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Lockdown #3: Home-Schooling Stress

Dr Claire discusses the home-schooling and gives some advice on coping through the school closures. 

Our school’s are closed to most students during this latest lockdown and parents have been asked to facilitate learning at home. Even if you are the most organised person, trying to do this whilst working from home is undoubtedly stressful.  Couple that with the usual support networks not being available, and there’s a lorry load of stress and pressure right there.  Trust me, you are not alone in feeling the heat.

I’ve been asked by many parents about how best to manage the pressure of home-schooling, so here’s a few bits of the advice I have shared.

1.       Recognise – you didn’t ask for this.  You have not made a choice to ‘home-school’; i.e. deregister your children and provide them with fun-filled, comprehensive learning opportunities.  At best you have been asked to facilitate some distance learning for your child, whilst already managing your own ever-changing lockdown workload.  This is difficult and challenging and time-intensive and emotional and…  <insert feeling here!!>  Any and all of your reactions to this predicament are normal, whether you are relishing the challenge or struggling to want to get them out of bed in the morning.  Hang in there.

2.       Prepare – Is there a space you can dedicate in your home to this?  Can you create a make-shift work-station for them/you? Do you need to borrow equipment from school?  Is your WiFi connection working or can you use mobile data?  Do you need to speak with your employer to discuss flexible working options around schooling demands?  A little extra background preparation can make the day-to-day run a little smoother and feel a little easier.

3.       Routine – have a daily routine that works for all of you.  Some parents find getting up earlier and doing some of their own work before schooling helps, some have little ones who are up at the crack of dawn.  Treat it like you would any usual school/work day.  Get up, get dressed, have breakfast by a certain time.  Maybe have a walk before you sit down at the computer.  Don’t be tempted to stay in your pyjamas as it won’t signal your mind that it is ‘school/work time’.  Also think about your evening routine and how you signal work/school time has finished?  Perhaps going for a walk to aid the transition again?  Work out signalling to your mind the end of one task and the start of the next to enable more of a work/life balance.

4.       Don’t compare – you might think everyone else is doing amazingly and handling this like they are an actual qualified teacher.  Don’t be fooled.  This is a stressful time for all parents who have their children at home and all you can do is your best.  Try not to be so hard on yourself, you’re doing great.

5.       Time out – this is more important now than ever.  Make space in your diary to have time out for you and time out for your children.  You need to find a bit of space from one another where possible and allow time to recharge and do something you enjoy.  When living in such close quarters, we pick up on one another’s emotions, so it is important to be aware of your emotions and how you manage them, and model this emotional literacy to your children to help them manage their emotions. 

I hope this provides some useful food for thought.  

Most of all, I implore parents to treat themselves with compassion at this time, you are doing the best job you can with what you’ve been dealt.  Trying your best will always be good enough in your children’s eyes.  You got this.
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Lockdown Self-Care for Parents

We are living in unprecedented times and understandably, we are all struggling with our mental health more than usual.  Couple this with the nights drawing in and those dark early mornings, the likelihood of any of us experiencing low mood and anxiety are significantly increased.

It is more important now than ever to consider how you are looking after yourself, after all – you can’t pour from an empty cup!

Self-care is not all fluffy blankets and candlelit baths.  Sometimes it is self-soothing activities like these, but sometimes it is practical measures to help you feel less anxious.  Here are 5 tips to support your self-care this month:

  1. Focus on the basics

Eating well, sleeping well, drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day.  We all know these are good for us but often they are the first things to slip when our mood changes.  This time of year also prompts us to reach for the comfort food and drink so make sure you include some vegetables and drink water in between warm drinks. Also be mindful you are not sleeping too much or too little, sometimes a light box can aid our sleep over the Winter months.

  1. Know your supports

Do you know who you would call on to help you if you suddenly had to self-isolate?  Avoid the panic of self-isolation by considering a plan of who you could ask to help you with shopping or collecting essentials for you.  Consider where your nearest Covid testing station is and how you might access it safely. A little bit of preplanning can save a lot of anxiety in the long run.

  1. Make a plan with your employer

If you are employed, have a conversation with your manager about how you might manage work if your children are sent home from school and their bubble is advised to self-isolate.  Consider with them whether you may be able to work from home, or how you might flexibly use leave.  Hopefully, you wont have to enact this plan, but it is reassuring if you know what their response is likely to be should your child have to stay home from school. 

