Saying 'Hello' and 'Goodbye'
As we move towards the end of this academic term, my son and I have been spending some time reflecting on some of the things we don’t want to lose from our lockdown experience as well as beginning to think ahead to the new academic year.
Spending more time together has been important for both of us; it’s brought us closer together and it’s made us feel happier. We want to hold onto this as much as possible as things slowly start to return to a more normal way of living. We want to prioritise quality family time and not just get dragged into the busyness of day-to-day life.
Daily fresh air and exercise has really become important to all of us. Prior to lockdown, if I mentioned going for a walk, my son would moan, say it was boring and would refuse to walk and would only agree to go if there were wheels involved (a bike or a scooter)! Now he will insist we go for our walk every day and often we go after tea as a whole family. We have found so many beautiful local walks and cycle rides; we want to keep making the most of our local area rather than always travelling to visit some of the larger visitor attractions to walk or cycle. Being office-based, prior to lockdown, my daily step count was often very low, having only walked to and from my car and then sat down in the office all day. Moving forward, I want to try to hold onto our daily family walk wherever possible and to continue to incorporate a proper lunch-time break and short walk when I can. My son said yesterday that being able to eat lunch outside in our garden more often has been something he’s enjoyed, as well as having the time to pop outside and see his bunny whenever he wants and to water the plants every day. A message to us as things return to a more normal way of life, to not to over-timetable ourselves with activities, trips out or too many after-school clubs in the evenings or weekends. Time to just be at home, without pressure has been beneficial for my son.
Looking forward and beginning to plan for September, I have started talking to my son about going back to school. Transition and in particular, school year to year transition is something he has always found difficult and has needed extra support with. He is currently saying he doesn’t want to go back to school and wants to carry on home-schooling, so we have some work to do! Having spoken to other families with children with special educational needs, I know there are many more children echoing the same message. For many children, home-schooling has been a very positive experience for them due to there being less pressure and less every-day stressors – no busy, noisy classrooms, no demand to move straight from one lesson/activity to the next and no requirement to work collaboratively which can often be socially and emotionally challenging. Being out of school for 6 months, a changed environment and new rules will add a different dimension to the challenge of transition this year.
Parents know their children best and as such I think it’s important that parents feel that first of all, they can communicate with school about the reality of lockdown for them as a family – what has been positive that could be built on in school and what has been less so and then what their child’s specific transition needs are and what would be the most helpful transition support now and prior to September.
I have asked that we are able to make a visit to school prior to the end of the summer term. We are going in at the end of the school day when it will be quiet, recognising that a busy indoor environment could be overwhelming particularly when we haven’t seen any people inside in an enclosed space for a very long time due to shielding. We are going to walk around the new one-way system, look at the zones marked on the playground and go and see the classrooms in the Year 5 block. My son will have his camera and will be able to take photos of the things he wants to and he we will add these to our ‘Looking Forward to Year 5 scrapbook’ back at home.
I have asked for there to be some contact from next year’s teacher prior to the end of term and so we are hoping to arrange a Teams check in with my son’s current teacher alongside his new Year 5 teacher so the my son has a chance to say ‘goodbye’ to his old teacher and ‘hello’ to his new one supporting his understanding of ending this academic year and preparing for the year ahead. We are also hoping to arrange a similar ‘check in’ with his new Year 5 teacher a day or two before the start of term in September. For my son it is really important to ‘bookmark’ both ends of the summer holidays with some additional support. Without it, going into school on day one in September can be overwhelming and lead to my son experiencing a real ‘freeze’ response to his anxiety and feeling of being overwhelmed. Any preparation that can be done to smooth the transition will be really helpful for my son.
All schools’ universal offers for transition support will be different and so there may be more or less need for targeted support for individual children depending on the universal support offered. I think transition is best supported by open lines of communication between schools and parents and where home-school relationships are strong. I think it’s important for parents to feel that they can request targeted support for their child; parents know their child best and what their lockdown experience has been and felt like to them and this will undoubtedly impact on the support needed to ensure a happy, successful transition back to school in September.
There is some great support and resources available to support families with transition in Lincolnshire:
Lincolnshire Healthy Minds offer free online workshops to support primary and secondary age children:
- Survival guide to change
- Managing worries and anxiety
- Parent supporting children with anxiety and additional needs
The workshops and additional resources can be accessed at: https://www.lpft.nhs.uk/young-people/online-workshops
The Working Together Team: Lincolnshire autism, social communication and SEND outreach service:
What we can offer families: http://website.twtt.org.uk/WhatWeCanOfferFamilies.asp
Useful resources and links for families: http://website.twtt.org.uk/ResourcesLinks-Families.asp
Lincolnshire Behavioural Outreach Service (BOSS): Supporting adult family members via telephone, text, email and web chat
We’re here to provide a listening ear, answer particular parenting questions or help with guidance around more complex issues. All support takes place via telephone, text message or email and is free. Mon-Fri, 9am to 9pm
- 0808 802 6666
- Text: 07537 404 282
*A useful document to support children/young people experiencing anxiety-led school refusal can be found here.
Lincolnshire agencies and services really do want to support children, families and schools at this time so please do contact them with any questions you may have and for guidance and support now and with transition.
Dealing with Anxiety
For many people, announcements detailing the further relaxing of lockdown are a great relief for lots of reasons, but for others, the announcements are less welcome and can be anxiety inducing. I am one of the ‘others.’ I really bought into the ‘stay home, stay safe, save lives’ message and to me, it all seemed to suddenly change overnight with no real transition into the easing of lockdown. I feared for colleagues in schools and that my son might be in a returning year group. I feared for the safety of my family and friends and myself. I have felt all of these things very strongly but I know that there is absolutely no right or wrong way to feel about the current situation and it’s important to remember to view the situation from a range of different perspectives. The saying, “We are all in the same boat …” has recently been adapted by some people to, ‘We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.’ which I think is very true and important to recognise.
Leading up to any new government announcement date; I’ve found myself looking for different articles online which suggest what some of the easing of restrictions might be even though I know this is pointless; I know it’s all speculation and I also know it’s not good for my mental health. As the date of the government announcement draws near, I get some stomach aches and sleepless nights and I know it’s anxiety. When the official announcements are made by the government, the stomach ache returns, I sometimes feel anger or even despair and then I can’t settle. I know it’s anxiety. After a period of time, I move into what I feel like is an acceptance phase and I start to feel calmer, the stomach aches reduce and I’m able to think more rationally again. I know what I’m experiencing is a stress response and over the last few years, I’ve learnt some strategies which help me with to deal with this; I’ve also learnt that different things work for different people and you have to take the time to find out what works for you.
