Different reactions to the lock down
Talking to a friend of mine who is a primary school teacher the other day, he was saying that it will be hard for each and every one of them, children and teachers alike, because there is no way that any of the children are going to be able to pick up their curriculum at the point in March where they left off to go into lockdown.
So much has happened since then, some of the children will be scared, some excited, some anxious and some… jus lost! The most important thing at this moment in time would be that the teachers and TA’s are caring, understanding, empathetic and able to cope with this unusual period of social chaos, which I am sure they will.
When you think about it – it sounds easy doesn’t it?
“Oh the kids are going back to school – great” BUT… hold on a minute!
The children may have to wear masks at times, some of whom may not be used to a mask and it may frighten them. They will have to be still washing hands whenever they touch anything. They will have to NOT hug their best friend.
We probably underestimate the impact of how lock down has affected the children with regard to not seeing their friends, not socialising, missing their best friend’s birthday. Human beings really are social creatures, and children do NEED that social interaction to grow and develop.
We truly don’t know what goes on in a child’s mind when it comes to lock down, do we? One little boy (6) told me during one of our therapy sessions over zoom:
“Elaaaaaine! I don’t go to school anymore! There’s a really ‘orrible bug and it might kill my grandma or my grandpa so we aren’t allowed to go to school and we can’t go to the shops and we have to keep washing our hands.”
“That’s right” I said, “But hopefully it won’t be too long Dillon, then you can go back to school and see all your friends can’t you!”
“No!” said Dillon adamantly. “we’re NEVER going back to school cos that bug might get us!” he stated, looking extremely worried.
So, you see, this is just ONE small case of a child misunderstanding what’s actually going on. How many more are having really bad thoughts of the whole lockdown/pandemic situation and the parents, even though they think have explained it fully, don’t realise that their child is worrying or become anxious.
They will only probably realise that when the child starts showing signs of regressing behaviour like temper tantrums, bed wetting, stool holding etc. It’s a really difficult situation for everyone concerned isn’t it!
Sticking to routines
For most children, the lack of structure since the pandemic started will have been disastrous. This is why I, for one, have really encouraged all the parents I come in contact with in my role as a therapist, to establish good routines in the home, especially with home-schooling. One lady I know who has four children all under the age of ten, suggested to the children they even put their school uniforms on (or part of it) so that it got them in the right frame of mind to do their school work, she told me it has worked and has even cut down on her washing!
If children don’t have a proper routine, knowing exactly what they are doing AND what they are going to do next, they become confused and frustrated, and their level of concentration will go down dramatically.
The child’s loss of freedom, even just popping out to see a friend for half an hour will be very constraining. Teenagers, especially will have found it really difficult to be with mum and dad 24/7. ( I know my kids would at that age!) Their peer group and friendships are very important at that age and they developmentally NEED that interaction, just as much as their younger siblings.
The fact that the examinations are not going to go ahead, you would think that the children would be over the moon, wouldn’t you? However, I have personally spoken to a few youngsters who have stated quite emphatically that they are very upset ( even angry) that all their hard work and studying is not going to be …validated.
So, what are the youngsters feeling?
It’s LOSS. Loss of their freedom, physical loss for some who have lost relatives to Covid. Loss of friendships and seeing their teachers. Loss of their routine and the structure in their lives. Loss of perhaps seeing their parents calm and happy, now the mum and dad may seem anxious and worried – and with good reason, they have become full time teachers overnight, have probably lost the job they love, even though temporarily and may be suffering financial loss!
There are four things that will transpire from this great “Loss” –
Trauma, bereavement, fear, and anxiety.
Suffering from just ONE of these conditions is bad enough but to get all of them more or less at once, and so suddenly, is going to affect children very badly. To add to this, the child is likely to be noticing that his parents are anxious and worried, which again is going to just add to his own suffering. Youngsters will “mourn” for the life they used to have. They will have got used to avoiding people, including friends and family and how is that going to affect them in the future?
