Wellbeing and Child Mental Health post lockdown
5 Minute Read
With children now back in the classroom, and the first week of resettling is past us, educators are continuing to work hard across the country to create a safe environment for their pupils. However, it’s important to be more attentive than ever as children return to the classroom, paying particular attention to their mental health.
A report in the summer by The Childhood Trust discovered that children are developing post-traumatic stress due to the pandemic and multiple lockdowns. When you review the entire report and statistics it’s easy to see why COVID 19 has taken such a toll on mental health.
It’s been hard to ignore the fantastic achievement by Marcus Rashford fighting for free school meals to continue during school closures, although sadly food poverty is still affecting many. Hunger affects a child’s ability to concentrate and has many psychological impacts such as sleep deprivation, causing the child to be withdrawn, depressed and detached. According to in-depth research by Kellogg’s “If a child arrives at school hungry, teachers say they lose one hour of learning time a day. (70 per cent of a term) over the whole of their primary school life.”
In addition to this, we are now more aware of the divide between social classes with the term: “digital poverty” being of focus lately. The attainment gap has widened between disadvantaged children and their peers according, meaning disadvantaged children are 18.1 months behind in their learning. This inequality has hindered learning, leaving children feeling vulnerable, anxious and isolated. Upon returning to school, teachers may notice the impact the digital divide has had on some of their pupils.
The Childhood Trust also report that alcohol purchases soared 21% since the pandemic started, adding that there are 2.6 million children living with a parent drinking hazardously, while 705,000 live with a dependent drinker. This could mean that children have been exposed to aggression, witnessed alcohol abuse and for teenagers it may have encouraged underage drinking. Aggression or becoming detached may be behaviours that transfer into the class environment.
Recognising the signs that a child may be struggling with their mental health have never been easy, and now it will be even harder determining whether a child’s behaviour is a normal adaptation to society, or if a child is struggling mentally. Isolating themselves may be a cautious choice to socially distance and quietness may simply be a natural effect of isolation and less interaction.
The NSPCC list a few key signs to look out for when assessing your pupil’s mental wellbeing:
- Sudden mood and behaviour changes – Is it really out of character for your student to be behaving this way? Is it a huge change in their personality compared to before lockdown?
- Self-harming – Have you noticed frequent bruising or marks?
- Unexplained physical changes, such as weight loss or gain – This could be a sign of stress, anxiety or as previously mentioned a food poverty.
- Sudden poor academic behaviour or performance – This will be tricky to identify as not all students would have been able to adapt to remote learning, may not have been performing well to start with, or will struggle to get their motivation back.
- Sleeping problems – Is your pupil struggling to focus, looking tired and irritable?
- Changes in social habits, such as withdrawal or avoidance of friends and family. – Although this is a usual indication to look for, it will be natural for many pupils to be a bit more reserved after lockdown. However, most children are missing their friends and excited to be reunited, which should help identify those choosing to isolate themselves from their usual peers. They may be anxious about socialising.
So, what can you do to best support your class, with a safe and happy return?
- Create a trusting, open environment: All children have lockdown in common. Encourage a non-judgemental environment where every child’s story is interesting. This will encourage the class to carry on speaking openly about their experiences. Also introduce a “Private Post Box” where children can write and post their worries, to symbolically let go of negative thoughts, removing it from their mind and posting it away.
- Don’t make assumptions: Not every child’s lockdown experience would have been the same, and you may not notice straight away the affect on some pupils. Some pupils may misbehave straight away but be patient to see if it continues. It may be over excitement or the overwhelming factor of returning to school. The above signs of a child struggling should be consistent over a period of time so be observant.
- Use the right language: Children won’t open up about how they are feeling unless they see it will benefit them, as they may be scared. Reinforce opening up with positive words like strong and brave.
- Discuss the importance of mental health: Encourage your class to support each other and be considerate. It is a big topic in the current world and one that should always be remembered.
- Create a positive project: Although it is important to talk about what is happening, try to create a project or set aside time where you don’t talk about the pandemic. Bycreating something positive in the classroom that students can focus their energy on and look forward to, they are not dedicating all of their energy and attention to the traumatic event that overrides their mind. It offers students a small fraction of their time to escape and be stress free. It may also help bring their motivation back.
Useful resources to support pupil mental health and well-being:
The British Red Cross have created new resources to help with the return to school and the recovery. The aim is to help children and young people prepare for the return, cope with the changes, reflect on the crisis and build their resilience. The resources are for primary and secondary pupils and there are lessons on staying safe, preparing for the future and coping with change.
Place2Be have provided a range of activities for teachers to boost pupils’ well-being, particularly if they are finding the changes unsettling.
The Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families has provided advice and support for children and young people during this period of disruption who may already be vulnerable or suffering from mental health difficulties.
Mentally Healthy Schools have created free toolkits full of useful resources and guidance for school staff, parents and carers to promote children’s mental health and well-being. You need to register for free to access the resources. They have also produced a toolkit focused on ensuring that the return to classrooms in September is a mentally healthy one. The resources are in two sections: one section is full of resources for parents and carers, featuring activities and tips for how to prepare their child for re-starting school in September; the other section is focused on resources for schools for use in the autumn term or when planning for the new school year.
Finally, you can always take a course that is regularly updated, to help you prepare and support your pupils to the best of your ability. Our training partner New Skills Academy have a Wellbeing & Mental Health in Children course available with a discount applied to anybody who purchases using our voucher code. CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COURSE.