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It is clear that our children’s mental health is suffering through this prolonged pandemic and resulting school closures. This is not a blog to debate whether schools should be closed. But what we can discuss is: what can we do to help our children?
We humans are social beings. We are designed to interact with others. Yes, we learn the 3Rs at school. But we learn so much more about ourselves and those around us that books and lesson plans could never teach us. But now that the kids are at home and are not able to see their friends, what can the adults at home do to protect the precious leaders of tomorrow?
The theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week is “Express yourself”. For children, school is often the place where they do exactly that through play, writing, music and drama. Being at home makes that difficult. Parents are now juggling working from home, home schooling as well as simply being a parent. We are all tired. But what can we do?
The most important thing for your child’s mental health is your own. They model what they see and hear. They look at you for guidance. To use a tried and tested analogy: fit your own oxygen mask before helping someone else. Have you checked that you have enough “oxygen”? Are you getting your emotional needs met? It is difficult when we are stuck at home. But do whatever you can to get yours met. This will then allow you to help your child.
At home, you are a parent first and teacher second. Your child will be sent work from school and will be spending time online with their teacher and classmates. No two schools are alike and every parent and child I speak to reports something different. Some schools are offering very little. Others have moved the timetable online and the children are having a full day’s school. But if you are expecting yourself to be parent and teacher, while trying to hold down your own job, you are going to get very stressed and your children will pick up on this. So, what can you do:
Let the school know, politely, what your circumstances are. And that there might be times when your child will simply not be online or would not have been able to complete the tasks set. If you can take a break from your desk, that might be the time to take your child and head out for a walk. Or get into the kitchen and make a batch of muffins together. Or read a book (much easier said than done).
Encourage communication at home. Talk about things other than school or work. Watch something together on TV. Make time through the day to chat and to do things together. Get out, even if it is only for 20 minutes. You need this as much as your child. Parents working from home are all telling me that their working days have got longer. You are entitled to breaks. Take them. Model this to your child. Encourage your child to chat to their mates. I am a teacher and I give every class a few minutes just to have a chat. They love it.
But most of all keep reminding yourself that this is not permanent. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. It is also not personal. We are all feeling this. But follow the guideline of Mental Health Week – Express Yourself. Allow your child to express their frustrations. Listen. Reassure. Find ways to distract them. It is tough. We will be OK.
Pat Capel is a part-time teacher, part-time psychotherapist. He focuses on helping his clients find solutions to the difficulties they are facing to allow them to function at the best level they can, as quickly as possible.
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