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Keeping the unknowns in check

Parenting watch-outs now the kids are back in school.

With England’s schools having opened their doors a few weeks ago after what has been a lengthy period of home learning, many kids have already settled back into the old/new routine while others are still not quite there yet. Either way, there are always ways that we as parents can emotionally support their needs and help them to build their resilience and cope with the new emotional challenges they are facing. Happy Confident Company’s Chief Wondermaker and Mum of 3, Jo Chadwick shares her observations and advice.

Anxious parent, anxious child

We all know that our own moods, our highs and lows affect our kids as much as our fears and joys. But now, more than ever, we need to tread carefully about the subconscious messages we are projecting. And that’s not only in our actual language, but also our body language. Excess worrying and questions about how they are settling in will trigger alarm bells for the kids, suggesting that there is reason to be concerned, making them feel the need to self-check (and check again) even when it may well be fine.

And then there are the school assessments. Many schools will be assessing the kids this side of the Easter holidays, and, as I discovered this morning thank to my 9-year-old refusing to get out of bed, even the most resilient of kids could be nervous, applying pressure to themselves, or feeling worried and stressed about their ability. Keep an eye out, and make sure you keep reminding them (and yourselves) that assessment is just a tool to help the teachers know where to focus their attention, and the children to learn more about themselves and the areas where are strong or and those where they are more, or less secure than they were previously. Try telling them assessment week is there to give them magic signs that will help them know where they are doing well, and the areas where they can practice more to improve their skills. Do let the school know if your children are fretting, and make sure you spend that extra bit of time doing some fun stuff at home – even if it’s a quick game of cards between dinner and bedtime.

Supporting problems is not solving problems

If your child is sharing issues or giving you a reason to feel they may have concerns, make sure you don’t lead the conversation, but playback what they say, asking them how they think they could handle the situation or overcome their challenges. Use examples in your life where this may have applied to you, and what you did to solve the problem. Don’t judge, don’t sugar coat, and neither minimise nor try to fix things yourself. It’s all about helping them to devise their own strategies and take control of finding their own solutions. This empowerment will build their self-belief in no time. Simple tactics such as getting them to list things out on paper, classifying the issues to try and find a common denominator (just like with fractions), writing pros and cons, applying a weighting to their challenges so that they can reduce any overwhelm and begin to create order around finding resolution. Again, be careful with the language you use, remain positive, and resist the temptation to tell them what to do, but use questions to help guide them toward tenable solutions.

The inner voice is loud, try and catch it out

We’ve all eaten more and exercised less over the past few months. Home learning has been a walk in the park for some, tough for others and different families may have had a different approach to yours. As parents, we have no idea how level the playing field in the classroom is right now, and your child will be trying to work out where they rank in the class, socially, academically, and also in the friendship stakes. This could be exceedingly tough even for the most resilient kids – because their friends may have changed, might be behaving differently, or distantly, and this could make your child doubt themselves. The fittest of kids may be unfit having not had as much outdoor time in the last lockdown, and the ones who were struggling in some areas academically may have thrived as a result of one-to-one work at home with a parent. So, the landscape could be entirely different. Now back at school, they may also be anxious about judgment from their peers, may feel worried about what others might be thinking, and might be feeling filled with self-criticism and self-doubt. Think about how you phrase questions about school and ensure you’re using positive language and reflecting a positive outlook ‘what was the best thing you today’, or ‘did you learn anything super interesting today’, ‘did anything funny happen today?’. This will focus your child on drawing out the positives at the end of each day and by hearing their responses, and you’ll understand even more by also ‘hearing’ what is not said.

So keep the conversation flowing, listen to the unspoken word more than the spoken, keep checking in, and use empathy to help your kids feel more secure with what might be tricky feelings. Most of all, remind them that they are not alone, and plenty of kids are feeling exactly the same.

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