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Practitioner Insights: Back to school after the coronavirus lockdown – Tips for parents and carers

Practitioner Insights: Back to school after the coronavirus lockdown – Tips for parents and carers

The transition back to school will undoubtedly be challenging for pupils and their families – from difficult experiences at home to re-adjusting to their normal routines. Drawing on the experience of our Education lead practitioner Gail McNelly, this post explores practical tips for parents, carers, and families.

We know that families living in precarious situations, facing financial hardship, and going through other challenging times have borne the brunt of the lockdown period. For many of the families we work with, the closure of schools, afterschool clubs and centres has been particularly tough, in addition to increased mental health and wellbeing concerns. Due to these challenges and more, it is important that parents and families are informed and feel supported during this transition.

Tips for parents, carers, and families

  1. Try your best to stay informed

As schools continue to review their safeguarding and child protection guidelines, it is also important that as parents you stay informed of policies as they change. Try your best to engage with the school by speaking to teachers and anyone else involved in your child’s learning about any concerns you may have. You can also read more information for parents and carers about returning to school post-lockdown including the policies on wearing face coverings.

  1. Get talking

Our recent Motivate to Educate (M2E) survey found that 75% of parents felt that Covid-19 has impacted on the mental health and wellbeing of the family, including 50% indicating an impact on family communication.  It is therefore more important than ever to talk to your child about what is going on and how they are feeling about going back to school. This may include talking about going back to the normal school routine which is one they will have to re-adjust to. Here are some more practical tips and conversation starters you can start to implement by Young Minds.

  1. Explore different activities with your children

Connect with your child and their interests by doing activities together like cooking, decorating, exercising, family yoga, making art, playing board games, or going to the park. You could help them to explore their feelings and ways to manage them by reading our previous #PractitionerInsights post and utilising the Time for Us pack. There are also online resources to support home learning including these checklists from the Education Endowment Foundation.

  1. Re-introduce daily routines

One parent who took part in our M2E survey said the lockdown had affected their “routines, family time and having a bit oschoolwork.” Further to this, Gail found that the lockdown period saw many children turning to technology and gaming which, in some cases, had affected their daily routines including eating and sleeping patterns. As schools re-open, it is important to help your child return to their normal sleeping and eating routines, particularly during the first few weeks of school which they may be the most challenging. You could start by checking out this guide on improving sleep by the Mental Health Foundation.

  1. It is okay if you struggle

For those of you who have felt particularly isolated, concerned, or fearful during this lockdown period, returning to school will of course be challenging and daunting.  Things will take time to get used to – try to stay patient with yourself and your children. You could explore different coping strategies that work for you when you are feeling stressed out like connecting with nature, meeting friends and family and breathing techniques. How you look after your own wellbeing will impact on the wellbeing of your children.

More helpful links

Relief and support during Covid-19: A list of links and resources by Kineara

Supporting autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic plus some helpful resources by Kineara

Practitioner Insights – Tips for schools and educators

Helpful resources and downloads for parents and families by Family Links

Find out more about our education services

Posted by kineara in Education
Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything most of us have had to deal with. With schools closed, routines and support services disrupted, and increasing concerns all round, it’s easy for us to feel like we’ve lost control. As Kineara’s practitioners continue to provide school-home services and adapt to the changing circumstances, our priority concern is, and will always be, about the safety and wellbeing of the people and families we work with. 
 
In light of this, combined with Autism Awareness and Stress Awareness Month, here are our top recommendations from Gail McNelly, Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) Lead Practitioner, for parents and carers of autistic children. The hope is to encourage positive coping and wellbeing for yourself and your children during this challenging time.

1. Keep your day as close to the school day as possible

Autistic children may feel anxiety about unexpected changes and events, as highlighted this month by the National Autistic Society. Giving children advanced notice about practical activities, space to express themselves, and time to come to terms with the various changes are very important during this time. “Most children with autism thrive on routine and structure,” says Gail, “Keeping to a good routine as close to the school day as possible can help you and your child maintain some control during this unpredictable time.”

2. Create a visual timetable to support daily routines

Supporting autistic children in understanding and navigating the COVID-19 situation is often best when combined with visuals. A visual timetable, for example, helps children to “know exactly when they are learning, eating, and have free time to play, as well a process information in multiple formats” says Gail. You could also customise a visual timetable with an interest of theirs – for example, with football, you could include space for football stickers and pictures.

3.  Observe their play, get involved and follow their lead

Making the most of your time together is now more important than ever. “You could spend time doing fun and creative activities,” says Gail. Much of what works will depend on your child but some ideas include: “Reading stories, baking fun biscuits, singing songs (nursery rhymes for younger children), trying different exercises, yoga or relaxation techniques, or using sensory objects to have calming down time.”

