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Since the pandemic has disrupted all our lives, mental health is something we all are always talking about, it's just hard to escape it! For parents and kids one of the major challenges have been a school life that is swinging through uncertain lockdowns and a sudden shift to digital learning.
But how does mental health actually affect students in school? 🤔
🔥 Expert Tip: “Some children are more predisposed to feeling sad as compared to their peers while others are more resilient,” says Hertfordshire based Hannah Morris, an educational psychologist and founder of Edpsych4kids. “It depends both on the child’s environment and their own biology.”
So perhaps your younger child is able to concentrate and even enjoy her zoom lessons but your older one finds himself edgy and restless in his virtual classrooms? That is a sure indicator that they need emotional support.
Mental health and behaviours in school have a direct relationship. If children are unsettled they are naturally going to struggle when learning in school.
🔥 Expert Tip : “Kids typically show that their mental health and wellbeing is at stake when they display three kinds of behaviour; ‘fight, flight and freeze’, says Marlow-based Lucy Russell, a child clinical director of Everlief Child Psychology and founder of parenting platform They Are The Future.
✳️ Fight mode : Kids show challenging behaviour
✳️ Flight mode : Kids are increasingly worried and anxious
✳️ Freeze mode : Kids feel that nothing is worth doing
We’ll show you how some of these behaviours particularly play out in school life, because awareness is essential before we can seek solutions.
👉 Decreased Concentration
If a student is anxious they will not be able to concentrate on lessons in school. With their thoughts running around wild they are far from the present moment and often found day-dreaming.
Even if they’d like to be engaged with their peers and teachers! This naturally affects their learning abilities and grades, becoming a sign for parents that something might be amiss.
👉 Inability To Handle Multiple Tasks
If a student’s mind is clouded with worrisome thoughts it’s difficult for them to handle multiple tasks and assignments. 🗓 🗒
They might forget important deadlines or simply get overwhelmed and give up. Remember this could be “freeze” mode!
👉 Interaction With Peers
If kids are upset with themselves or external circumstances it will have an impact on their interactions with their peers in school.
✳️ They might suddenly become quiet or reserved and find it difficult to make friends.
✳️ They might also become insensitive to the needs of other students, become bullies, show increased anger and get into physical fights.
These are all signs that they are calling out for “attention”; for a parent or teacher to talk to them and soothe their minds.
🔥 Expert Tip: “It's not about children being naughty, they're not being difficult deliberately,” says Morris. “It is a [the pandemic] very unsettling time at the moment and they need patience. “
👉 Difficulty Handling Feedback
Like adults when children are apprehensive, they don’t feel safe. In this already sensitive state if they are offered critical feedback – on poor grades or bad behaviour in the classroom – most don’t handle it well. They are likely to feel more threatened and might react in the form of aggression, an outburst or simply withdraw from the situation. 😡😭🤐
During this time they are looking for love and acceptance before they can have the motivation for positive change.
👉 Lack Of Sleep And Energy
If a student is perturbed they are going to struggle to sleep at night which their body will then try to make up in school.
For some kids even after a goodnight’s rest, if they find themselves in a stressful situation their body copes by falling asleep! A bad sleep cycle means that students will show lack of energy in classroom activities and even at home. So if your child is repeatedly nodding off in class, it could help to address their mental wellbeing.
Ways To Help Kids Manage Mental Health And Wellbeing In Schools
- Setting A Routine & Sometimes Breaking Out
🔥 Expert Tip : “What children need for emotional wellbeing is a sense of stability and security,” says Morris. “One of the best ways to do that is through routine.”
We know with the uncertainties of the pandemic a routine is hard to establish for yourself, let alone the kids! But it doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if kids have two or three consistent activities in the day, for now that counts as routine!
Though Morris feels that homeschooling does come with its mundane routine and sitting at their home desk all day long can make kids both bored and restless.
❇️ So do that maths homework outside in the garden or just snuggle together on the sofa if you are just reading for English class!
- Exercise For Happiness
Kids (and even adults!) need to exercise for at least 30 minutes everyday to ensure good mental health.
Exercise burns the stress hormone in the body and feeds it with happy ones – that makes the brain more ready for learning.
We know that cold weather and a lockdown make exercise an almost impossible task right now, but we wouldn’t say it if we didn’t truly mean it, exercise for good mental health is absolutely essential
Our experts also recommend ‘movement breaks’ in-between digital classes for kids. This means that after every 20 minutes of online learning they must take a five minute break just to move around. This helps in reducing stress and improving their productivity.
You can even make this exciting by asking them to do fun movement breaks like star - jumping or running around the backyard! 🤸♀️
- Avoid Demands
🔥 Expert Tip: “Avoid making too many demands of kids if you know they need added emotional support,” says Russell. “Their nervous system is already under stress and any kind of demand, no matter how small, will put further pressure on it.”
