a safe return to school.

In our work as therapists we have seen a wide range of experiences and I personally see the return to school as an opportunity for children, young people and families to have conversations about how they are, what might helpfully change and agree what to do if things are or start to become difficult.

During the lockdown some families reported increased domestic violence, conflict and strained relations, while for others it has been a time for developing stronger understanding and better relationships. While some children and young people have really struggled without the structure and social interaction that school provides,  others have improved their relationships with the family and anxiety and challenging behaviours have reduced.

As schools return there will be the usual anxieties and excitements and range of emotions that come from a new school year and for some even a new school, but there will also be major changes and uncertainty.

If you are a parent you might be concerned about safety around COVID-19, you might be worried about infection, particularly if you have vulnerable children or other household members and so I am sure you will be eagerly watching for government guidelines and seeking assurances from the schools about the actions they are taking to comply with them. However there are also other considerations.

Do you know how your children are feeling and thinking about the return to school? This could be a great opportunity to check in with them and find out how they are and whether there is anything that can be done to support them.

Before speaking to your children I recommend thinking about how you feel and think about them going back to school, ensure you have all current information from their school, know the government guidance and what you would like from them.

Preparation is important because children and young people need their parents and guardians to be able to understand their concerns, be able to offer relevant advice and solutions and be clear about what is expected of them. If a parent / guardian is anxious or excited but has not thought things through they won’t be prepared sufficiently to have the best conversation and this can lead to children and young people feeling uncertain and more stressed.

Safety is of course of paramount importance but then wellbeing must also be thought about carefully. Listen to their concerns and whilst some of the guidance and school information might address them there might be questions left unanswered – in this situation either you or your child can look into things before you have another conversation to see if the information has been helpful.

It is likely that the change and uncertainty will mean that problems may well arise and so it is important that there is an understanding that if anyone feels uncomfortable or thinks that something is wrong it is talked about and action taken where necessary.

While going back to school will be great for many, it might prove challenging too. For example there might be anxiety about being behind with studies, or the social side of school if the lockdown and holidays have been isolating, children may also feel burdened by responsibility if they have family members who are vulnerable at home, finally, things will be different for example year group bubbles meaning no mixing with other year groups, fine as long as your friends are in your year group!

It’s important that everyone, both young and old, the child or the adult, remembers that whatever their concerns they are unlikely to be alone in them. For adults make sure you access information and seek support, raising concerns with the school and sharing with other adults, meanwhile children and young people should be reminded that it is natural to feel nervous, have difficult thoughts and seeking support and help is the best thing.

If you worry your child might not speak to you if they are struggling then the important thing is to let them know that talking to someone can help whether they speak to their friends, someone else they trust or access support either at school or through organisations like Childline or youngminds.org.uk

And finally, it’s best not to see this as just one conversation but an opportunity to open a new line of communication to improve your communications going forwards.

Nicholas Rose
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach
UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych

Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.

nicholas-rose.co.uk