4. Build on strengths and talk about their interests

Supporting autistic children, Gail uses a variety of tools and resources to build on their individual strengths. Some of these include custom-made emotion cards to help communicate how they are feeling, bite-sized visual instructions and practical breathing/relaxation exercises. 
 
Working with one M2E pupil, Gail found that Talib loved trains and had memorised almost every journey. Therefore, she suggested that dad take him on train journeys and make it a reward for him. If this wasn’t possible, simply talking to Talib about trains, or buying a toy train as a reward and acknowledgement would help to strengthen positive relationships.

5. Be available to answer any questions

It’s normal for your child to feel nervous or anxious about COVID-19, so talk to your child about what is going on and answer any questions in a clear and easy-to-understand way. “An autistic child has a different way of understanding, learning and communicating,” says Gail. She adds that getting to know your child and what works for them, providing reassurance to your child, and letting your child feel their emotions, are all helpful ways to support their wellbeing.

6. A final message for parents

“If both parents live together and are available, take turns to have a rest at a certain point in each day,” says Gail, “I would also advise parents to take 30 minutes each day doing something to de-stress like guided visualisation, yoga or reading.” 
 
Gail also highlights the benefits of introducing family routines, particularly sleep routines, to deal with hyperactivity, anxiety and strengthen relationships. Reflecting on one M2E case, Gail explains, “He would have a warm bath with lavender, a short massage and a short story before bed. He was also given a worry book and a happy book where he would express his feelings and share them with mum during the sessions.” 
 
“Parenting is a very tough job but learning about your child and how they think is also a learning for ourselves. We must find new routines, different structures and work hard together to creates some positive changes within the family home.” 

Useful links 

Find out more about Motivate to Educate. 
 
Join the conversation on Twitter. 

Posted by kineara in Education
How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

Starting secondary is a significant milestone in a young person’s life – new schools, new friends, new teachers and indeed new challenges altogether. Whether you’re a parent, teacher or practitioner, helping a young person through this transition can be one of the most impactful things you do for them. But how can we support them? Here our practitioners, team and friends share practical ways we can help pupils deal with such challenges.

1. Developing an identity

Fitting in, asserting an identity or gaining peer acceptance becomes even more prominent in a secondary school context. This undeniable reality can often lead to a dip in academic progress or intensify challenging behaviour.

“My challenge at school was a struggle between being a good student and getting the grades everyone (including myself) expected of me and wanting to be independent and assert my identity; who I wanted to be in this world and who my friends were,” says Sandra, Intervention Practitioner at Kineara.

Helping young people to express themselves authentically and take advantage of extracurricular activities is just one way of facilitating healthy social exploration. Sandra adds that it’s also important for parents and teachers to try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are instead of just trying to change it.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track,” she adds.

2. Bullying and peer pressure

Whether its physical, verbal, social, or online, bullying can take many forms. For parents, identifying any changes in your child’s behaviour, asking questions, and building meaningful relationships with their teachers can all make a difference.

Strengthening relationships between the parent and child, parent and teacher, and teacher and child, is one aim of M2E. “I was lucky that I had a good upbringing with parents who gave me a strong sense of self-worth that made me realise my potential. Without it I may have ended up in more serious trouble that would have been harder to return from,” says Sandra.

During the transition, it can be helpful to try to increase your child’s circle of friends by encouraging them to invite home their friends or participate in group activities. Educating pupils and their parents through assemblies, class discussions and workshops can also help to challenge stigma and raise awareness about the challenges that pupils are facing.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Mel, Comms Lead at Kineara, highlights the importance of having quality support. “For me the main thing was going from a very small school where everyone knew each other to a school with hundreds of kids in each year; this was a bit intimidating at first! The key thing for me was that I had a close-knit group of friends that formed pretty early; they were my peers who I went to for support and we took each other through the whole secondary journey.”

“For pupils who are feeling shy or lonely, we often involve their peers by bringing them into our sessions to participate in group activities such as cooking and baking, which develops the child’s confidence and broadens their friendship circle,” says Gail, Kineara’s M2E lead.

3. Mental health and wellbeing

With 1 in 10 children and young people experiencing a mental health issue at any one time, it is important that we are clued up on the challenges of dealing with mental health, and how we as parents, teachers and practitioners can support pupils. What’s more, a recent Government Green Paper (2017) stated that appropriately trained teachers and school staff can make a difference in addressing mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety and conduct disorder, comparable to those achieved by trained therapists.

In delivering M2E, we’ve found that teachers and school staff can support pupils by  developing their understanding of mental health through relevant training such as MHFA courses, as well as receiving support with their own wellbeing. We have also seen how a school benefits from adopting a joined-up, wraparound ethos that focuses on wellbeing just as much as academic outcomes. As part of the culture, schools could consider activities that have been proven to help pupils manage high levels of stress such as mindfulness, yoga and relaxation/breathing exercises.

