Experts in education, social work and mental health came together to discuss how best to support children ahead of their return to school as part of a special webinar with Palace for Life Foundation during Mental Health Awareness Week 2020.
The overriding message to parents was to encourage children to speak openly about how they are feeling and acknowledge that no one has all of the answers at this unprecedented time.
Supporting children’s mental health and wellbeing is a key priority for Palace for Life Foundation and the Premier League Primary Stars programme. The session was chaired by the Foundation’s Mental Wellbeing Coordinator, Chase Hill, who runs the Team Mates programme in local primary schools to build children’s emotional resilience, as well as leading mental health training for teachers.
Over 200 people tuned in to watch live, including a primary school teacher in Austria and viewers in South Africa. Watch in full here:
Zoe Barkham, Health Improvement Officer at Croydon Council said: “It is so important to honest and to acknowledge to children that this is a scary and uncertain time, we should let them have the chance to say that. One we’ve expressed those fears, it stops being this indefinable monster that gets bigger every time we think about it.
"Emotions are driving everything at the moment, we should try and put mechanisms in place that allow people to talk. Being open is the single biggest thing we can do."
Rhona Edwards, a Mental Health Social Worker and Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, added: “Ask your children to explain what’s on their mind and try and help them to unpick that. If they have a specific worry, break it down step-by-step and aim to build up their confidence. There is a lot of scary talk out there, but reassure them that, right here and now, we are ok.”
Even though there remains a lot of uncertainty around the when and how of returning to school, Deputy Head Teacher at Kenley Primary School in Croydon, Helen Overden, said one thing that is a priority is the well-being of teachers.
“It is a very stressful time for teachers, they have their anxieties too, and it is so important for us to support them. It’s all about communication, letting them know exactly what we’re putting in place to try and protect and that we’re doing all we can for them. We are so grateful that we have such a strong team of staff who are going into school and supporting the children.”
Barkham reiterated the point: “There is so much pressure on parents and teachers, they are the people who do the looking after and we need to make sure we are looking after them too.”
The group also discussed some of the emotions children are likely to be experiencing while lockdown continues and they are faced with missing milestones, such as exams and proms.
Sak Rafique, a former Assistant Head Teacher and Managing Director and Mental Fitness Coach at Orange Ball, explained: “With older children, they are a lot more aware of what’s going on, both with themselves and wider society. Their well-being has been compromised, so we need to make sure we start with real compassion to that.
“At that age, a lot of hope, optimism and focus has been on their exams and with that gone, everything around it has changed. We need to be proactive in assuming that this will have an impact on them and think about how we can re-instil feelings of hope and optimism.
“Also, social connection is so important for teens, friends are their emotional support network, so we should be trying to continue to promote that at home.”
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