Lockdown: Ideas to boost children’s wellbeing during Covid

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

As we face-up to another national lockdown, pupil wellbeing will once again come to the fore. Shahana Knight offers some ideas and advice for primary schools

Delivering education remotely is a challenge for many reasons, not least because it can feel like your relationships with the children suffer. During lockdown it can be difficult to have a handle on learning and the children’s wellbeing.

Prior to the first national lockdown last March, the number of children struggling with adverse childhood experiences was on the rise. The pandemic has only served to exacerbate this situation.

This means that there are increasing numbers of children living with domestic violence, loss, abuse and neglect. However, it is important to note that adverse experiences might also mean children living with parents who struggle with depression or who have financial worries. It might be children who live in large families or who move a lot.

There are a great many factors that can affect a child’s wellbeing and mental health and not all of them are obvious – or an official category of vulnerability.

As such, not all of our vulnerable learners will be in school during this latest national lockdown (and even those learners who are officially vulnerable may be kept at home by worried parents/carers).

At the same time, some children who might not have been deemed vulnerable pre-Covid are now living in a world which itself is moving through collective trauma. Many people are losing jobs or losing loved ones. We are all being prevented from seeing one another.

Children might be hearing worrying stories about coronavirus through the adults around them, adverts or the news. They may be more exposed to the stress and worry of their parents and this will have an impact on their wellbeing and mental health.

Academic achievements are important, but I would argue that right now it is the wellbeing of our nation’s children that is our priority. So, what can you do to support the wellbeing and mental health of your class while they are in lockdown?

Phone calls and check-ins

Running pre-recorded lessons or live streamed lessons are useful to help keep some sense of normality for the children and to try to continue learning at home. However, it is easy for the relationship you have built with your children to feel increasingly less personal. It is also harder to safeguard the children’s wellbeing.

Organising a phone call once a week with each child in your class for five minutes could help those who are beginning to feel unnoticed and unloved will remind them that they are valued and worthy and that someone is thinking about their needs. It will also help children to feel connected to school and prevent them from disengaging.

Try to have some sort of focus for these calls in order to avoid yes-no answers or silence. Have a list of questions. A good question to ask to strike up a conversation might be: “If you could be any superhero right now, who would you be and why?” Or: “If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?”

You might say: “I would be like the sand man and come and give everyone good dreams at night to help them settle and sleep. I know it might be tricky to sleep well right now.”

Try and ask something that will resonate with each child based on their history and what you know about them. Let them share their idea with you and then you share yours with them. See if you can link this to feelings and emotions so that they have an opportunity to open up if they need to. You can do this same activity face-to-face with key worker and vulnerable children who are attending school.

Try to be consistent with the calls or this face-to-face time each week because you will find that the children come to rely on it. This might be their only positive interaction all week.

Care package

During adversity and difficulty people need hope, positivity and joy. Unfortunately, what surrounds us instead is often negative and it can perpetuate feelings of hopelessness and fear. This is especially true for children if parents are absorbed in the narrative of things.

Offering hope and light during this time will lift spirits and reinforce that there is always good, even when things seem bad. Simple, subtle messages like this can often have the biggest impact. Try giving each child a small care package, it might be:

  • A little envelope full of positive quotes.
  • A letter sent home just for them.
  • A book they might like with a little note or bookmark in it about hope, not giving up or positive mindset.

Other ideas include dropping a small pebble which you have decorated with a message at their front door along with the letter. Or ask your teachers to write something positive about each child and stick a few cut-out paper hearts on their front door with these quotes.

Deliver a wellbeing lesson

Alongside your scheduled lessons, make time to teach pupils about how to manage adversity. There is no better time to teach your children the life skills needed to endure difficulties. They are living it right now and potentially seeing people around them struggle to manage their emotions, behaviour and mindset. They will be learning through what they see and may adopt the same bad habits in the future.

This is the perfect time to teach them about people in history who have overcome hardship or to share a story about positive mindset. Find a stimulus, such as a story or video, and watch this together. Then ask the children to think about the message the story or person has taught us and how we might apply this to our own lives.

You might follow this up by asking them to create an inspiring poster for others. You could extend this by asking them to send a copy of their work to school and creating a huge poster or collage which you could then have made into a banner for outside of school (or a video or graphic for the website).

Don’t forget the parents

Things are hard right now for many parents. Trying to home-school at the same time as fulfil work commitments or manage parenting presents a level of stress that many parents may struggle to cope with. This may result in feelings of abandonment or frustration at their own abilities. They may be feeling disempowered and alone.

A word from the school can make a difference and help give them a boost. If the parents feel supported and stress is reduced, then the environment might be easier for the children at home.

Could you write a letter to parents thanking them for all they are doing? Can you share a story of hope or a paragraph of a verse or song that applies right now? Can you offer some encouraging words and help them to see that they are not alone?

Try to make it personal and caring rather than formal and official. Focus on feelings and their frame of reference and show empathy and concern. This will foster a feeling of togetherness and connection, which is needed right now.

Whatever you decide to do remember this: we are all leaders in our small ways. We can lead with our thoughts, our perception, our choices and our actions. It might feel like we have little control, but in fact you have more power than you think.

As Ghandi said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

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