For many of us our experiences of going back to school followed a 6 week summer break. Waking up on that September morning putting on your crisp, clean uniform, holding a new school bag, which included your new pencil case of perfectly sharpened pencils and a geometry set that was never used, but was there just in case. Even under normal circumstances this experience would cause a range of emotions and feelings for children as well as parents with a mix of excitement and nervousness. So, let's just take a moment to stop and think about going back to school on March 8th, after almost 52 weeks of uncertainty, upheaval, confusion and dashed hopes during a continuing worldwide pandemic. What may be going on in the little minds of today's children? At Grow Your Mindset we feel this needs a little bit more attention and focus.
What has been the impact of Covid on children?
It's true to say that the impact of the last 12 months on children has been unprecedented in terms of the changes to their normal circumstances. And whilst as humans we have a tendency to key hole the negatives in any situation, we cannot ignore that for many there have been positive experiences that children have enjoyed and may never have experienced had it not been for those circumstances.
Nonetheless, new habits and changes to routines can be formed relatively quickly and have undoubtedly impacted on children. As parents you see this even after a 2 week break at Easter; so for those children who have not experienced the routine of getting up, getting dressed for school and having that routine in the classroom may feel adapting back to that change after 12 months overwhelming in itself. Alongside this, the reduction in fitness due to lack of sports and outdoor play, the lack of collaboration and socialisation with peers, experiencing a marked increase in screen time and gaming, the feeling they have missed learning because, let's face it online lessons do not meet the needs and are not as effective to 30+ learners as face to face teaching; this has resulted in some children who are now prone to comparing their abilities to their peers, and of course for those who have lost a relative to Covid and remain fearful of the illness. These are all factors that have continued to mould the mindset of our children over the past 12 months. And although throughout the pandemic I have witnessed many reporters, teachers, parents referring to children as being resilient and adapting to change quickly and effectively, it's important to remember that an individual's resilience, their ability to bounce back after adversity, depends on their mindset. If a child faces a challenge and defaults to their fixed mindset way of thinking, their outcome (emotion or behaviour) will be the reaction to that thought. It is only when you are aware of your mindset and challenge that habitual way of thinking that the outcome will be different, as you become more growth orientated and you build your levels of resilience. So I tend to disagree with blanketing children as resilient.
How do I support my child's emotional needs?
Liz & Gemma have had the opportunity to speak with children during our 1-2-1 sessions as well as children within the family and it's clear that the biggest thing children have missed is their friends. Those break time and lunch time experiences that I guess in the past were taken for granted are now what they long and hope for. But even for those children who can't wait to mix with their friends, there is the worry around whether their friends will remember them, still like them, have missed them too? Will they be socially accepted back into the classroom, especially by key worker children who, it's fair to say have had ample space and their Teacher's attention for such a long time. For these children too, they will be thinking about adapting to changes for themselves, even though they have continued to attend school throughout.
So, as March 8th approaches and your child becomes prone to mood changes, are being disagreeable or feeling clingier it may be worthwhile having the chat around their underlying thoughts, what is their deeper emotional conflict?.
"Why are you getting so upset?"
"Why is that so upsetting for you?"
"How do you know this is the case?"
Very often our worries and fears are formed without all the evidence and facts. Our reality is based on the areas that we focus our attention on, which often leads us to jumping to conclusions and misinterpreting or misunderstanding the situation. Our thoughts are basically making mistakes. When we catch the thought and challenge it, using logic and reason rather than emotion and panic we can seek evidence linked to facts. Not only does this help to calm the situation down, but also builds our resilience as we pull ourselves through those challenging events. So a conversation may go like this?
(Parent) Why are you so upset?
(Child) Because I haven't seen Isabelle for so long, she might not even know me anymore or want to play with me?
(Parent) But how do you know that?
Do you remember when we went on holiday ages ago and you made friends with children in the pool?
(Child) Yes, I loved playing on the lilo with Amy.
(Parent) Was that a long time ago?
(Parent) Can you remember what Amy looked like and how well you played together?
(Parent) So, what makes you think Isabelle won't remember what you look like and how well you played together when you were last at school together?
Rather than responding with 'Don't be silly sweetheart, of course she'll remember you' or 'Isabelle adores you' which ultimately dismisses the emotion your child is feeling, the discussion shows how to think with more logic and reason. Also avoid talking to your child about being nervous about going back, because if they're not nervous this type of questioning may make them think there is a reason why they should be nervous. Simply ask them how they are feeling?
Spend time discussing emotions with your children, reinforcing that your emotions are often because of a thought you have had rather than because of the challenge faced. Hence why two people experiencing exactly the same event react with different emotions. It's because of the thought after the event not the event itself. By connecting with and managing your emotions you also begin to empathize with others and are able to defuse conflict.
How do I support my child(ren) when they return to school?
The biggest mindset influencer of children is their parents. From birth to age 7 children develop a sense of self and begin to mould their emotional wellbeing and create their inner core belief system all based on their life experiences and their main influencers. From 8-13 children begin to model their influencers and adopt similar attitudes, beliefs and focuses. So the biggest piece of advice I can give leading up to and during that transition back to school if for you to be aware of your own mindset. Your language, behaviours and attitudes towards situations will be impacting on the thoughts of your child.
Whilst many parents are jumping for joy at the thought of their child going back (believe you me, if my son were of school age and I'd experienced a year of home learning I'd be feeling the same and I have 10 years teaching experience!) however, whilst you may feel this and naturally display this in front of our children they may be feeling totally different. They have spent practically if not every day with you for almost a year and therefore some children may experience forms of separation anxiety, the worry of you not being there or out of reach. So be mindful if your child is refusing to sleep alone, is having reoccurring nightmares with a theme of separation, if worried when they are parted from the home or a family member or is refusing to go to school. Children's brains are naturally wired to fear distance from their parents. Talking to them about their feelings and reinforcing that these feeling are normal is important, but also recognising that there are no real dangers and so they can let go of that worry too. There's a great book I've used with children who have these types of thoughts and worries called The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn which normalises the experience for them.
It's important to establish a routine and structure prior to 8th March. Involve the children in setting up the routine timetable so they take ownership and are prepared for what is going to happen. Feeling secure with the change ahead is important and also gives them time to discuss and express anything that may be bothering them with you and their family. Also, focusing on the things that are part of the circle of control can be emphasised here as often we overthink the things that are often outside of our control. This may be a useful tool once your child is back in school within social situations around their peers.
Finally, one area that refocuses your thoughts to the here and now as opposed to events from the past or contemplating the 'what if's' of the future is to practise gratitude and Mindfulness. Encourage your child to reflect on 2 or 3 things a day that they have been grateful for to focus their thoughts on the positives within a situation. This is scientifically proven that the more practise you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mindset. Grab your child a jar and some small notes (I've cut up colourful post it notes before now) and each day have a chat about the things they and you have been grateful for, write them on a note and pop them in the jar. The more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future.
I've really enjoyed writing this blog just for you and hope as your child returns to school they remember that learning is limitless. We grow through what we go through and as they have come through one of the biggest challenges to our landscape since WWII that in itself is a springboard to greater things!
We're here to help
A lot of the work we do at Grow Your Mindset, with children is all about the management and understanding of emotions, such as anger, frustration, sadness etc and hopefully some of the hints and tips here will help you at home.
Our Mindset Motivation programmes have helped hundreds of children all across the UK leaving parents thrilled and children feeling much better about themselves and how they learn.
Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more!
If you love a good read, why don't you check out our other blogs about mindsets.
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