Just talking and ‘getting the feelings out’ is really helpful for me. I will often have to do this several times before I start to feel better – my family and friends are very patient with me! Dan Siegel, a renowned clinical professor of psychiatry describes this as, ‘name it to tame it’. He suggests that by naming the emotion and telling our stories, it gives us some distance from the emotion which can help us to recover control, allowing us to access the thinking and problem solving part of our brain. ‘Telling the story’ several times also takes some heat out of the emotion. This is also why Talking Therapy can be really helpful. This short article offers a useful explanation of ‘name it to tame it’: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/04/business/dealbook/the-importance-of-naming-your-emotions.html
I recently participated in a short mindfulness course; one session focused on taking the time to step back and really notice all of our thoughts and feelings; to recognise them and be able to sit with those feelings for a short time. We were then told to think about where we could feel the feelings in our body and then to focus on softening those places if we were feeling tension or pain or heaviness. We then focused on recognising the thoughts and feelings just like birds flying past, just visiting. This idea really stuck with me; if there are days when I am feeling anxious, I will sit and take the time to do this short activity and I will often write down my thoughts and feelings. This seems to really help me to ‘park the feelings’ and move on with the rest of my day.
Exercise also really works for me. If I am feeling really anxious or unsettled, I know that I can distract myself and feel better quite quickly by going for a fairly fast-paced walk (it’s never a run for me!) for at least 15 minutes. Exercise can help to release pent up tension and anxiety; walking is also a rhythmic activity which is also naturally regulating for the body. Mind detail some further useful self-care tips for dealing with anxiety: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care-for-anxiety/
As I began to move past the initial anxiety induced by the easing of lockdown, I decided to try and safely ease myself and my family into something more like ‘real life’ again. My son and I are both in the clinically vulnerable category and we have been incredibly careful; I have worked from home, not been in a supermarket or shop or driven my car for weeks.
Step 1 was to drive my car; it felt like when you go to test drive a new car; it’s not yours and it feels strange, like it might run away with you. I only went for a very short drive! The second drive however, was much better than the first and I ended up actually really enjoying it.
Step 2, I wanted to try and go into a shop. We had masks and antibac; we were prepared. I took my son out for a walk on one of the recent, warm, sunny days. He wanted an ice-cream and so we looked for a nearby newsagent. As we got closer, I started to sweat, my heart was beating really fast, I got stomach ache; the thought running around my head was, ‘I can’t risk our health for the sake of an ice-cream’ and I just froze. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to move past it and so I had to explain to my son that we couldn’t go in the shop right now but that Daddy was going to bring some ice-creams home later. I was frustrated with myself and knew that I needed to find a way to be able to manage it as I felt stuck. I spoke to a good friend about it who said I needed to come up with a plan that would help me to manage the situation and to feel safer. I thought about what might help and decided that for the first time, I needed to go in a shop with my husband or a friend and then I thought I would be more likely to be able to do it. The plan did work: I went into a shop with a friend and I have now been in a shop 3 times (every time for ice-cream!). I haven’t enjoyed it but I’ve been able to do it without feeling awful.
Step 3 was actually really lovely, as when it was announced that single-person households could join another household to form a ‘bubble’, this meant that my family and I would finally be able to see my Mum, who had also been staying safe at home for the last 13 weeks. She came over for a picnic in our garden and we were even able to all have a hug. It really was the best day.
Nobody knows what the coming weeks and months will bring; I am doing my best to focus on the ‘here and now’ as much as possible. I know I can draw on the strategies which help me if I feel anxious or worried and on my close friends and family and so I count myself very lucky. I hope that a positive to come out of the pandemic might be people talking more openly and honestly about their experiences and their thoughts and feelings. We need to move away from thinking that if you’re dealing with anxiety for example, that this is a weakness and a sign of not coping and I think often this stigma still exists, even though people might say it absolutely doesn’t. Sharing stories might also help other people to feel less alone.
It’s really important however to highlight that if you feel that you are really starting to struggle with anxiety; if it’s affecting your life in many ways and self-help strategies haven’t been successful, it’s vital to seek further support. You can visit your GP to find out about further support or look online to find out what private specialist support might be local to you.
Some useful websites detailing the support and treatments available are: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/anxiety-treatments/#HowDoIAccessTreatment
"A great tool to support your child's worries now and for the 'next normal'"
Written by Jude Smith, Kyra Mum and Ellie Smith, aged 8.
‘Managing worries and anxious feelings’ online workshop from Healthy Minds Lincolnshire
Over the past year my daughter’s independence and resilience has reduced rather than grown; prior to Coronavirus my daughter had found it increasingly difficult to spend time apart from me and anxiety had started to prevent her from enjoying activities. At the age of eight, she struggled at the beginning of the school day and the enjoyment of attending clubs which she had been going for several years had become overshadowed by her upset at leaving me. Working with her school, she had been referred to Healthy Minds Lincolnshire for support with this. Alongside working with a practitioner on a weekly basis, we were signposted to access the Managing worries and anxious feelings online workshop, which is free for anyone to access via their website https://www.lpft.nhs.uk/young-people/lincolnshire/young-people/i-need-more-help/healthy-minds-lincolnshire
The strategies introduced in the worry workshop have been fantastic and I would recommend accessing it to any parent. In many ways, this unusual situation of ‘lockdown’ has reduced my daughter’s worries and anxieties, as we work, learn and play together at home, she has not had to cope with leaving me. With this in mind, I thought we may struggle with the worry workshop – how could we apply this when her worries are not in the here and now? I was wrong, my daughter has begun to use many of the strategies from the workshop, having this time at home has allowed us to practice these, which in turn I’m sure will help us when we begin to return to ‘normal life’.
The workshop is 40 minutes but it takes longer as you can pause the video to undertake activities; we did the workshop in small bite-size sections. It is designed for all ages; there is work pack for both primary and secondary aged children and also a parent pack to use alongside the online session. For me this workshop has been so useful because it empowers your child to understand what they can do to address their worries and how to implement strategies. I was surprised when working through the work pack, how articulate my daughter was about her worries, and doing the activities together gave me insight to triggers I had not previously considered. What my daughter really needed support with, was how to manage these feelings, and I really think the workshop will help us get out of the cycle of talking about how she is feeling lots, but not resolving the anxiety.
In our house, we are now regularly using many of the distraction and relaxation techniques from the workshop and we use the “worry tree”, a flow chart of how to address a worry and make a plan to resolve it. Our favourite take-away has been the Self Soothe Box. You fill the box with items personal to you, including things which will help relax and bring you comfort. My daughter has included prompt cards for relaxation and distraction games, photos of family and drawings she is proud of. We have also made stress balls from balloons and cornflour and mini glitter jars to include, because the box can be personalised, it can include whatever works for the individual.
Don’t be put off by the idea as a parent that your child isn’t a worrier, we use many of the strategies to help with the rollercoaster of emotions that we are experiencing in the confinement of lockdown - frustration, anger, sadness. When tensions build because I can’t teach Maths ‘like they do at school’ or we are just frustrated with being in the house for another day, my daughter will actively access her self-soothe box – now renamed the ‘cool and calm’ box. The relaxation and distraction games have become part of our everyday life to help keep us on an even keel in a really odd time. I have no doubt this will help her in the future, especially when my daughter returns to school and by practicing them now will make this transition easier.
“I’m glad I’ve done it, it gives you lots of creative ideas in a way kids will understand. It shows you step by step relaxation methods and other things about worrying, it has helped me a lot.” Ellie – Age 8.
Week 13 of lockdown and with lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, it seems like a good time for us as a family to reflect and consider what has gone well and less well for us during this time and which parts of our experience we might want to hold onto as things slowly move back to more ‘normal’ times.
