As children go back to school – many of them after a break of almost six months – it will be important to support them
‘When they have a big change, children can have underlying anxiety,’ says Gayle Hamill, integrative psychotherapist and founder of Tring-based Circle Therapy.
Gayle explains what parents can look out for as children return to a school that may appear different in many ways to the one they left: ‘For primary school children, what you’ll see is some regression in behaviour. They could be irritable, and be oppositional at home, less willing to take part in things and help out.
‘You also need to watch out for them withdrawing from family activities that they would normally have engaged in, and they may be more emotional. For instance, challenges with friendships may come across as being more of a problem.
‘When children can’t express themselves, you’ll see them acting out, snacking more (because they are after a dopamine hit), and more resistant to coming off screens.’
Older kids and teens
For secondary-age children, parents should keep an eye out for them becoming more withdrawn. ‘They will be angrier and less tolerant – it could be about what they eat or what they have to do around the home.
‘They will want more screen time and be more withdrawn from things they would normally enjoy.’
So, what can parents do to help?
Gayle says parents should ‘be more curious’ about how children are feeling, but give them space, rather than interrogating them. She suggests talking in the car, so it feels less pressured, and giving them some positive control. Perhaps letting them choose some treats to go on the shopping list, being allowed to choose the film for a movie night or deciding on a destination for a day out.
Particularly for older children, avoid heated exchanges, and encourage communication with friends and other trusted family members.
Mindfulness can be a good way to ease anxiety. Mindfulness helps you to ‘be in the moment’ concentrating on what you are doing and letting go of all the other things on your mind – school, work, exams, friend problems and so on.
Colouring is a great mindfulness activity for children who can sit still long enough, Baking is also good. Gayle explains that it is ‘grounding’ and has many sensory properties as well. Older children might like to try journaling, and exercise is really important too. You could even try lying down and looking up at the clouds, watching them float by, and talking about what you see in them, how they make you feel.
Teens might be happier listening to a podcast such as Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place or the Headspace app for guided meditation and mindfulness.
Sarah O’Brien, from Hector’s House, the Berkhamsted-based suicide prevention and mental health awareness charity offers more advice:
Validate: Validate every emotion they present to you. If they tell you that they are feeling anxious, angry or upset – reassure them that the emotion is normal, welcomed and accepted. Tell them it’s okay to not feel okay right now, because everything is different and that’s hard to deal with. Tell them by allowing their negative emotions space, the quicker they will pass – because all feelings, good and bad, come and go as long as we recognise them.
Physical feelings: If they are struggling to communicate how they are feeling emotionally, ask them how it feels physically. This is much easier and ‘real’ for young people to explain. Are they feeling a tightness in their chest? Feel like they need to cry or shout? Is their heart racing? Again, remind them these feelings are common signs of stress or worry, and help them through it using techniques mentioned by Gayle (such as colouring, mindfulness, etc).
It’s not black and white: Remember that children and young people have limited life experience, and this means they are more prone to catastrophising situations. This is very common with exam-age young people, who may be worried about the amount of time they’ve had to prepare. Sit down with them and ask what they are worried about, and write down the absolute worst case scenario and the absolute best. Help them to recognise these are both pretty unlikely, and something in the middle is much more probable – and easier to handle.
Inform your child: Give them as much information about the new school system as you can before they go back so that they are well prepared.
Create a safe space at home: Going back to school will be exhausting, so they will need downtime. Don’t nag about untidy bedrooms or homework and allow them to rest. Create a healthy bedtime routine too.
Active listening: If your child or teenager begins to open up to you, if possible, drop everything you are doing and listen. Non-direct conversations are usually best, so if you can, go for a walk or a drive to avoid the awkwardness of eye contact and body language. When your child opens up to you, remember your 4 P’s: Praise, Praise, Praise and Patience.
Be honest: It’s oddly reassuring to a child to know their parents don’t always know the answers, so be truthful about that. It will remind them you are human too and that it’s okay to not know the answers!
You are not alone: If you are seriously concerned about a young person’s well-being, there are countless number of helplines out there for you and your child.
- Call Young Minds Parent Helpline for advice: 0808-802-5544
- Remind your teenager of helplines such as texting HECTOR to 85258 if they want someone anonymous to talk to.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org for any tailored advice or help you may need. We are here for you.
Returning to the Classroom with Calm and Confidence
Going back to school after the long summer holiday is never easy, but for many children the return this year will be the hardest yet! Here’s how you can help
Preparation is key
Leading up to the new term, begin re-implementing routine. Aim to spend a regular amount of time each day on educational activities. Replace some video game or TV time with reading, creative projects or puzzles. A set bedtime routine will help to minimise sleep disruption due to nerves or over-tiredness when school starts.
If your child is anxious about going back to school, encourage them to reframe this feeling as excitement – after all, both can feel like butterflies in your tummy! Picking out pretty stationery, a cool new school bag or uniform shopping can morph nerves into looking forward to a fresh start. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) offers a range of tools that can aid children in managing their feelings, such as the Learning State and anchors.
Balance and pace
While it is true that children have missed classroom time, trying to ‘make up for lost time’ with intensive work will prove overwhelming. The school day will be draining, and your child will need plenty of time to rest in the evenings and at weekends. They may well be resistant to doing anything additional to their homework, and if so then avoid pushing them.
Once they are feeling settled, you may like to introduce some practice at home. Reading together, quick-fire mental maths in the car, helping you to measure while cooking – all are simple ways to consolidate key learning without it feeling too much like a chore. Family board games and entertaining puzzle books, such as crosswords or Sudoku, are also fun options.
But what about the Eleven Plus exam?
The sensible decision to delay the Eleven Plus (11+) exam means that children now have around seven to eight weeks of preparation time left. While it may seem counter-intuitive, a gentle approach is even more important for these pupils. Pushing too hard now may easily lead to burnout or frustration with the whole process, particularly when they are also managing the return to school. Support, understanding and plenty of rest will be crucial.
Need a little help?
Flying Start Tuition is an award-winning tuition centre offering classes for children from year one through to GCSEs, including their popular Eleven Plus programmes.
Classes and courses run at their main centre in Chesham and at their five satellite centres in Amersham, Aylesbury, Berkhamsted, Jordans Village and Little Chalfont.
Flying Start are Ofsted registered and accept Childcare Vouchers and Tax-Free Childcare. Bursaries are also available – please ask for details.
For further information, contact:
t: 01494 772 898. e: email@example.com
For Berkhamsted tuition, contact:
t: 01442 385 896. e: firstname.lastname@example.org