The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support must be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

After taking part in M2E, one pupil who was struggling to manage his temper said about the programme: “I enjoy having better relationships with people in school. I use my breathing techniques when someone is annoying me, and I listen to my relaxation before bed and no tech for one hour which helps my sleep.” In this case we found the main outcomes to be significant improvements in the pupils’ overall stress and behaviour, followed by an improvement in concentration and emotional awareness.

There are a plethora of online resources exploring different areas of mental health and wellbeing, from exam stress, eating disorders to responding to traumatic events. We have also written about the real impact of exam stress and why schools need to  focus on supporting mental health during this difficult time.

4. Hidden or complex challenges

For some, personal, hidden, or external challenges will take a toll on social and academic progress through secondary school, including the impact of educational inequality, a lack of adequate support for SEND pupils, family breakdown, or issues with housing. One way of supporting pupils through such a challenge is looking at the ‘whole-person,’ offering empathy and being emotionally available.

“The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support has to be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable,” says Maria, “When you’re talking to someone, it helps to see that person as a system – in that system is a person, their needs, background, parentage, education etc. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

Maria explains that not everyone offers holistic support, neither does everyone have to.” As a school, for example, it’s about recognising that there are other organisations that can support with intervention on a holistic level. It’s about partnership,” she says.

Learn more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact, Research
Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Having received their exam results, many students across the country will be experiencing feelings of joy and relief, exceeding their own expectations and looking forward to their next ventures. But for those who didn’t achieve as well, feelings of stress, disappointment and uncertainty will begin to loom over them. 

The evident pressure put on young people during exam season, be it from the school, family or themselves, can often impact greatly on pupil wellbeing in school and out. To this end, many schools have introduced, and are doing exceptional work in the run up to exam season – including mental health and wellbeing provision; from equipping students with effective tools and strategies to cope with exam stress, utilising online resources, and providing professional, specialist support for pupils and teachers alike.

But what can we do on an individual level to support a young person deal with the impact of results day?  Here are our five top tips from parents, young people and our own education support practitioners who each bring a unique perspective.

1. Celebrate the wins

Feelings of stress or disappointment are completely normal during this time, and though it’s important to give them space to come to terms with it all, you can help them remember how far they’ve come and what they’ve achieved in school and out.

Having delivered multiple careers related talks at schools and colleges, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, says: ”By talking about extra-curricular activities or achievements outside of school, you will be reminding them that there’s more to life than exams and that there’s no one route to success. It’s important to nurture the idea of celebrating small wins, whatever they may be, to maintain motivation and broaden your aspirations.”

2. Don’t add to the pressure

It’s important not to offer immediate judgement or even solutions, rather give them time to accept their feelings, whatever they are.

“I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts,” says former Motivate to Educate (M2E) practitioner Roz. “Letting a child know that we all feel angry, worried or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgment is a real gift. It’s so important to support a child in being able to talk about their feelings by making conversations with emotion-words part of daily life.”

3. Help them explore their strengths and individuality

In delivering M2E, one of the key learnings for our practitioners has been in adapting their support approach to cultivate the unique strengths of the individual pupil. This is done through active listening and enabling the young person to make decisions and empower themselves.

“If one tried their best in a particular exam and still didn’t do so well, consider what their strengths are perhaps in a different subject,” says Elle, Head Tutor at EDS Education. “It’s not the end of the world and young people shouldn’t feel pressured to do well in a particular subject which their parents might expect them to. For example, I have a student who is great at maths but not so much in Science. It’s about finding your strengths are and celebrating them.”

Zak, a Youth Panellist at YoungMinds, adds that it’s crucial not to compare students to their peers: “Someone may graduate at 21, but can’t find a job until 25. Someone else may graduate a year or two later – perhaps due to taking a gap year or retaking a year – and then find a job immediately upon graduating. Everyone is on their own journey.”

4. Talk to them about their feelings

Our practitioners use a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling.

M2E practitioner Davinia says: “Art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child or young person to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Roz adds, “Talk about how characters feel in films and books, why and what they could do about it. This way a child or young person will learn not to judge their emotions but to acknowledge and express them usefully.” Whether it’s through art or a different creative outlet, help a young person explore their feelings and let them know you’re there for them.

5. Encourage them to stay positive and motivated

Sometimes it helps to step back from it all and be hopeful about the future, no matter the outcome. This may involve helping them reflect on key learnings or what could have gone better, but more importantly, encouraging them to celebrate and plan some fun activities they can look forward to.