I wanted to capture my 9 year old son’s thoughts and so I asked him some questions; some questions are really just for fun and are adapted from a social media quiz and others are things I really wanted us all to think about. Here are the questions and his answers:
- What is coronavirus?
- A nasty virus that’s infected the world.
Q. How did the coronavirus start?
A. From a food market in China. Bad food spread the virus in dead animals. People thought they had a normal cough and cold and that’s how they spread the virus worldwide.
Q. How many days have we been in lockdown?
A. 120 days or 4 months
Q. What do you think we can do to get rid of the coronavirus?
A. Keep 2m apart, wear a mask in shops and in enclosed spaces but not in your home. Don’t cough or sneeze on anyone for goodness sake!
Q. If coronavirus was an animal, what would it be?
A. A wasp because they’re nasty and so is coronavirus.
Q. What is Mummy wearing today?
A. PJs because she’s chilling!
Q. Who is the first person you’re going to hug when lockdown ends?
Q. Where is the first place you want to go when the lockdown ends?
Q. Do you want to go back to school?
A. Split down the middle, half and half. I do want to see my friends but not so much the teachers (except 1 or 2 favourite ones).
Q. Is Mummy a good teacher?
A. Yes because she’s kind and she helps.
Q. How has Daddy helped during lockdown?
A. He’s done the shopping and refuelled me with Doritos. He’s watched TV with me and occupied me and put me to bed.
Q. What have you enjoyed about lockdown?
A. I’ve had more time to do what I want to do, like play with Lego. I’ve been able to see my bunny more and water the plants every day. We’ve done more cycling. I’ve seen Mummy more than usual because we’re both at home. Now Daddy is back at work, I like being allowed to ring him at lunchtime on my IPod.
Q. What have you found the most difficult about lockdown?
A. Social distancing - I hate it; I just want to go closer and properly play with my friends. Having to listen to Boris Johnson on the TV.
Q. What do you want to keep doing when lockdown ends?
A. See Mummy more. Have time to do the things I want to do.
Q. What are you most looking forward to when the lockdown properly ends?
A. Not having to socially distance. I want to properly play with other children (and I can hardly remember how to do it). Go on proper holidays. Be allowed to go into Tesco and choose the food I want.
As anticipated, my son has a good understanding of the current situation and what has happened. Also as anticipated, he ‘tells it like it is’ and I’ll admit I was in my PJs but only because we had been cycling, got caught in a downpour and I tried (and failed) to cycle through a tiny path in a forest and so I was covered in a mixture of suncream and mud (shower and PJs was the only option)!
What does stand out is the pleasure he’s taken in the simple things; watering the garden, time to play with his own toys and seeing his bunny and us more than usual. On the other hand; it’s hard to hear how much he is still struggling with the lack of social interaction and proper play. He talked about social distancing so angrily today; he said he’s so tired of just talking and he just wants to play but is worried he can ‘hardly remember how to do it’. I wonder what the short, medium and long-term impact of the lockdown will be on our children? Will we see the impact straight-away or will the impact be visible in the long-term? Safety has to come first and I’ve reiterated that with my son today (why social distancing) but it doesn’t make the situation any less hard on our children and I think it’s vital that over the coming weeks and months, (including when schools fully reopen) that when it’s safe to do so, social interaction, play and wellbeing takes the highest priority. We owe it to our children.
We are on week 12 of home schooling; it seems incredible that we have been working from home and home schooling for 12 whole weeks! Looking back to the first couple of weeks of home schooling, it’s interesting to reflect on what has stayed the same and what is different. For my son, the initial excitement of home schooling has definitely worn off but we are managing with a routine that’s working for us. In the main, the structure of our days is similar to our days in those first few weeks; we break up academic learning with relaxation activities, exercise, and time outdoors or ‘life learning.’ What has become really apparent in the last 2 weeks (and it’s completely the opposite of those early weeks of home schooling) is that my son no longer wants to speak with friends or family online or on the phone. He’s just not interested in connecting with people online and will make an excuse about being busy or wanting to finish an activity if I suggest it.
My husband and I have been worried about this; recognising that he was withdrawing from social contact concerned us; we’ve tried to work out why is this happening and we’ve been thinking about what this means for his relationships and friendships now and in the future. Initially, when we sat down with our son to properly discuss it; he said he didn’t know why, he said he just didn’t really want to speak to people but at the same time he was worried that people were forgetting him and that his friends wouldn’t be interested in him when things got back to normal. We explained that keeping in touch with friends and family on the phone or online was a really good way of keeping a friendship going and would mean that neither person would forget the other but although I think he could understand what we were saying, it just didn’t seem to resonate with him and how he was feeling.
Interestingly, when we’ve spoken to friends with children of a similar age (8-10 years) we’ve found we aren’t alone in this and many of our friend’s children who were initially happily regularly connecting safely online with friends and family have become more and more reluctant to do so and parents aren’t sure why. I’ve questioned, is it actually a problem for my son or is it just something I want for him that he doesn’t want or need right now? In part; maybe it is. I think we have to respect and accept that he may not want or need the level of interaction we would personally choose for him, however, we do keep coming back to his desire to maintain his friendships and to be held in mind by others.
Over the last few days, our son has told us that he just doesn’t see the point in talking on the phone or online; it’s boring and he just wants things to go back to normal; he wants to play properly not just speak to someone through a screen. We’ve realised that he is finding the lockdown and home schooling harder than we thought and we need to find ways to help him to connect with family and friends in ways that are meaningful for him.
We’ve reassured him that it’s ok to feel fed up with the current situation; it’s hard and we are finding it difficult too. We have re-explained the importance of physical distancing and why we can’t play like we used to – for now. We’ve then talked with him about what he would like to do to stay in touch with family and friends and we’ve tried to find opportunities to make purposeful connections with friends and family.
We are carrying on with our Zoom Maths sessions with a small group of friends; we start every session with a ‘check in’ with each other and then a maths game that we can play together online before we do our maths ‘lesson’. I’ve explained that even though we are doing maths, we are also being good friends and keeping our friendships going.
Last week, we decided to send everyone in the Zoom Maths group a little gift. We bought Think2Speak Conversation Starter colouring books for each child in our little group. My son enjoyed writing a little note to each child, addressing the envelopes and walking to the post-box to post the books. We have talked about how nice it is to get post and that we can connect with our friends and family by writing letters or cards or sending little gifts. He was excited when his friends called or sent photos of themselves with their colouring books when they had received them.
We’ve kept up with our twice-weekly family Zoom sessions but we’ve not put any pressure on our son to join in; he pops in and out when he feels the conversation is interesting and that’s ok!
When the lockdown restrictions relaxed, we were able to make some new plans; we saw my mum for the first time in 12 weeks. She came and sat in the garden and it was so good to see her; after she left, my son kept saying, ‘well, that was nice; it was good to see Grannie properly!’ A few days later, we arranged for his best friend to come and visit us in the garden. The boys both enjoyed an ice-cream but were then desperate to play. It was a sunny but really windy day; my husband rummaged around in the garage and found 3 kites (so he could play too!) and took the boys to a nearby field to fly the kites. They came back red-faced and tired but so happy. My son exclaimed it was the best fun he had had in 11 weeks of lockdown! He felt like he had really played! We now keep talking through new ideas of things we can do together with friends and family whilst keeping to the physical distancing rules.
