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How to help young people in going back to school

How can we help young people unpick how they are feeling about the return to school? This article covers how to assist them.
Girl with mask looks through window showing hand with text Stay home

Dealing with transitions

The transition from lockdown back to in-person contact; educational transitions from one school year to the next; and physical transitions from one environment to another, can be difficult to deal with.

The impact of transitions on a young person’s well-being can be huge. How do they manage those transitions, and what are some of the negatives and positives that result from life’s transitions?

The psychological impact of change

Transitions in life can have a huge physiological and psychological impact on the individual, affecting their sense of happiness, stability, self-esteem and perception of the future.

Transitions can provide a source of personal growth and development depending on how the individual perceives the event. When a transition event is viewed as a stressor, the transition can adversely affect the individual’s wellbeing, leading to the use of coping mechanisms like denial and rationalisation.

The individual may also experience feelings of anger, sadness, dread, a decrease in self-esteem and depression.

The nationwide lockdown

The nationwide lockdown brought a halt to daily life, forcing us to work and learn remotely. This involuntary transition has been immensely challenging and stressful for many, both young and old.

Considering the pressure placed on parents and carers to manage this transition for themselves, whilst maintaining their young people and potentially providing support to high-risk family members, it is possible that their capacity to provide a routine and support their young person may have dwindled.

As a result, some students may be returning to school having fallen behind and feeling out of sync with the school routine. They may harbour anxieties about the return to school or frustration with the rigidity of the school day.

Farah’s experience

Below is Farah’s experience of the dramatic change her family have experienced as a result of the lockdown:

“I remember at the start of the lockdown, Mum said she was going to be working from the kitchen and so Israel and I had to stay in the lounge or in our rooms during the day while she was working. At first it was okay, I got to wake up at 10am, because Mum was always caught up in a meeting and so she didn’t have time to wake me up. I remember asking my mum to wake me up and she said that I had to grow up a little and begin to wake myself up and also get my brother ready. No way! Since she said we should stay in our rooms, I did exactly that.
Then like a week later, Grandma moved into the sitting room. Mum said she was going to stay with us and that I had to help her around the house and look after Jadda. I did my best to look after Jadda, but after a while I realised that I had fallen behind with my school work. I told mum but she was really too busy trying to ‘get through the day without going bald’ so I stopped asking for help. Then things got weird. Mum got furloughed or something and this meant that we had to be extra careful with our money. Mum spent a lot of time in her room. So I had to look after Israel and Jadda helped when she felt strong enough. Yesterday, Mr Johnson said that we would be going back to school and really, I don’t want to go.Year 7 was easy in September but I don’t know, I think it will be harder, much harder, I can’t remember anything.”

The return to school

We expect that the return to school after a prolonged period of absence is bound to result in some behavioural issues, as the young people we work with may present their anxiety in a number of ways, including but not limited to poor attendance, disruptive behaviour in lessons and a refusal to do work.

It will be important to help the young person unpick how they are feeling about the return to school as their behaviour may derive from the dramatic shifts in routine, the uncertainty surrounding their responsibilities and the future.

Understanding young people’s concerns

These concerns may be particularly troubling for those entering Year 7 and for students undertaking their GCSEs. For students entering Year 7, the transition from primary to secondary can be quite daunting, filled with concerns regarding friendships, the new environment and the lack of familiar adults.

The anxieties of those expecting to begin their GCSEs this year are likely to have spiked. After the fallout from Ofqual’s decision, we anticipate that some young people will present with concerns regarding their GCSEs, academic performance generally and their ability to access opportunities in the future.

Being open and honest

It is important that you are open and honest with young people, informing them of the school’s plan of action regarding GCSE’s and how they and their parents can best prepare for the undertaking, in order for them to achieve the best possible results.

If you’d like to learn more about youth mental health, check out the full course online, from the Mental Health Foundation, below.

This article is from the free online

Youth Mental Health: Supporting Young People Using a Trauma Informed Practice

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