Managing stress during school closures and Covid-19

Headteacher and MyConcern safeguarding consultant Jackie Shanks explains some steps that you can take to protect the mental wellbeing of yourself, your staff, your students and their families

April is stress awareness month in the UK. Coming at a time where, with all that is going on in the world with the fight against coronavirus, stress is at an all-time high. Children and young people will likely be experiencing a number of issues which may be exacerbated by social distancing measures, such as stress and loneliness.

Covid-19 school closures

With worldwide school closures affecting more than 185 countries, UNESCO estimates that over 89% of children and young people are currently out of school because of Covid-19 closures. This represents a staggering 1.54 billion individuals.

The 24-hour news feeds are fast moving and constantly updating us with the latest death toll and numbers of Covid-19 sufferers. Anxieties are justifiably high, as people both panic, and conversely try to support the most vulnerable in society. We are warned that many families will lose loved ones.

So how can we support our children and their families? How can we attempt to manage their education and manage our own emotional needs during these unprecedented times?

Encourage your students and their families to form routines and habits

Forming habits, so it just becomes part of what you do, will be helpful. Rarely do we miss cleaning our teeth, brushing our hair or having breakfast because we are in a routine; we have formed a habit; it gives our day structure, and most of us thrive on structure.

So trying to establish a routine will help; getting up at regular times, knowing when schoolwork starts (and ends) and ensuring that students have regular breaks. We can also remind parents and carers that they are not expected to fill the role of a teacher.

We need to let our children and students know that even in the hardest of times, the best of humanity will shine through

Enable them to support their child’s learning but ask them not to create even more anxiety and stress whilst doing this. Give them ideas for making home learning fun and remind parents and carers that no one is judging them, so they don’t need to compare themselves with others or what they think they should be achieving.

Keep things real

Be honest when talking with your students about Covid-19 and encourage parents and carers to do the same.

Accept and recognise their emotions and try to ensure that they are given clear, accurate, but age-appropriate information. Newsround have been outstanding in the UK, creating downloadable bulletins with easy-to-digest information.

CBBC have also produced some excellent resources for younger children.

Exercise is essential

It is hugely beneficial for children and young people to engage with some exercise each day. There are many great opportunities to do this online, as a family or individually, age and circumstances permitting.

Learning a dance routine together or encouraging students and families to set a fitness family goal will be fun and help to create positive memories during a difficult time. Try to get outside every day, if you are able to and if local restrictions permit – we know the benefits of being outside in nature and now, more than ever, we need to appreciate this.

Look after your mental health

Above all try not to let this situation overwhelm you. If learning is missed then it is missed; better to look after you and your pupils’ mental health and wellbeing at this stage.

Learning can be caught up and gaps closed. Encourage parents and carers to let their children teach them some things – maths may well have changed since they were at school!

Focus on the good things

Remember to switch off the news feeds from time to time, and if it is on, focus and comment on the kind and amazing actions of groups and individuals.

We need to let our children and students know that even in the hardest of times, the best of humanity will shine through.

Try, if you can, to find something to laugh about as a family, and give your students ideas to do the same. Learn a new game, complete a puzzle (apparently sales of puzzles are going through the roof), keep connected (remotely) to family and other loved ones, and if you need to, reach out for help.

Whether it is for stress and anxiety, bereavement support or advice about work, there is a huge network of support available – please signpost students to do the same.

Finally, remember even if you are isolating you are not alone – we are all in this together and things will get better.

Join MyConcern’s weekly Safeguarding Support Webinar for more insights and advice from Jackie and to keep up to date with the latest safeguarding developments throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Please register here.

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