Today, our son mentioned his birthday; it’s 4 months away in October but he’s worried if coronavirus is still a problem that we won’t be able to celebrate with friends and family. On our walk today (where our best conversations happen!) we came up with a plan together that involves a garden heater, a gazebo, a winter BBQ, sparklers and different time slots for friends and family to visit (they will be sent tickets!) A great idea and one which my son suggested could be even better than our usual celebrations.
Our son continues to teach us so much; we are learning not to make assumptions and to be curious not cross about his behaviour and choices. We are learning to be patient and really listen to what he has to say. We are giving him time and working things out with him rather than trying to fix things for him. As a family, we are all learning to find different ways to meaningfully connect with the people we care about; recognising that one size doesn’t fit all.
The Three Rs
It’s been a very busy couple of weeks for us; my husband has gone back to work which has meant all change at home with our daily routine and home schooling. I’m lucky that I’m still able to work from home but delivering online sessions as part of my role has added an extra layer of challenge to home schooling and looking after my son without my husband’s support during the day.
After an initial panic, (how on earth are we going to manage this?) we have fallen into an adjusted routine that’s working for us. The night before each school/work day, we write a timetable for each of us so that my son knows what he is going to do the next day and what my working day looks like and when my online sessions are. His day is structured but we carefully choose the learning activities and plan for breaks between each activity. My son copes well with a written daily timetable but for many children, visual timetables are easier to access. For more examples and support: http://website.twtt.org.uk/ResourcesLinks-Families.asp (The Lincolnshire Working Together Team).
Of course, it seems obvious that we need to plan in breaks between activities but considering some of the science behind this adds another layer of understanding as to why this is so important.
The brain develops from the bottom up. This is important to focus on when we discuss emotional regulation (feeling safe and calm) and the ability to learn at home and in school.
The lowest part of the brain, which develops first, is the brainstem, often called your ‘survival brain.’ The brainstem controls the basics for survival and is responsible for keeping us safe. Continuing up, is the limbic system. This area stores emotional information (relationships). Finally, you reach the cortical brain, often referred to as your ‘thinking brain’ which controls thinking and memory.
The younger a child is, either developmentally or chronologically, the more support they will need to regulate (stay/return to a calm/relaxed state). If a child, young person or adult is anxious, uncertain or frightened; they will be on high alert and will be functioning only within their brainstem as the flight/fight/freeze response is triggered. When stuck in the brainstem, very little information can be passed to other regions of the brain. Until their brainstem is calmed, (regulated) they won’t be able to engage socially or emotionally and neither will they be able to take on board what you are saying to them, or be able to learn.
Bruce D. Perry (leading psychiatrist and trauma specialist) came up with a simple model (The 3 Rs) to help parents, teachers and agencies to support children, young people, adults and themselves to stay/return to calm and be able to access their limbic and cortical (thinking brain). He states that we need to adopt a ‘bottom up’ approach i.e. we need to regulate our brainstem first before we can engage with others and think and learn.
So what is the best way to do this? Evidence suggests that rhythmic, patterned activities, undertaken very regularly throughout the day, can calm the brainstem allowing access to other parts of the brain. Examples of regulatory activities are: walking, drumming, dancing, rocking, throwing a ball up a wall, chewing (having a snack), jumping on a trampoline, finger painting, yoga, massage and mindfulness/grounding activities. Dr. Perry suggests that on average, we need to engage in regulatory activities at least every 40 minutes throughout a day and more often if we are feeling anxious, uncertain or frightened. Children, young people and adults may have increased feelings of anxiety, loss of safety or fear linked to the current pandemic and so understanding of how the brain works and how we can soothe the part of our brain which may be on high alert (the brainstem) has never been more important.
So what do we do at home to support our son and ourselves to stay regulated and calm in order that we can connect with each other and learn? The learning activities we plan for our son last no longer than 40 minutes and they are interspersed with short regulatory activities (Dr. Perry suggests an average of 3 minutes per activity) which we’ve found particularly help our son. We have a rocking chair which my sister upcycled for me as a nursing chair and gifted to us when our son was born. Rocking and swinging is really regulating for my son and so he will often come and have a quick chat with me whilst rocking on the rocking chair. Walking and cycling are also really helpful regulatory activities for us as a whole family and so we ensure that we make time and space to walk or cycle every day. Despite quite a narrow front room and my son being a very tall 9 ½ year old, he will often choose to roll on the carpet for a few minutes whilst playing with his lego. He also enjoys mindful colouring or painting when he colours or paints between lines (painting his own picture however causes him anxiety as he can’t decide what or how to paint). Our rabbit is called Thomas and my son adores her! When he’s taking a break, he can often be found sat in her outdoor run, talking to her and stroking her. Any activity that is rhythmic and repetitive calms the brainstem.
It’s so important that we plan regulation breaks for ourselves as parents also. It can be easy to neglect our own wellbeing in a busy household when we’re focused on our children and/or work. I’m finding walking or cycling and short mindfulness activities are really helping me to get through every day and to stay productive at work. It’s also important to note that only a calm and regulated adult can help to calm and help regulate an anxious/disregulated child.
We are using the Presley the Pug Relaxation Activity book by Dr. Karen Treisman as a resource to further support our son. Activities include resources to recognise and identify feelings and coping tools to support relaxation and calm, to include mindfulness. Reading the story of Presley the Pug has helped my son to identify his own emotional place of safety that he can imagine and go to when he is feeling anxious or frightened. He is now practising going to his emotional safe place by closing his eyes and travelling there every day (it is important to practice this when feeling calm). He travels to his imaginary place of safety on a ride on lawn-mower; his place of safety is Bunny Land where there are hundreds of rabbits and all of them are his 3 favourite breeds. He’s happy when he’s telling us about Bunny Land and our hope is that by practising these relaxation techniques now, he will be able to use them when he really needs them.
Once a child, young person or adult is regulated, it is then possible for them to engage emotionally with you; they can connect with you and ‘hear’ you when you are talking to them. It’s also important to really listen to them too. In ‘Relate’ (the 2nd R) being curious and exploring feelings is important; what might they be feeling and why? Acknowledging these feelings is then the next step and showing empathy e.g. ‘It must be really hard for you to feel so overwhelmed; I’ve been there and it isn’t nice. I‘m sad that you are feeling like this at the minute.’ When someone feels safe in the relationship and connected, they will then able to access their ‘thinking brain’ and you can talk to them, reason with them and find solutions together (the 3rd R: Reason). Often as parents and teachers, we can try and start with the 3rd R when we see someone struggling. We start by talking to them but the brain science tells us that our brains are simply not wired up to work this way. We need to start with regulation first and we might all need help from the people we care about to be able to regulate effectively.
Year to year transition at school is always incredibly difficult for our son and we are anticipating that the return to school (whenever that may be) following lockdown may be challenging. Our hope is that he will be able to use some of the strategies he’s been practising, with guidance and support from his teachers, to help himself to feel calm, relaxed and safe. Only then will he be able to meaningfully connect with those around him and be able to listen, take on board new information and learn.