The loss of structure in a child’s life is going to cause a certain amount of trauma. I, personally, in my capacity as a children’s therapist, have seen more anorexic children, and those who are self – harming, having panic attacks, not sleeping, than I have in the past year! This is what teachers are going to have to watch out for – and an anxious child will not learn!
Therefore, how are the schools going to prepare?
We know that the dynamics have to change, only so many children in a classroom and the children at least two metres apart. Any unnecessary furniture and games and books will be removed, and it will appear quite stark. But how will the schools prepare for the holistic recovery of the child’s mental health? What sort of things can teachers look out for? Mostly it’s behaviour. The teacher knows her class and hopefully knows them well enough to notice any changes in their behaviour. Is Johnny showing signs of anger that’s unusual for him? Is Lucy bursting into tears over something trivial? Is Lucas wetting his pants?
You see this is not just about the children coming back to school and catching up with their lessons. It’s getting them back to a school which is going to LOOK different ( fewer desks and chairs) smell different ( may have been decorated during the lockdown) it’s going to be strange because two thirds of their classmates won’t be there. More worryingly it could be that one of their classmates, teachers or a relative of one of those whom the child knows, could have died in the pandemic! In my opinion, for what it’s worth, is that teachers are going to have to “forget” the “ academic results” for the time being and concentrate on getting the children’s mental health back together again and ensure that the child is emotionally and mentally fit to go back to learning again.
So, what CAN the teachers do initially when the children first come back to school?
Well, there are various ways the teacher can rebuild that rapport with the children, and yes it will be difficult especially for the very young children who are constantly wanting to be close to the teacher or their little friends, the teacher will be spending an awful lot of time encouraging the children to keep their distance, but whilst she’s doing that she be talking to them about the different things they did during lock down. She can enthuse that all the things they were doing like going out and exercising were brilliant things for them to do because it was keeping them healthy AND they were learning whilst they were out walking or on a bike ride.
She can find out what worried them, was it the virus itself or was it being home schooled by mum or dad? In this way the child won’t think that their time at home has been wasted. Some of the more outgoing children will be so excited and can’t wait to tell their teachers what they did at home during lockdown but there will be some, sadly, who will just sit quietly, not speak and may appear withdrawn. This is what Miss Smith needs to be watching out for – the unusually quiet child, or the anxious child who is chewing her shirt sleeves and keeps asking for the toilet. She will need to include them into the conversation, get them talking, if she can and maybe even get the children to some drawings and paintings – children often draw their feelings.
Whatever the teacher does and in whichever way she chooses to be with the children during the first few days and weeks of this vast transition – she needs to be compassionate, kind and caring, Observing, Ignoring the little things, Correcting the bigger things, but cherishing her pupils. She is going to have to show them lots of tender loving care – they need it.
What have I, as a therapist, done to help these children transition back to school?
The first thing I thought about when wondering what it is that children will need from me, therapy wise, to be able to cope with this huge transition, was the fact that they will need to know how to regulate their emotions. Children will have been used to being at home – some of them with older and younger siblings and haven’t been used to sitting still at their desk for any great length of time. Yes, they have been home schooled but that would have been very different from the classroom. They will also be excited about going back and seeing their friends so they will be brimming with excited talk about what they have been doing!
My job mainly will be to:
- Calm any fears they may have about returning to school, this could be anything from, “ will my teacher remember me?” to “ I hope I don’t have to sit next to the boy who bullied me before lockdown!”
- Make them understand that it’s still their school but there will be some changes.
- Help them with the anxiety, teach them some little coping mechanisms if they feel overwhelmed in class or in the playground.
- Help build up their confidence and self- esteem.
If your child needs a bit of help my Back to School after Lockdown anxiety programme is three sessions, three audios, and three “chats” with mum in between the sessions. I will do my utmost to clear any unwanted anxiety or worries your child may have.