Helping parents and schools support children who might experience an ‘emotional crash’ during the school term

Posted by iChild, September 23, 2020 10:31 AM

By Dr Zoi Nikiforidou, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University.

She shares her concerns that there’s a chance the excitement of children's recent return to school could now ebb away to reveal heightened new anxieties. 

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She says both schools and parents need to be mindful of any possible warning signs a child is struggling with their emotions: chiefly changes in appetite or sleep patterns, or an increase in aggression. 

Dr Nikiforidou, who specialises in research about the way children analyse and adapt to risk, explains: “Children are extremely resilient and more adaptable than we might give them credit for. And there’s every chance the return to school will be seamless, while parents rediscover their work life balance. 

“But it’s important for schools and families to have the expectation there could be a sort of emotional collapse in the coming weeks once the excitement of returning to school wears off. 

“We need to be aware this might happen and we need to be proactive in supporting children to face any hard times that they might experience.

“There are some simple steps we can follow - and it’s about keeping an eye on subtle changes in the child’s behaviours to see if there’s a problem. 

“Are there changes in sleep patterns, or changes in appetite, or is the child displaying aggression? 

“With monitoring in place, schools and families can then work together to address the potential issues.”

One of the key issues for Dr Nikiforidou is the potential for there to be an imbalance between the way a parent feels, and how the child feels - and she’s urging parents to try and keep their emotions on an even keel even if they threaten to unravel. 

She reveals: “There’s every chance that parents are much more apprehensive than children are about the dangers of virus transmission with the return to school. 

“And of course, we should accept our emotions, thoughts and feelings, even if they’re overwhelming.

“However, because children sense and feel what we as parents feel, it’s important to try to be calm and to show you’re placing your trust in the schools, nurseries and all the professionals involved in this transition.”

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You can also make a difference to the emotional wellbeing of children simply by asking the right questions at the end of the school day and allowing the child to take the lead in sharing what they wish.

Extensively published academic Dr Nikiforidou explains: “A good strategy is to really pay attention to the questions you ask your children and the answers you receive. 

“Simply asking them, ‘How was school today?’ or ‘How are you feeling today?’ might not be enough in all cases. 

“Try to ask questions that explore how they’re feeling on a much deeper level, such as about individual things they’ve learned, to perhaps make them see how beneficial it is for them to be at school. 

“Or ask about individual friends, to again remind them of the nice emotions stirred-up by being back in their friendship groups. 

“At this point in time it’s also really important that you include them in discussions about planning for future family days out or activities. 

“It’s about letting them know that just because they’re back at school, it doesn’t mean the great family times you might have had together as a family have to come to an end. 

“By including them in the conversation, it might shift the focus away from the day to day life of being back in the classroom to renewed excitement about what’s in store for them.

“Crucially, parents should be mindful they then carry out those plans. 

“Because all of this feeds into helping children to focus and concentrate at an academic level, too. 

“If they’re emotionally and socially fine, then they’ll be ready to engage in their learning. If they’re emotionally unstable, then it will be very difficult to provide any support in helping them concentrate or engage with learning activities.” 

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Dr Nikiforidou says many parents may have noticed how friendship groups have subtly shifted over the past few months, and they may be anxious about certain friends drifting away. 

This, says Dr Nikiforidou, is simply part of life - and shouldn’t be confused with an effect of the Coronavirus lock-down. 

She adds, “even before the crisis, friendships changed. They are organic. They’re not stable or static. What’s happened, given the circumstances, is that these changes have simply been accelerated through a lack of social contact. 

“It’s simply more obvious to them who is the child’s friend and who isn’t. Even the ‘leaders’ of friendship groups might now be different. A child might also have had time to reflect on what someone else in the group did or said previously, and then decided, weeks or months later, to no longer want to associate with that person. 

“It is, however unfortunate, a natural part of the friendship cycle.”

By Dr Zoi Nikiforidou,Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies at Liverpool Hope University.

 

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