The Importance of Play
‘I’m sick of seeing your faces.’
‘We’ve been with each other for 7 weeks now and I’ve had enough of you.’
‘I hate those children.’
‘It’s not fair.’
‘I’m sad Mummy.’
Absolutely no hurt intended from these words uttered by my 9 year old son this week; in his very honest, factual way, he was telling me the truth and how he was feeling. He is autistic and in many ways I think it is a great gift that he is able to honestly articulate his truth. Sadly, I think there is a long way to go until everyone understands that speaking so directly isn’t a sign of rudeness or a behaviour choice.
It all came to a head when he awoke on Bank Holiday Friday to the sounds of neighbourhood children (siblings) giggling together playing on a trampoline in their garden. He was immediately wobbled by this and angry, ‘I hate those children!’ My son is an only child. We talked about what was happening, how he was feeling and why and we let him know that we understood and we knew how hard it was for him and that we knew he was missing his best friend.
As a distraction, we decided to go for a family cycle around our local town; this is one of the things that we love to do together and being outside and cycling always makes my son feel calm and happy. Unfortunately, we hadn’t anticipated that many of our local streets would be celebrating VE Day in such a big way. As we cycled round the estates, there were people celebrating together in their front gardens and in the streets. I knew immediately that the cycle ride was a mistake and it wasn’t going to help. My son went really quiet and then said, ‘I’m sad Mummy, I want to go home.’ We went straight home.
As soon as we got home, my son collapsed on the sofa in my arms and sobbed and sobbed; squealing wracking sobs. We hadn’t realised how much he was struggling; it seemed to have come from nowhere. It was heart-wrenching for us to see him like that but for him I think, he needed to cry. He told us that he was angry that everyone else was having a good time playing and seeing friends and family and we weren’t (as that was how it appeared to him). He told us that he was ‘sick of our faces’ and he just wanted to see and properly play with his friend. He said that we don’t play with him. We were surprised; we talked with him about some of the lovely things we have done together as a family recently: baking, gardening, cycling, painting but he articulated that to him these things weren’t ‘proper play.’ He just wanted to run around with his friend and play the playground games that they used to, including ‘lawnmowers’ a game that seems to involve a couple of his friends running around cutting the grass and scything down bushes together! We had seriously underestimated how much he was missing this type of play. We thought we had most bases well covered in our home-schooling timetable but this week, a stark reminder that some things just can’t be replicated and the huge importance of peer social interaction and play.
The University of Sussex released a paper this week written by mental health experts from various universities: Play First – Supporting Children’s Social and Emotional Wellbeing During and After Lockdown. It stated that, ‘children’s social and emotional wellbeing should be prioritised in all decisions relating to the easing of lockdown and re-opening of schools. Children across the UK currently have a play deficit because they are deprived of the chance to play with peers. Play with peers is critically important for children’s social, cognitive and literacy development. Play is beneficial during times of anxiety, stress and adversity: it provides a sense of control and independence; it helps children make sense of things they find hard to understand ; it supports their coping and resilience . In highly stressful situations (e.g. war zones, in hospital, in orphanages) research shows that playing with other children is therapeutic.’ The report pulls together 6 important recommendations for when children return to school prioritising social and emotional learning and mental health and wellbeing through play whilst recognising the current essential limitations of social distancing.
Following the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday evening, parents, teachers and Headteacher’s thoughts will be focused on the proposal to reopen Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 in Primary Schools on the 1st June, if the data supports this. The health and wellbeing of the whole-school community will be top priority for everyone. The importance of children’s play as part of the transition back to school cannot be underestimated but is it really possible for schools to consider this yet and is it even a practical possibility?
For us now, looking ahead to week 9 of home schooling, we are going to do the best we can do for our son. We’re going to make sure we make plenty of opportunities for silly play, dancing, creative play, remote control car obstacle races in the garden, hide and seek and any other ‘play’ my son comes up with. He needs this and his health and wellbeing is our top priority right now.
Family and Wellbeing First
Being very honest, it’s been a difficult week. I’ve been debating what to write about in my blog this week; looking for something to celebrate about home schooling and wellbeing, something new and worthwhile to share but maybe it’s ok just to say, ‘it’s been a difficult week.’
As a family, we are heading into week 7 of home schooling. Lots of things have just felt hard this week. We have adapted our home schooling routine a little to meet the need to balance more effective home working. Our new routine is now working well but adapting to this hasn’t been easy. My husband has continued to be more involved in home schooling and at times this has been challenging for him and my son is learning how best to work with ‘Daddy in a new role’. At times, (and not others!) I’ve found it challenging being less involved. Keeping up to date with daily government updates and reading Covid-19 –based articles in the media, has caused some anxiety in our household this week as we deal with the uncertainty of what might or might not happen next. Family and friends around us are having a difficult time and it’s been hard to not be able to support them in the ways we usually would because we can’t see each other face to face. Whilst acknowledging all of the above, I recognise that we are so lucky to all be at home safe together as a family at this time. Recognising this though can cause unhelpful feelings of guilt – ‘I shouldn’t be struggling this week when I know that I’m lucky.’
We have found ourselves starting to struggle emotionally at least once, over the last few days. This is very normal but particularly so given the current pandemic. One way of thinking about this, and to help us consider how we can best help ourselves to stay emotionally well now, and in the long term, is to think about the ‘Window of Tolerance.’ Dan Siegel pioneered the concept of the Window of Tolerance; it’s often used to describe normal brain and body reactions to adversity. The concept suggests that we have an optimal arousal level when we are in the window of tolerance which allows for the normal ups and down of the emotions we experience. Despite feeling fear, anger, pain or anxiety, we are usually able to use strategies to cope and stay within this window of tolerance.
When we are experiencing extremely difficult times or prolonged adversity (for example for many people during a pandemic) our senses can be heightened and our experiences and reactions can be more intense and our strategies to stay on an even keel are less available to us. Adverse experiences can also shrink our window of tolerance meaning we can become overwhelmed more quickly. We might then be tipped over into a hyper arousal or hypo arousal state and we need strategies to then be able to regulate back into the normal range. Sometimes people can get stuck in a hyper/hypo arousal state when feeling overwhelmed for an extended period of time.
So what can we all do to help ourselves to stay within the ‘normal range’ where we can be appropriately responsive to our thoughts and feelings, especially during such difficult times? Firstly, it’s vital to notice and identify your emotions. Dan Siegel refers to this, as ‘name it to tame it.’ Children and adults need to be encouraged to notice how they feel and how their body feels at the time that they are experiencing that emotion. Children will often need adults to model this and support them in identifying their emotions e.g. ‘It looks like you are feeling overwhelmed, let’s go for a walk and get some fresh air.’ It’s then important that children and adults learn how to tolerate these feelings; know that the feelings themselves aren’t dangerous and then find individual healthy coping strategies to support themselves to feel better. The Window of Tolerance Animation by Beacon House provides a useful overview and suggests how to support children’s emotional regulation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcm-1FBrDvU
Different things work for different people; some commonly cited supportive regulation strategies include mindfulness, grounding exercises, yoga, music, exercise, dancing and the use of scented objects or weighted blankets.