  1. Have a routine

With the schools remaining open this lockdown, maintaining a family routine is easier, however do think about the weekends and how you might add some structure to enjoy your time together.  Also, if you are working from home, structure your working day to include breaks and a chance to have a breather.

  1. Look for the positives

It’s not all doom and gloom.  Yes, it’s a stressful time and yes, it feels like things are constantly changing, but shift your focus by looking for the positives in every day.  Practice doing this with your child – ask them “what was the best thing about your day?”

Hopefully you find some of these ideas helpful, and most of all remember, self-care isn’t selfish.  If you are struggling with your mental health and it is impacting on your daily life, please seek support from your GP or a private provider. 

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Managing Back to School Anxiety

Rugby-based Clinical Psychologist Dr Claire Leonard offers some tips for managing back to school anxiety in the midst of a very strange 2020
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Young Minds completed a survey with young people and found that 83% reported their mental health had deteriorated during lockdown, with 31% reporting their usual mental health support wasn’t available. Sadly 87% of young people felt lonely during lockdown, despite keeping some contact with their friends.
Young Minds, 2020

We are living through a very strange (and anxiety-provoking!) time.  A global pandemic doesn’t leave much room for ‘normal’ life and we are constantly being expected to adapt to a “new normal” but no-one quite knows what that normal looks like.  This is unsettling for all of us but for some it can induce significant anxiety. 

Getting back to 'normal'?

Our children have been off school for the best part of 6 months.  Returning to school or starting school for the first time is an anxious time for any child, let alone when they are going back after such a long period of being at home which they have been told is ‘safe, versus ‘out there’ which ‘isn’t safe’.   They might be asked to do things differently; to remain in a bubble, not have contact with children they might usually, or for some older children – wear face coverings in school.  School drop offs and pick ups might be different and there may be local lockdowns meaning extra periods of time off school and the back to school anxiety starts all over again. 

Five top tips to help

1. Preparation

Find out as much as you can to help ease the transition.  Contact the school and other parents to be able to explain in as much detail what will happen.  Make sure you have all the things they need and help them to organise them so they can find them easily.  Some parents find having a set of plastic drawers with one for every school day helpful so you can put in what they needs for those days.  This also promotes their independence for getting ready.

2. Talking about things openly

Talk about the topic of school openly and about how they might be feeling.  They are likely to be feeling a whole host of emotions about it and we can help by aiding them to acknowledge them all, including the anxiety.  Get them involved in planning what their morning routine might look like or what activities they would like to do when they get back from school.  Giving them some control over their day in this way will help them to feel more at ease.

3. Getting the basics in

This means eating well, sleeping well, drinking enough water and getting some exercise.  Sometimes we all need to review what we are doing with these as they can be the first bits to be impacted when we are struggling.  Can you make some tweaks to what you family is doing with some meal planning or a family walk after school and work?  Can you chat with your young person about meal planning or changing their bedtime routine – getting them involved in the planning can help get them on board.

4. Promoting other ways to reduce anxiety

This is where Google can be your friend! Anxiety reducing activities such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation and grounding techniques can be helpful and you can use Google to find child-friendly versions of these.  Practice them together.  Practicing this regularly both when feeling calm and feeling anxious is the key so they become familiar techniques to use. 

Picture Credit: Huffington Post

5. Hug/Cuddle Buttons

This is to help your child feel connected to you during the school day if they are struggling with some separation anxiety.  You both draw a heart or similar on your hands and hold them together in the morning to ‘charge them up’.  Explain to your child that during the day if they need a cuddle they can press their button (and if you need a cuddle, you can press yours) and you will feel both it.  Sometimes an X stitched inside the sleeve of their school jumper can also work if they worry about others seeing it.  It is important you review at the end of the day if you both used it as this allows them a chance to talk about how they are feeling with you. 

Anxiety on returning to school is normal and to be expected.  If the anxiety is more significant, leading to panic attacks, sleep problems or getting in the way of their daily life – it may be helpful to seek some professional support.  You can approach your GP to access this through the NHS or you can choose to use a private provider and pay for this yourself.