Head tutor at EDS Education, Elle, was pleased to find so many of her students receiving high grades in their exams, however, one student didn’t get the exact grade she wanted. “The advice I would give is not to be disappointed and understand that everything is a learning process. You need to think and reflect on your grades. Ask yourself why did this happen? What could you have done differently to better your grade? Did you plan your revision timetable? Once you’ve answered these kind of questions, you can take your next step in further education.”

What’s more, studies show that positive mindset yields a higher sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, as well as practising self-determination and having a sense of control over one’s life. Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, says: “There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Posted by kineara
Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

Overcoming exam stress: How engaged parents can support pupil wellbeing

27 May 2019

With exam season underway and pressures mounting on pupils and teachers, we explore the role of parents in supporting their child’s wellbeing and academic achievement. 

Whether it’s creating a supportive environment at home, establishing a love for learning, or cultivating a child’s natural talents, one thing remains constant: parents can play a vital role in their child’s educational journey in and out of school.

Research shows that the emphasis on academic attainment in schools and the wider education system is having a negative impact on pupil wellbeing, with 80% of young people saying that exam pressure has significantly impacted on their mental health. Moreover, a recent survey found exam and school-related pressure to be the greatest cause of concern among parents.

But it’s not just pressure from school and the wider challenges that young people face, from social pressure to low self-esteem. We’ve seen how problems at home, breakdown in relationships and/or family pressure, can intensify stress during exam season. Elle Pareshan, Head tutor at EDS Education and mum of two, who works closely with children and their families has witnessed some of these pressures first-hand.

“Parents have such an important role when it comes to supporting their kids with exams. Some parents, however, are unaware of what their kids are learning and how much is really expected of them, but still expect them to do well. So, it’s important for parents to understand what’s involved with exams, what kids have to learn and the increasing pressures pupils are facing.

With key stage 4 maths, for example, students are having to learn some content from A Level modules. In English, students are having to memorise quotes from several different books and use them in their exams. As a parent, it’s important not to place too much pressure or expectation on your kids – this can often have the opposite effect and impact negatively on their grades.” she says.

In some cases even the term ‘exams’ or any mention of exams can risk piling on the pressure: “If schools, especially primary schools, run tests without pupils feeling that it’s the final assessment then it could make a real difference. Exams are essential I think, but if we explored an alternative form of assessment or didn’t use the word ‘SATs’ then we could really help those pupils who feel pressured.”

The link between emotional wellbeing and academic attainment

Further evidence shows how pupil and teacher, and parent and child wellbeing are often closely interlinked, and this is something we’ve seen in the schools we’ve worked in. In our work, we’ve also seen how a good level of emotional wellbeing correlates to higher academic attainment.

Senel had been concerned about her daughter Chelsey’s engagement in school for some time before learning about Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) programme. “I spoke to the school and found out that she was stressed,” explains Senel, “there were problems going on with girls and all sorts and this was affecting her schoolwork. It got to a stage where enough was enough.”

Soon after, Chelsey began seeing Roz, our M2E practitioner based in Harrington Hill Primary School, who started working through exercises and showing her different communication and relaxation techniques. Roz explains how the programme offered individual and group sessions with her peers at school, but also sessions with her mum and the whole family.

“Roz came to the house a few times which was ideal as it helped us grow closer as a family. When she was here, everyone was getting on with everyone. There was no bickering, no arguments. Chelsey could sit down and express her feelings to Roz and talk about her day at school,” says Senel.

At home, they would play games, watch movies and talk about their feelings, which strengthened relationships within the family and allowed everyone to express themselves freely. Reflecting on a game that used skittles as a starter for talking about how they were feeling, Senel adds: “It was really good as it made Chelsey open up about stuff as well. Every now and again, we play that game ourselves. Chelsey can express the way she feels, and her sister can listen to the way she expresses herself. It’s a fantastic game!”

Senel believes that spending time with her daughter and working closely with practitioner Roz and the school has had a transformative impact on Chelsey, including her grades. “If you see how she was in the beginning. Not that she wouldn’t speak to us, she just found it hard to express herself.” explains Senel. “She used to come home, and she’d slam doors… She wouldn’t interact, she wouldn’t talk about her problems, and she would just make every excuse up not to go to school.

“Now, Chelsey has opened up and learnt how to express herself. The stuff Roz has shown her, she’s like a completely different child. She got high grades in her exams, even the teachers have noticed the change in her, it’s amazing!”

While the school has a duty in creating a supportive environment for pupils, the impact of parents cannot be overlooked. “Parents and teachers who work side by side in the best interest of the kids, can have make a huge difference to their wellbeing and academic attainment – and this creates positive outcomes at home and school. and It’s a win-win situation!” says Elle.

M2E works with pupils aged 4–18 to explore their understanding of education and build on their ambitions. Its success lies in its ability to engage families, teachers and anyone else important to a young person’s learning and aspirations. Find out more about M2E and our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Latest