It’s been really important for me over the past few months to experiment and find out what works for me. This week, I’ve focused on being honest about my thoughts and feelings, noticing them, writing them down and talking to friends and family. I’m also continuing with my introduction to mindfulness and practising some relaxation techniques when I can. I’m prioritising being outside and daily exercise, knowing that this exercise is something that really works for me. All of my self-care strategies have really helped this week and I’ve been able to relax and unwind this weekend ready for the week ahead. It’s vital for all parents and teachers to take proactive steps to look after their own wellbeing; it isn’t selfish or putting your own needs above others. To sum it up, ‘Self-care is giving the world what’s best of you not what’s left of you.’ (Katie Reed)
For my son, keeping a diary and using a simple daily feelings’ chart helps him to identify and communicate how he is feeling. We are also continuing our daily gratitude practice as a family. He finds some mindfulness relaxation techniques regulating, exercise and rocking or swinging is helpful as is a weighted bag on his back when he is walking. We talk to him regularly about the things he can do to help himself to relax and calm down particularly when he is feeling anxious. As a family, we’re going to keep prioritising the things that help us feel calm and happy. It’s more important now than ever to put family and wellbeing first.
The days and weeks all seem to be rolling into one but we’re now coming to the end of our 6th week at home together. It seems incredible that we have been in our home for so long (with the exception of our daily exercise) however the days seem to fly by at the minute as we continue with the home routine we’ve created that’s working for us as a family. The online resources available from the Oak National Academy and BBC Bitesize have made it easier for my husband to take over some of the home schooling for my son this week. He’s enjoyed ‘playing teacher’ this week (on the whole!) and it has freed me up to get more of my work done during the day; a juggling act for so many parents working from home. We have continued our daily focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing, with a particular focus on Take Notice this week.
I took part in my first online mindfulness group session this week. I’ve had limited experience of mindfulness in the past but when I have engaged in short activities within training sessions, I have found it really difficult to focus on the one thing I’m being told to focus on. I had a similar experience this week but I want to continue the course and see if mindfulness might be something that I can practice and develop over time to support my wellbeing. The evidence-base around mindfulness practice is growing and extremely positive. I was struck by the idea in the session that we may all be experiencing grief or loss of some kind during this pandemic; grieving the loss of our usual routine and possibly our sense of purpose. We might be grieving the loss of face to face contact with friends and family or experiencing anticipatory grief (fear of possible loss in the future) which can damage our collective sense of safety. This all resonated strongly with me and so I am interested to learn more about how mindfulness practice might be supportive at this time.
My other take-away from the session was the value of being more present in all aspects of life. The ‘busyness’ of everyday life means that I’m often doing several things at once and not really noticing what I’m doing, how I’m feeling or enjoying things because I’m just rushing through what seems like a never-ending to-do list. I have taken the time this week to sit in the garden and enjoy lunch with my family, not thinking about work or checking my phone or ringing a friend or relative. Just stopping for a few minutes, taking notice of the weather and my garden, the taste of my food and being really present in conversations with my husband and son has felt really important and I’ve realised that I need to make more time to do this.
This week, my son has had some difficulties getting to sleep. He wasn’t sure why and we didn’t dwell on ‘the why’ at bedtime but talked about it the following day. Over the last few months when his anxiety levels have risen for a variety of reasons, we’ve experimented with different relaxation techniques (not realising that some of them were mindfulness techniques) and we’ve incorporated them, mainly into his bedtime routine when he needs them. The mindful body scan (example from Headspace) can be used as a meditation for sleep. It has been an incredibly valuable tool for my son. After trying different things to help him to relax and settle with no success, we’ve been amazed at how helpful this tool has been and how much he loves it.
It’s a really simple technique to use. I ask my son to lie down, close his eyes and choose his favourite colour and imagine it resting just above his head. We focus on breathing and relaxing his body and then I talk to him in a really soft voice, describing the colour moving slowly down his body until it reaches his toes. After 3 hours of trying to settle my son one evening, I talked him through the body scan and 10 minutes later he was fast asleep; I couldn’t believe it! We thought it could be coincidence (at 11:30pm any 9 year old would be exhausted!) but we now regularly use the body scan to support relaxation and sleep for our son and it continues to work for him. I really believe that different things work for different people and there’s value in taking the time to experiment with relaxation techniques and sleep meditation to find out what might work for you and your family.
There are many useful websites with more detailed information about relaxation techniques and meditation for sleep. Healthy Minds Lincolnshire is continually updating their website with a range of resources to support children, young people and adults. Online workshops to support children and young people to develop strategies to manage worries, videos demonstrating relaxation/breathing exercises and a list of useful apps to support wellbeing for children, young people and adults can be found here: https://www.lpft.nhs.uk/young-people/lincolnshire/young-people/i-need-more-help/healthy-minds-lincolnshire
The Sleep Charity can offer FREE 1:2:1 telephone/video sleep clinic appointments to parents of children aged 1 and over with sleep difficulties, living in Lincolnshire. More information and contact details can be found here: https://mobile.twitter.com/TheSleepCharity/status/1248354705341681664/photo/1
Home Learning and Worries
As we come to the end of the second week of the Easter holidays; I’ve spent some time reflecting on our unusual Easter break. Throughout the holidays, we have continued to stick to a routine which is working for us as a family; a focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing with extra challenges this week in staying active and keep learning.
We have completed Joe Wicks’ PE lesson daily and we’ve found many different walks and cycle routes to keep us busy in our daily exercise outside. We have been cycling further every time and yesterday managed our biggest challenge yet, cycling to Heckington and back. My son was able to cycle past his best friend’s house; he yelled his friend’s name and rang his bicycle bell frantically as we cycled into the estate. It was lovely to see him so excited! They enjoyed a quick physically distanced chat across the road before we made our way home again.
To keep learning my son has independently made chocolate brownies from scratch following the recipe (counteracting all of our exercise!) He has been practicing showering independently and brushing his teeth (huge things for him!) and we have spent a short amount of time on academic learning; imaginative writing. Looking through the home learning pack from school, there was a weekly story writing task to complete using a picture as a stimulus for writing. Immediately, just showing my son the sheet caused him to worry and panic; we talked about what was causing this and then we put the sheet away and I told him I would come up with a new plan to help him with imaginative writing for tomorrow. He then listened to a David Walliam's audiobook as this is something he loves doing and it stopped him from continuing to focus on and worry about the writing. This allowed my son to express his feelings but not spend an excessive amount of time worrying. We didn’t get into a battle over doing the task; he understood that we had put it to one side and there would be a new plan tomorrow.
So what caused these worries? My son struggles with creative writing and thinks he has to write the story that’s in his teacher’s mind (and he has no idea what this might be). If there are lots of lines on the page or a big, blank empty space, he thinks he has to fill all of the space/lines and it seems an impossible task before he starts; he also struggles to start a piece of writing. My son is also absolutely convinced that this writing is a test, with a time-limit and he isn’t going to do very well. Giving him the space and time to tell us specifically what was worrying him was really helpful for both him and us. I think sometimes we can make assumptions about the problem or the reasons behind the problem and we need to take the time to ask children what is worrying them and really listen to the answers.
