Dani Worthington is a Local Education Leader currently working across two schools, in this post she will be sharing her advice for looking after children’s mental health while they are away from school.
Looking after children’s mental health is always important and with the current lockdown measures in place and children not accessing school it is even more important that parents are able to look out for the signs their child may be struggling. Many schools have lots of things in place to support children in sharing their worries so that school staff and parents can offer appropriate support. I thought it would be useful to share with you some of the things that happen in school that could be transferred to the home to make sure school and parents are still working together to promote positive mental health.
In my school, every class has a worry monster where children can write down their worries and post it into the mouth of the worry monster. Teachers check the worry monster every day and will speak to individual children about their worries. This encourages the children to share what is on their mind and we tell them once their worry has been shared it’s the start of helping the worry go away. Perhaps at home, you could identify a teddy or toy that your child could write to. Children often find it easier to initially share their concern with an inanimate object, then as a parent, you can choose the right time to bring up the worry and talk about it in a reassuring way.
Every morning in school as the children enter their class the assign their name to an emotion card. There are several pictures displaying a range of emotions (happy, sad, worried, scared, excited, tired). This helps the staff in school understand which children are maybe not quite ready to learn and are able to speak to each of these children to see what can be done to alleviate their concerns. Over time it is also possible to see if there is a pattern to days in which children are identifying their emotions are not in a good place. At home, you could ask your children to draw a set of emoji faces and each morning ask them to identify how they are feeling.
Each day ask them to talk about why they have selected the one they have. This way they will become familiar with talking about their feelings both good and bad. If the whole family does it together over breakfast it will also be helpful for the children to see that their parents and siblings may also have worries and concerns and can talk about them openly and that experiencing a range of emotions is normal. (Please only share our adult worries and concerns in a child-friendly way: children do not want to be overloaded with every detail of your own worries).
It is then important that you can demonstrate ways you intend to overcome your worries and show how talking about things openly can help. For example ‘I’m a little bit worried about hearing on the news all the time about how many people are getting poorly right now, but I also know that the government is doing the best they can to make sure as many people get better, the NHS staff are working hard in all the hospitals and we are keeping ourselves safe at home and not going out. So we are doing everything we can to look after each other.’
Remember though your child may not want to talk about it straight away and if this is the case, don’t push them as you can provide other opportunities when they are ready such as the worry monster or through artwork.
Artwork is often a really good way of getting a child to express themselves. In school, if a child can’t find the words to express their feeling often asking them to draw a picture allows them to get their feelings out. A simple picture can often tell you a lot and gives you the opportunities to ask questions – ‘why has that person got a sad face?’ and the opportunity to find a solution – ‘so what do we need to do to make sure this person can smile again?’
Children’s behaviour often fluctuates and being in the house for so long may lead to an escalation in negative behaviours. Try to remember these behaviours are as a result of the situation you find yourself in as a family and not because your child is being deliberately naughty. All schools will have some sort of behaviour tracking system that is based on both rewards and sanctions and your child will be familiar with this- talk to them about it and agree on a similar system for the home. Identify what you agree as a family are the positive behaviours you want to see and how the children will be rewarded if they display these and list also the negative behaviours that you don’t want to see and list what sanctions will be put in place if they are. The key to this is to use it consistently: if you have said there will be a reward or sanction then make sure you carry them out.
If you do become concerned about your child’s worries ask them to rate how much the worry is bothering them on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being I’m a little bit worried but I’m ok or 10 I’m so worried I can’t stop thinking about it and it’s stopping me from doing my normal things). Repeat this a few times a week to see whether things are getting worse or if there are any improvements. Please remember of course if things get to a worrying level there are lots of helpline numbers and websites both you and your child can access such as Childline, NSPCC and Open Minds to name but a few. Your local authority website will have details of local places offering support with your child’s mental health and most school websites will also have links for local support. Also, during the lockdown, most schools are open for children of keyworkers and vulnerable children so you should be able to get hold of a member of staff to discuss your concerns.
It may also be possible that your child doesn’t want to share their worries with you so is there another trusted adult they could speak to – maybe an older sibling or could they ring and aunt/uncle or grandma/grandad?
Parents, please remember this is a difficult time for all so you need to look after your own mental health too to be strong enough to look after your child’s. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it: the help is out there so make sure you know where to find it.
Register now to continue accessing this page
Subscribe today and use MGC to discover how your peers, across the country, are implementing policies and driving change so you can learn from their experiences, apply best practice, and develop your expertise.
- Access to a dedicated public sector resource that you read, see and hear.
- More than 50 new articles per month
- Insights into how to deliver better public services
- The latest best practice in your sector
- Evidence base case study focused videos, original articles, interviews and more
- Save time by personalising your MGC to only see the relevant content you need
- Automatically earn and track your CPD points
- Discounts to Government Events and GovPD training courses
- Monthly update newsletter