A butterfly landed on my shoulder this afternoon. Butterflies represent change and transformation. I gently shrugged. There’s been rather too much change recently and I’m not sure I can handle any more!
Reflecting, I realised that if I, as an adult, find it hard to adjust to the recent changes in life style, then how much more difficult will it be for children? The usual transformation from home life to school life comes with so many ‘extras' this year. Sitting in rows again when the trend has been away from this ‘Victorian’ style, having to stick to year groups inside the school, playing in small bubbles outside, teachers wearing masks and above all the abolition of the one thing all sapiens need, especially children… hugs!
Human touch is key to child development and as an EYFS professional I can testify that younger children will find away to collect their daily dose of close contact, even to the point of randomly licking people for no apparent reason!
Returning to school after the long summer holidays is often a little ‘scary’, wondering if friendships will have survived the summer. Change and transformation can be significant, as children develop and grow. Even in ‘normal’ times, renewing friendships can feel awkward as children come to terms with the these bodily changes. This year brings the additional possibility of loss or trauma; parents loosing jobs, grand parents dying, marital splits. When we are anxious our behaviour changes and can make us careless of other people’s feelings, and feeling hungry lowers tolerance levels making us snap for no specific reason.
The worry that home schooling wasn’t as thorough as may be expected will undoubtedly be felt by parents and so be picked up by their children.
Teachers are already feeling pressured by the government to bring everyone up to the expected standard as fast as possible. I doubt they will be allowed much time to support children to reconnect, adjust and discuss fears and concerns, even though personal, social and emotional skills are an accepted part of the curriculum and any teacher with basic knowledge of neuroscience, knows children struggle to learn anything at all, when feeling anxious.
* Support children at home with plenty of reassurance and love. Behind all behaviours is some kind of anxiety so try to be an ‘anxiety detector’ rather than a disciplinarian. Punishing children who are unable to self regulate (manage strong feelings) is pointless. They need to be taught how to do this – as do many adults!
* Talk about and discuss feelings when you can. Understanding what happens in our body when we have strong feelings is a good way to start to recognise them and put a name to them. It is interesting that sweaty palms, breathlessness and a fast beating heart can indicate both fear or excitement. A tiny switch in the brain decides which one we are feeling and we do have a choice!
* Children who are constantly worried about things need concrete help. Support your child to work out an answer to ‘what if’ questions. A friend’s child, when asked to answer the phone, asked “But what if someone speaks to me in Czechoslovakian?” In the middle of Buckinghamshire, this was highly unlikely, but the fear was about messing up the task. My friend asked her son what could he do in this instance and he suggested, “Tell them I only speak English?“ They agreed this was a good plan and also that a note pad and pencil for taking messages would be useful for the future.
* “What if no one likes me?” is a frequent worry. A helpful aid is to suggest your child writes a list of all the people whom they know like them (include all family) and give it to them to take to school. Just having that in their pocket to touch occasionally or read in the playground, may help.
* Invite friends to meet up in parks or gardens after school. This is particularly useful if there is a spate of arguments. Bringing everyone into a different environment to socialise often defuses disagreements. A meet up before they go back or even a zoom call might pave the way to reconnection.
* Concern about school work is bound to be an issue, particularly with teachers and schools being accountable. Children may be put into ‘catch up’ groups and could feel 'singled out'. Remind them that it isn’t just them, the chances are that most children will need to catch up in one subject or another.
* Try to support your child to feel ‘good enough’. Find the thing your child is most skilled at or interested in and give them plenty of encouragement. Remember non academic skills are just as valuable as academic ones. Great talkers earn huge amounts of money for public speaking, ‘day dreaming’, for writers, inventors and marketing teams, is part of the job and fortunes are made by people who sit and play computer games for a living!
* Keep your own need to have done a ‘good job’ with home schooling under check. Whatever you did was enough and most children will have learnt and gained so much just from the prolonged time of being around family. Having been homeschooled by my own mum in the 70’s I know that teachers can feel they have failed if their own children don’t excel in their particular subject. Avoid the blame game of “I told you so” and “you should have worked harder” and concentrate on all the things your children did learn whilst with you!
* Mistakes are a big and valuable part of learning so whenever you make them, own them and share your learning with your child. By role modelling the value of mistakes you will go a long way to building a confident adult, keen to learn, explore and test things out.