Two days later and my son has now created a story map and a story opening. Lots of reassurance, no pressure, cuddles and humour have helped and instead of a single picture, we used a film clip as a stimulus to re-tell a story (so we have simplified the task). * We have broken the learning and expectations down into clear smaller steps and activities. I’ve explained to my son that authors don’t come up with entirely original ideas; they use their own experiences and other stories they have read/films they have watched to help them to write their stories. This was a real revelation for my son and he is relieved that he now has permission to gather and use ideas from different places to help him with his writing. We’ve talked about how practising re-telling stories and writing our own using inspiration from different places will make tasks like writing a story from a picture easier to do over time. He seems reassured and we have enjoyed the learning we have done so far together. We won’t be writing a story every week but it’s something we can revisit over time.
I’ve been grateful this week to have quality time together as a family and to have the time to spend with my son to explore his life learning and a little bit of academic learning. The gift of time really is such a positive things for us as a family. I’m a teacher and I know that I am lucky to have the training and resources to hand to adapt the home learning sent home from school for my son, however I hope there are some take-aways for other families about to engage in home learning again over the next few weeks, as we move into the second phase of lockdown.
- Maintain a whole-family focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing.
- Don’t get into battles/arguments over doing home learning tasks.
- Keep a good balance of family time, play, life learning and home (academic) learning and don’t try to replicate the school day (it’s just not possible!)
- Don’t be afraid to adapt home learning tasks to meet the needs of your child.
- Spend time talking with your child about any worries they have about their learning. Consider how to address these worries or just leave the learning for now and communicate with the teacher at an appropriate time in the future.
For specific advice about 'managing worries and anxious feelings in children', Healthy Minds Lincolnshire has just produced an online workshop to support children and young people to learn new strategies to manage their worries. A support pack is available for parents/carers as well as workbooks for primary and secondary age children: https://www.lpft.nhs.uk/young-people/lincolnshire/young-people/helping-you-help-yourself#managing-worries-workshop
*The Literacy Shed has made some of their resources freely available – including lesson plans, activities and short films: https://www.literacyshedplus.com/en-gb/browse/free-resources
Week 1 of the Easter holidays; these are like no school holidays we have ever experienced before however our ‘new normal’ is strangely normal for us now and so this week has passed much like any other since lockdown began. Predictable routines are really important for my son and so to support him and recognising the ongoing nature of the current situation, we decided the best thing for us was to continue with our home schooling routine despite it being the school holidays (we are going to have a break over the long Easter weekend).
Our home schooling routine isn’t full of academic learning however; we start every day as a family with Joe Wicks’ PE lesson (all 3 of us are now hopping around the front room trying to keep up and avoid stepping on lego and each other)! I then move onto home working and my son reads or listens to an audiobook for half an hour. Three times a week, we have maths online with a group of my son’s friends via Zoom. Every session starts with a game and we have rediscovered many different games you can play with a pack of playing cards which support understanding of number, including my Dad’s favourite card game, Pontoon (without the gambling!) On maths-free days, my son and I engage in other home learning activities together.
Afternoons are reserved for life learning and always include our daily hour of exercise outside. Now my husband is at home, we share the life learning. This week we have ventured onto the roads with our bikes; we love family cycling but have always driven to off-road trails before now. The roads are now so quiet and my son is very sensible so we have taken the opportunity to teach him how to ride safely on the roads and there is now time for him to really practice those skills. Cycling out of our village, we’ve found different quiet country roads and have come up with new routes we can try as a family. It has been so peaceful and we have spotted hares and pheasants running over the fields and red kites flying in the sky. We have never really appreciated the beautiful countryside on our doorstep before now.
We’ve taken the time to teach my son how to make a cup of tea and we have prioritised cooking home meals from scratch and baking treats, all of which my son has helped with. Under my husband’s supervision my son has learnt how to mow the lawn himself and has been gardening with my husband daily. We have done many of these things with my son in the past but infrequently and often in a rush just because of the fast-pace of everyday life.
We are prioritising connecting with our friends and family regularly in different ways. My son’s best friend turned 9 this week; we celebrated with the maths Zoom group by having a fun maths session (just games) and then all of the children and families got together to sing happy birthday to the little boy and watch him open his cards and presents. He was thrilled and it felt really important to celebrate with him. My son commented that even without a big party or seeing people face to face, his best friend seemed really happy and like he had had a good day.
We are continuing with our daily gratitude practice; on Wednesday, my son’s 3 things he was grateful for were:
- A pay rise (pocket money – for being so great at doing so many home jobs)
- Celebrating my friend’s birthday
Whilst the current situation and the lockdown certainly isn’t what anyone would ever wish for; I recognise the opportunities it has presented us with as a family; time to slow down and spend more time together, time to focus on life learning with our son, time to take notice of the beauty around us and remembering and valuing what is really important; our family and friends. When life gets back to normal, I want to hold onto the things we’ve learnt during lockdown and make sure that we continue to focus on the things that are really important to us.
It’s been a difficult week this week, listening to the news and the updates on coronavirus. It’s so incredibly sad and it still seems a bit unreal; how can this all be happening when 3 weeks ago we were all carrying on with our lives as normal? As a family, we have come to the realisation that we are in this for the long haul and our ‘new normal’ is likely to continue for quite some time. My husband has been furloughed and I am continuing to work from home (we are grateful that we are at home and safe). My sister’s Outpatient department in the hospital is much reduced and she is being trained to support in theatre. Anxiety has crept into our household this week and those of some of our friends and family. My son has had some difficulties getting to sleep.
So what has kept us going this week? We are continuing our daily focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. Staying connected and being active is really helping us a family. We are embracing Zoom and FaceTime to connect with colleagues, family and friends on a regular basis. We have started every day with Joe Wicks’ PE lessons and we have been outside for our hour of exercise; gardening, walking or cycling. We are spending lots of time together as a family and we are feeling the well-known health and wellbeing benefits of being outside in the fresh air, moving and being together.
During our daily walks this week; it has been lovely to see so many children’s pictures of rainbows in windows, banners hung outside and drawings of hope and support for the NHS chalked onto pavements. We have spotted more and more every day. My son asked me why people are choosing to draw rainbows. We talked about rainbows having different meanings in different myths, cultures and stories over time and I explained that a rainbow can be a symbol of hope – after the storm (and the storm will always pass) there is a rainbow symbolising the end of the bad times and the promise of better times to come.
We talked more about hope which then prompted a very long conversation during one of our daily walks. My son started every other sentence with, ‘when this is all over…’ He explained how he wanted to spend his first day (when this was all over) by rushing over to see his Grannie and then his best friend and go and play with him in the park. He then talked about what he was going to do at school (when this was all over) and his hopes for the future. Sadly, he has quickly abandoned all thoughts of being a teacher and now wants to be a businessman and own his own restaurant. He asked me what qualifications he would need, whether he would need to go to university and how profits and tax work! He told me that I would be employed to do the shopping for the restaurant (wages tbc) but that I could then enjoy a free three course meal and wine every evening for dinner at the chef’s table. It sounds like a great plan! The ‘when this is all over…’ conversations have continued this week and I have wondered, are they healthy and helpful conversations? I have decided that they are; my son isn’t moaning about things he is missing, he is just looking to the future with trust and hope that things will get better and when they do, he will make the best of every single opportunity. He is also thinking about his goals and what he needs to do to achieve them (proactive hope). I have held on to the, ‘when this is all over…’ conversations this week and they have made me smile, helped me keep going and stay positive.
