Mental Health & School Return - #KidsCovidMH
Our third #KidsCovidMH chat certainly felt like our busiest and it was great to spend an hour sharing thoughts about our children’s mental health and the potential impact of their return to school.
As always, the most recurring theme was surrounding the importance of individual differences. There are few commonalities in the way in which children have responded to lockdown and we expect that the return to school will create unique needs and in turn individual behaviours and responses from children across the UK.
We wanted to remind parents that Frankie and Freya are happy to write letters to any children that are struggling with lockdown and are feeling particularly alone or scared or confused at this time - please just DM either of them on twitter. (@thisis_frankie or @thisis_freya)
So our first question this week was, how have we been supporting mental health during lockdown?
Sadly, given that we are on such uncharted grounds, there is little clarity around how to support our children’s mental health during lockdown. We agreed that it is important that we ensure children recognise that any and every emotion is valid and ensure they are comfortable in asking any questions or voicing any concerns they have. We shared the importance of helping our children understand COVID-19 and the threat it presents to the world whilst helping children feel safe and secure by also sharing the national response and the impact this is having, with them.
Secondly, we tried to identify any new or unusual behaviours, specific needs or responses to Covid-19 by asking, How has your child's mental health changed during lockdown?
Generally, we shared our experiences of the ‘rollercoaster’ of emotions that our children are currently experiencing. We shared our experiences of every day (even every hour in some cases) being totally different but all found that the emotions experiences are very different for different children. We highlighted the importance of acknowledging that all children will have some response to lockdown and that we must offer prolonged support to the children that have a delayed reaction or response.
With many discussions surrounding the return to school starting to take place, our third questions asked, what are the expectations surrounding the return to school?
There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the return to school and an agreement that there will be a mixed bag of emotions about the notion of returning to school. There was a general plea for the mental well being of every child to be put at the centre of our return to school approach and that it is our children’s well being, ability to successfully adapt and re engage in learning that is more important than the immediate delivery of the curriculum. Some parents expressed their concerns around social distancing and their children’s ability to understand and adhere to this. It is important that we question the impact ‘new rules’ will have on children and the long term trauma impact of Covid19 and our response to it.
In relation to Covid-19, we asked, what do you believe will be the biggest risk to a child's mental health?
This was a real mixed bag response with focus on the well being of teachers, their ability to practice effective leadership; there were questions and concerns around children missing the 1:1 attention lockdown has provided and concerns around the readjustments to friendships and children:teacher relationships, particularly where there has been very little interaction during the lockdown period. We all agreed that children that live with ASD or other cognitive complexities will be at greatest risk and that all children are at risk of presenting a delayed trauma response when life returns to ‘normal’.
We agreed that it’s important not to underestimate the impact Covid19 will have had on the quiet children and that best practice may be based around providing every child with trauma informed care.
We continued our conversation by asking, What do you think the long term impact on children's mental health will be?
It’s difficult with such a significant focus on the return to school to see beyond that currently and anticipate the long term impact of Covid19. However, it seems logical to assume that many children will experience health anxiety, and potentially present behaviours typically associated with OCD both immediately and in the future as part of a delayed response. With increased time at home and benefiting from 1:1 attention, there is a question around the potential onset of separation anxiety when school and life returns to normal for many people. We must be aware that many children will now be aware of death, many will have experienced loss and shown resilience beyond their years. We agreed that although we may not be able to define or predict the impact covid19 will have on children’s mental health in the future, there will be an impact and it will be important that we continue to support behaviours and address the additional needs it will create.
We concluded our conversation last night by asking in relation to the return to school, what do you think needs to be done in order to protect children’s mental health?
The responses to this question reminded us of the key themes of the conversation and allowed us to focus on the need for individual and personalised responses. It reminded us that every child is different but that every child must be heard. We were reminded of the importance of supporting both teachers and parents who will be facing new challenges with their children whilst also experiencing new challenges of their own and finally we were reminded to be human and focus on human needs rather than a curriculum and a pressure to ‘catch up’ on what has been missed.
If you would like to share more about your children’s mental health and their return to school, we are conducting a short, ‘thinking about school’ survey which your children can complete by clicking here