Lockdown: How are you ‘holding in mind’ your pupils?

Written by: Angela Greenwood | Published:
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The benefit of “holding in mind” our children and families during these difficult times are numerous. Angela Greenwood looks at what this might mean for your primary school

The subtitle of my recent book – Understanding, nurturing and working effectively with vulnerable children in school – is: “Why can’t you hear me?”

This is because one of the crucial needs of the very vulnerable children in our schools is the need to feel “heard”. They can sometimes be seen to unconsciously communicate this through their defensive behaviours or through their projections – leaving school staff feeling helpless or even ignored, which in turn often exacerbates our unhelpful expectations and these patterns of behaviour.

In the book, I constantly recommend “holding in mind” gestures and comments, as well as an on-going, committed and thoughtful relationship-based approach to working with such children.

Thus a new and trust-enhancing experience can grow; they can understand when they need to that significant people in school do care and have them in mind.

Their teacher/key worker will notice when they are going through a bad time for some reason. They will know, for example, that changes are difficult, and that extra understanding and support are needed at such times.

The book is a description of both the underlying aspects of dysfunctional attachment patterns and the painful effects of trauma and abuse, for example. Understanding these aspects enables school staff to understand the importance of nurture and practical thoughtful responsiveness for such children.

I am sure readers will agree that this sort of approach and such a secure base and relationships in school are especially needed during these dark, uncertain and often worrying times – for everyone, let alone those most “at risk”.

I am now retired from the PRU and from my therapeutic work with children and schools which led to the book, but the other day I had a long conversation with my friend and ex-colleague – an assistant head – about continuing support for children and families both emotionally and practically during the current crisis.

“If you want to help the children, you have to care for and help the parents and families around them,” she said, “especially in these times when so many of them are struggling.

“Of course we’ve long seen the benefits of this approach, but the practical help we have been able to offer during the crisis has really cemented our relationships and the children’s growth and learning.”

It may seem obvious, but I suddenly realised how “these times” offer invaluable opportunities for all sorts of very practical family support and “holding in mind” gestures to be interwoven with the caring and life-transforming relationships which teachers and school staff often have with their needy children and families.

In addition to the government funding available for holiday meals for those entitled to free school meals, my friend described all sorts of additional funding she was able to access to support the children and their families over the half-terms and holidays.

Like other schools perhaps, they arranged for cooked meals for the children to be delivered to the home between 11 and 1pm each day. They also sent food hampers (including a turkey at Christmas) and breakfast hamper boxes to the families from the local food bank, sports bags and outdoor play equipment like balls and ropes from a sports organisation, literacy packs, art materials and activity suggestions from a local charity, books from the library (including dual language books where appropriate) and Change for Life packs from the council to encourage health and hygiene.

My friend described how these “gifts” were introduced to the families with friendly, thoughtful letters from significant school staff, reinforcing that the children and their families were being thought about and held in mind during these difficult times. Indeed they sometimes led to helpful, appreciative, and even timely, phone calls with parents and with children.

Some of the families were overwhelmed by the “unbelievable generosity”. She described how they do this for their families “not just because it’s our job, but because we really care”.

I guess this amount of commitment might feel a bit over the top for some school staff reading this, but the rewards can be immense in terms of openness to learning and emotional growth in both the children and the families.

If the family or the parent feels cared for and held in mind then anxieties can be eased a little, the child will be easier to manage and will want to please their teacher and have a go at the activities.

Indeed the satisfaction and meaning derived from such appreciative relationships and from the rewards of such practical creative initiatives, and the joys of seeing the children and families grow and learn, can’t be bought. They can bring meaning and energy to both life and to the school. I certainly sensed it in my friend.

  • Angela Greenwood is an educational psychotherapist and author of Understanding, Nurturing and Working Effectively with Vulnerable Children in Schools: Why can’t you hear me? (Routledge, 2020). Visit www.angelagreenwood.net

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