Hope has become one of the most robust and promising topics in the field of positive psychology. Hope has been consistently linked to positive outcomes in many life domains, including aspects of positive mental health (Rick Snyder: The Psychology of Hope -1994).
We have also continued our gratitude practice as a family and it’s already powerful to look back over the last few days in our journals and remember the simple things we have been grateful for every day. Gratitude, positivity and hope are getting us through every day as a family and are helping us to support our son to learn about and manage his own wellbeing. This is learning that hasn’t taken place in a classroom but it is invaluable learning that we hope he can take forward and make use of now and in his future.
My son and I are settling into week 2 of home schooling. Our daily routine is flexible and we continue our focus on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing. The weather has been beautiful this week and so we have tried to go outside as much as possible. We have enjoyed our daily walks in the sunshine; a highlight being when my son stopped and exclaimed, ‘what is it? It’s beautiful!’ when he saw a tulip by the side of the road. To begin with, I wasn’t sure what he meant and when I realised, I did laugh (he is 9, how hasn’t he ever seen a tulip?) but it was also a lovely moment, seeing his joy in noticing the little things as we walked together. We also had to stop abruptly several times to move ladybirds and worms off the pavement and onto leaves and plants (to make sure nobody stood on them!)
As we settled into week 2 at home, I reflected on the need to keep a focus on the positives. We are all doing ok but I’m aware that in the long term, boredom, anxiety or frustration with the restrictions and day to day routine could become increasingly difficult, particularly for my son. Inspired by Lifetime Therapy (Lifetime Therapy is a Counselling Practice in Cornwall) we have started gratitude practice this week as a whole family (see gratitude practice online group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/lifetimetherapygratitudepractice/)
So what is gratitude practice? Gratitude practice involves taking the time to reflect on the positives and the things we are grateful for. The effects of gratitude, when practiced daily can produce a feeling of long-lasting happiness and contentment. By consciously practicing gratitude every day, we can help neural pathways in our brain to strengthen and ultimately create a permanent grateful and positive nature within ourselves. Positive psychology research has found that gratitude practice has also been shown to help improve relationships, reduce stress, improve sleep and strengthen our immune systems.
As a family we have started gratitude practice using daily gratitude journals. At the end of the day, my son writes or draws 3 things that he is grateful for or that have made him feel happy during the day in his ‘For When I’m Feeling Happy’ book. My husband and I write down 3 things that we are grateful for in our journals and we talk about these together as a family. When we started this practice at the beginning of the week, my son struggled a little to think back over his day and remember 3 things he was grateful for. I realised I needed to explicitly model noticing the positives with him as we went about our day and link them to his ‘For When I’m Feeling Happy’ book. We are now regularly noticing and talking about the simple things that are making us feel happy; it has only been a few days but my son can now think of many things which he is grateful for every day. He told me today that, ‘thinking about happy things before bedtime is nice and it helps me to go to sleep and dream happy dreams.’
My son’s 3 happy things today were:
- Buying seeds we can plant (left outside someone’s house on our walk today)
- Maths online with friends
- Eating an ice-pole!
Have a look at this website for some more great ideas to help children practice gratitude: https://positivepsychology.com/gratitude-tree-kids/
We are all currently facing such difficult times; affecting our children, families, colleagues and friends. It feels more important than ever to notice and hold on to the positives in every day and to remember the things that are really important.
We have been sharing the idea of gratitude practice with our friends and family and many have decided to join in. With their permission, I would like to share some of the things they are grateful for. Reading them reminds me of different perspectives on the current situation from our children, parents and grandparents. What stands out in them all is the happiness that comes from simple activities and a return to valuing the things that really matter.
Family First and the Learning will Follow
My 9 year old son and I began our home schooling journey together last week; we made the decision as a family that this was right for us as my son and I are both in ‘vulnerable groups’. I talked to my son in simple terms about our decision and I let him ask questions and gave him the space to express his feelings. It was difficult to know how much he really understood but he seemed to accept the situation and was able to talk with me about what our home schooling days might look like from now on.
I looked online for support with ideas to start home schooling and came across different examples of daily timetables. It seemed really sensible to create a set daily timetable with my son factoring in different aspects of learning, time outdoors and free time which would also allow me to do some work from home within the school day. I timetabled day 1 from 9:00-3:30pm and shared this with my son the night before. I was confident we had planned for success! By 11:30am, we were off timetable and my careful planning had gone out of the window. We just couldn’t keep up with everything we had tightly planned and the afternoon was quite different to the afternoon we had so carefully scheduled. By the end of the day I realised we needed to take things much more slowly and we both needed time to adjust to the new normal. It was suddenly very obvious that it was quite impossible to go from normal school life one day to a full timetabled day of home schooling the next, even with time carefully scheduled in for breaks, time in the garden and play. We needed the time and space to just talk and have a cuddle. We needed time to connect with family and friends online as I was worried about family members and my son was missing his best friend. I needed longer than planned to connect and plan with work colleagues online and my son and I went for a long walk and stopped to feed the ducks and watch the lambs racing around the fields. All of this was so much more important on that first day than the maths and history lessons I had planned.
A few days down the line, we now have something that is working for us at this time. The night before, we discuss and plan our day but in a much more relaxed way. We plan to read together for half an hour every morning and we plan one morning and afternoon learning activity acknowledging that we may not do everything we have planned. We make sure that we prioritise getting outside for at least an hour every day. We will soon receive our home learning pack from school and of course we will engage with this but in a way that is meaningful and manageable for us now. Our needs may change over time and we will adapt as they do.
Our new home schooling curriculum is very much centred on the 5 Ways to Wellbeing which feels vital right now. According to the NEF (New Economics Foundation) research, there are 5 steps that everyone can take (see poster designed for children by Mindspace Stamford in collaboration with the Mobilise Project) to look after their mental health and wellbeing in a comparable way to the 5 fruit and vegetables a day to look after your physical health. They are Connect, Stay Active, Keep Learning, Give and Take Notice. The research suggests that doing these 5 things as regularly as you can will have a positive impact on your mental health and wellbeing. I explicitly talk to my son about the 5 Ways to Wellbeing and we discuss these as we are going about our day. On our walk, we take time to notice things, point them out to each other and reflect that this will have a positive impact on how we are feeling. We talk about the importance of staying active and how the combination of being outside, walking and being together will release hormones which will make us feel happier. We make time to connect with family and friends (online) and talk about how important it is to keep talking and give our loved ones time, particularly those who are on their own. We do keep learning and focus on how important it is to keep our minds active, making the links between learning now and our plans for the future – my son wants to be a teacher.
For everyone starting home schooling this week, my message is to take it slowly, be kind to yourself and to your children and be there for each other. Family and wellbeing first and the learning will follow.
Anna has collated information and links to support both parents and children in their well-being during these challenging and unusual times, you can download the first edition here: