Tune in to how your children are feeling right now. The first thing might be just watching, listening and hearing to what they are chatting about to their siblings or online to their friends. Following on from that simply ask them.
Accept feelings rather than trying to ‘fix’ a difficult situation
For example, if a child says that they don’t want to go back to school or even hate school, it is important that we don’t try to contradict them. So, don’t say: ‘No, it’ll be great. You are going to see your friends, now exciting’. Instead of that you could encourage the child by saying something in the lines of: ‘I am glad you told me that, tell me a bit more about how you feel’. Staying with the difficult feelings rather than trying to change them is very important. Once the difficult feelings have been explored, children then can be reminded of some of the things they may have to look forward to or feel hopeful about.
Supporting Younger children
If a child is too young to ask these questions, it is important that you observe your child’s play or drawings. You can look at the kind of drawings and play they do – is there a lot of crashing and breaking things in it? Or is it more hopeless and bored? The observation can be then used to explore what is going on.
Younger children might also need some help with the idea of ‘mixed feelings’ – so parents could talk about how you could feel both worried and happy about returning to school at the same time.
It would be unrealistic to assume that because adolescents do not want to discuss current issues, this means that they are OK. Adolescents may behave as if nothing is bothering them at all, either because it is too hard to explain or as a way of protecting themselves from the underlying worries.
Some ways to get talking:
- Start with yourself and how you feel: ‘It’s all so weird these days’, ‘I am having trouble focusing on my work online’
- Do third person questions: ‘How are others in your year doing?’
- Don’t be afraid of the immediate angry reaction. Often teenagers wear an irritated or angry mood like a suit of armour – it puts off parents asking how they are and spotting the painful or scared feelings underneath it.
Helping you with the particular anxieties of exam age children
You may have noticed that your adolescent has become demotivated, sleeping longer hours and not completing online work. Teenagers often think in a very binary way – they are either a success or a total failure. They might be very anxious imagining that the rest of their life will be a total meltdown. It is important to notice this, show them that you understand and keep them going as much as you can:
- Reassure them that the teachers would be committed to helping them find a way forward;
- Remind them that the work done so far will NOT be wasted. It is in their memories now and can get stronger with more time to review later;
- Give them some perspective – many people had their exams interrupted for various reasons and still continued successfully into happy lives and careers;
- Talk about the ups and downs in your life and how things moved on;
- Their friends are going through the same thing – so let them talk it through them. No one has the magic solution right now but they will get back on their journey.
- Assure them that your love and approval is always there not matter how they perform at tests and exams.
When to get more help?
Younger children often show that they are struggling by changes in their behaviour. If a child is having difficulty sleeping, or bedwetting again, or saying they have a lot of physical symptoms such as headaches or tummy aches, or bad dreams, seems more irritable, tearful or angry, you want to figure out what this is about. If you are worried about these issues it might be helpful to speak to your GP or a member of the school stuff.
However, with older children or teenagers, signs that hey are struggling emotionally present in a different way. Teenagers often can be irritable, so it is not necessarily sign that they are depressed. Using interest in things they used to do is often an alarm signal. If it is caused by a changed of mood, or tends to be ongoing for two weeks or longer, I suggest that parents speak to their GP.
It is also important that parents do not dwell on newspaper headlines predicting the terrible impact of the pandemic on children’s or young people’s education achievements for the future, but instead focus on what you can do to help settle your child or young person back to school now.
About The Author:
Diana Radev is a Child & Adolescent Psychologist at The Natural Clinic. She has recently expanded her practice to two days per week. Click here for bookings or more information.