Caroline Yolland, The Beacon’s dedicated School Counsellor, shares her advice on how we can all help to support each other through this new lockdown.
As we work our way through this added challenge at the start of 2021 after what has been a difficult year for us all, it is understandable if you’re feeling exhausted, frustrated or concerned about the hurdles we’re all facing.
Our Beacon Community’s wellbeing is of vital importance to us at all times, but especially at times such as these. Please reach out to anyone in our Beacon Team – Class Teachers, Form Tutors, our Senior Master (James Skea) or myself with any concerns and we will do whatever we can to help and support you.
I have put together this short piece in the hope my advice and tips can help to support what you are already doing to look after your children’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as your own. As leading psychologist and professor, Tanya Byron, quite rightly says: “It is vital to look after ourselves so that we can best take care of our children and young people. Make sure you put your oxygen mask on first.”
What can you do?
- Maintain routines – keep these all going at roughly the same time as much as you can so days have some sort of rhythm and structure.
- Maintain healthy habits for the whole family – think about sleep patterns, meal choices, exercise, play, mentally-stimulating activities, shutting off from work and ways to relax and unwind.
- Keep communication open – use open questions and avoid conflict with your family members (see below for more tips on being an Active Listener). Taking a walk in the fresh air where you don’t have direct eye contact or a sense of feeling trapped can help children and young people to facilitate conversation.
- Get creative – play and creative activities, e.g. art and craft, can be used especially well as means of communication with young children.
- Be sensible about screentime – remember in lockdown, devices, screens and gaming can be children and young people’s access to friends, family and social interaction, as well as to learning. Try to avoid conflict around this issue and agree on reasonable times allocated to screens.
- Try not to judge children and young people’s behaviour, however distressing it might be for you. Judgement and anxiety will close down meaningful communication. Try not to assume that you know what is wrong.
- Help them help themselves – these challenging times can actually enable the development of lasting resilience. Aim to empower your children by giving them knowledge and skills so they can help themselves. Giving them immediate solutions often mean that they will choose to push back.
- Give positive praise – keep reminding them of times when they have shown true resilience and good judgement.
- Choose your battles and walk away from excessive conflict.
- Try not to take insults personally – children and young people may project any feelings of helplessness or anger towards you because it’s the only way they feel able to do so safely.
- Be gentle and direct – do not be afraid to set some really important boundaries around behaviour. It may not be welcomed, but it really does enable children and young people to feel safe.
How to be an active listener
- Turn devices off and show that you are listening. Squat down to the same level as your child and maintain eye contact with young children. Remember, though, that older children and adolescents often don’t like eye contact.
- Smile and use a gentle tone of voice.
- Try to avoid impatient body language like eye rolling, foot tapping or sighing. This can discourage children from talking.
- Put your own thoughts and feelings on one side.
- Allow your child space to talk and tell their story without interrupting or contradicting them.
- Allow silence if your child is using it to reflect and think, but step in if the silence feels uncomfortable.
- Encouraging things to say: “Tell me more.” “And then?” “Go on, what else?”
Helping with Anxiety
If you are worried your child might be feeling anxious, explain what anxiety is and the physical effects it may have on us. Children and young people can then learn to identify the signs early and see anxiety as a wave that they can surf using breathing and relaxation techniques.
- Encourage them to write down anxieties or post them in a ‘worry box’ so at the end of the day you can talk about them and find ways to manage.
- Help them to set small, achievable goals for change around sleep/resting, self-care and interaction with others.
- Why not try some of my mindful ‘Magic Toolkit’ exercises with your children to help them to decrease feelings of anxiety and encourage them to live in the moment? If one doesn’t work, just try another and then make it a valued part of their day.
Mrs Yolland’s Magic Toolkit
- Mindful breathing: Focus on your breath, imagine a sailing boat that rises and falls with each breath. Alternatively, imagine your breath as a colour (breathe in blue and breathe out yellow).
- Body scan: Lie on the floor in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, squeeze every muscle as tight as you can and then relax all your muscles. Think about how your body feels. Squish your toes and feet, squeeze your hands into fists and make your legs and arms as hard as stone. After a few seconds, release and relax your toes, feet, hands, legs and arms.
- Heartbeat exercise: Jump up and down or do star jumps for one minute. Sit down and put your hand over your heart, then close your eyes and pay attention to your heartbeat and your breath.
- Petal breathing: Squeeze one hand or both hands into fists and breathe in. Open your hands on the out breath. Repeat three or four times.
- One-minute breathing: Using a timer, how many breaths can you count in one minute? One breath counts as in and out.
- Hot chocolate breath: Put hands around an imaginary cup of hot chocolate. Breathe normally and naturally on an in breath, pretend to smell the hot chocolate and savour the smell. On an out breath, blow on the hot chocolate to cool it down. Repeat two to three times.
- Breathing buddies: Lie down and place a soft toy, cuddly, small pillow or cushion on your belly. Notice how it rises and falls with your breath. Pay attention to the rise and fall for a few breaths.
- 7/11 breathing: Breathe in for a count of seven and breathe out for a count of 11.
- 54321: This technique will take your child through their five senses to help remind them of the present. It is a wonderful, calming technique. Take a deep breath and then notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and then take one more deep breath.
- Balloon breathing: Put your hands on your belly. Notice how your belly balloons out on your in breath and how your belly balloons in on your out breath.
The importance of sleep and rest
- Young children need a consistent and relaxing night-time routine with time for a bath/shower, stories and bed (where they can initially rest and eventually fall asleep alone). If they find this tricky, stay with them in the room, but don’t interact and leave before they are fully asleep. Repeat in the night if necessary to enable them to learn to feel confident sleeping.
- Older children and young people should be encouraged to settle on a routine for weekdays and weekends.
- Bed is for sleeping, not daytime use.
- Turn off all devices/screens at least 45 minutes before sleep and encourage a set wind-down routine.
- Stop caffeine and vigorous exercise well before it is time to sleep.
- Help them to use audio relaxation or bedtime stories if they struggle to sleep. Mobile phones should be off at night and charging downstairs away from temptation.
Make an Appointment to Talk
I am here for the whole Beacon Community and I want to help. I am available during the following times:
- Mondays from 09:30 – 12:30
- Tuesdays from 09:30 – 12:30
- Thursdays from 09:30 – 12:30
- Fridays from 09:30 – 12:30
Please just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org, and you will be able to make an appointment.
Useful Books, Apps, Websites and Helplines
Helplines and Websites:
- YoungMinds – there is also a free helpline for advice for parents – 0808 802 5544
- Childline – 0800 1111
- Young Minds Crisis Messenger (text YM to 85258)
- The Mix – (0808 808 4994) – support service for young people
- Shout (text Shout to 85258) – mental health support
- Kooth – an online mental wellbeing community
- NHS Every Mind Matters
Chill Panda and Clear Fear for help with anxiety.