❌ Don’t ask them to do chores for a while at home.
❌ Avoid asking questions, especially after a long day of school. That becomes a verbal demand!
- Increase Nurture
🔥 Expert Tip : “We need extra nurture than normal for our nervous systems to calm down and feel safe,” says Russell.
Russell recommends that at a time of distress treat your child as though they're younger than their actual age. Just for a while till they feel better or the stressful environment changes.
✳️ When practicing increased nurture Russel often reads to her 11-year-old son in bed, even though he knows how to read. This is so he feels that extra love and support!
✳️ Practising nurture also means trying and sticking to the role of parents when engaging with children’s schoolwork.
🔥 Expert Tip : “I always say to parents, please don't feel you have to be the teacher,” says Morris, a mother of two children herself . “Your role as a parent is to encourage and to support children. It's okay to go back to your child's school and your child's tutor for learning help.”
We know it’s hard not to take control of your child’s academics especially when you might feel that homeschooling in a pandemic is causing gaps in your child’s learning. But parents needn’t worry. Most schools will be going over the syllabus again when in-person classrooms start again.
🔥 Expert Tip: “Besides, children are incredibly resilient and most of them will bounce back from this pandemic induced stress in a year’s time,” says Morris.
- Talk About The Difficult Feelings
It’s painful to see your child upset. It’s also natural to want to shield them from whatever is bothering them and make “everything okay”. But it’s important to let children “feel whatever they are feeling” before we offer practical solutions. This is especially important when it comes to children who are struggling with ADHD or dyslexia and may feel misunderstood by adults and peers.
Why is that?
🔥 Expert Tip : “If parents don’t support children and engage with them in the process of their stressful feelings, then they're going to try to do that themselves,” says Morris. “And then they might actually get confused and end up even more stressed.”
Some schools have started to introduce meditation into schools to help children with their mental health. You can also do this at home with our guide to meditation with kids.
So what can you do? Follow this easy three-step process :
✳️ Recognise your child’s feelings - Say : “That must be really hard for you.”
✳️ Understand your child’s feelings - Ask : “I'm wondering what made those feelings come?”
✳️ Help your child cope with their feelings – Offer “Do you need a cuddle?
🔥 Expert Tip : “It's very, very powerful just being there for your child when they're expressing their emotions, whether they're talking or they're just having a cry”, says Morris.
- Play With Your Children
We know with the pandemic parents are struggling with work, online classes and with the kids at home all the time, even the usual chores can become quite a task!
But with this increased stress in ours and the kids’ daily lives, you should play with your kids. As that will get some much needed fun and laughter into the environment.
Also, kids are not in school with their friends so they are struggling to play themselves!
🔥 Expert Tip : “Parents shouldn’t choose the play activity for their kids. Let them choose how they want to play, whether it's a game, or in the garden or doing arts and craft,” says Morris. “Children’s emotional wellbeing will benefit only when they are able to get lost in their own creativity and use their own imaginations.”
- Balance Your Emotions As A Parent
For children, even before teachers and tutors, parents are their role models, their guides, their anchors in life.
They will imitate parents’ behaviour and so parents need to express their own emotions in safe and healthy ways. So bring in the laughter into your house but it also means that it’s okay for your child to see you upset or even cry.
But what you do after being stressed; that is how you cope with your anxious feelings becomes the pattern for your child as well.
So practice some self-care after a particularly distressing day :
✳️ Take some time out to read a book
✳️ Mediate or do some yoga
✳️ Take a long walk in the park
Kids are sure to learn from you and then will manage their own emotions in healthy ways.
🔥Expert Tip : “Children learn from seeing how their parents look after themselves and that message is a powerful one,” says Morris.
- Seeking Professional Help
It’s hard to accept that sometimes you can’t help your children all by yourself. That their worries and pain might need the expertise of a child mental health professional.
When do you go take this step?
🔥 Expert Tip : “If kids are repeatedly talking about harming themselves and others or suicide, then parents should take notice of them as ‘red flags’,” says Morris. “They must have those difficult conversations with professional child mental health supporters and seek the help their kids need to get better.”
Our Advice : Children of all age groups struggle with emotional wellbeing, so mental health in primary schools is equally important as it is for older students. As a parent you know best the changes in your kids’ behaviours. So trust your gut when you feel that they might need your support in managing their mental health. Parent-teacher communication can also be helpful to make sure that your child is receiving the same messages at home and at school.
As for the best way to soothe your child’s mind?
Let them know that their parents have listened to their anxious feelings and acknowledged it for what it is. We are sure that even if you do just that the biggest monsters of their mind would have already calmed down!
Together with parents, our tutors are always looking to support the mental health of their students, which we know will help your child thrive in school. You can book a trial lesson with one of our tutors here!