Head of Counselling and former teacher Helen Spiers, shares her top tips for helping students through the ongoing uncertainty.
Just as we’re settling into the ‘new normal’, news of the second lockdown means our day-to-day lives have been disrupted once again. As adults it’s disappointing, but we’ve seen enough to know that challenges can be overcome and that one year really isn’t all that long. For children, a year is an eternity and for some, 2020 has felt like an unending prison sentence.
When the children return from half term, you’re likely to see a mix of reactions. Those with high levels of resilience will take the news in their stride. For others, there may be anger, despair, anxiety and fear over what lies ahead. So how can we support students with the future uncertainty in the Covid lockdown and beyond?
2020 has taken its toll on all our mental health, but for those working in education it’s been especially fraught. While the world hibernated, school staff were navigating how to support and educate pupils, while keeping themselves and the children safe.
In mental health circles the analogy of the oxygen mask on a plane is often used. If you have anxiety, you’ll need to work through it before you can support the children with theirs. Take time to unpick your own fears about the new lockdown. Focus on the things that are in your control and seek support from the people around you.
Give students the chance to talk
When I retrained to be a counsellor, the skills I’d developed as a teacher were invaluable. As teachers we’re constantly observing and listening so we can spot misconceptions and remove any barriers to learning. It’s the same with counselling. I’m still looking for misconceptions – ‘there’s no point to anything’… ‘I’ll never be able to see my friends again’ – so I can help the young person to challenge them and reframe how they see things.
Giving your students lots of opportunities to talk will help you to spot those pupils who need this support. Regular circle time, PSHE and access to mentors will show the children that you take their feelings seriously and will encourage them to open up.
Practice active listening
If you think a student is struggling, let them know what you’ve noticed and ask if they want to talk. Knowing how to respond to their problems can be difficult, but instead of focusing on what you say, engage your active listening. When someone opens up, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to predict what they’ll say and start planning our response while they’re still talking. By doing this – we stop hearing them. To actively listen, turn off your internal noise and focus entirely on what they’re communicating. We don’t need to solve their problem and it’s important not to dismiss their worries. As a counsellor I normalise my clients’ anxieties and then validate them – I let them know that it’s okay to feel that way and that I understand. Once they feel heard and understood, they’ll hopefully see the world more positively.
2020 has taught us we need to be prepared for anything. By using it to help children build their resilience and coping skills, we’ll have spent the year wisely. Giving children lots of opportunities to overcome challenges and succeed will raise their self-esteem and build their resilience. Rewarding effort and determination, over attainment, will also help.
Promoting optimism wherever possible is essential. It’s important young people have the space to talk about their feelings on the lockdown but school should also be an escape from the negativity. Making the school day fun and engaging, and planning activities which focus on a brighter future, will help students see beyond the lockdown.
Supporting your pupils’ mental health can feel daunting, but by being a consistent role model, you’re already doing a great job. If you are worried about any of your students, reach out to them and if it’s needed, seek additional help. By working together, we can get through this.
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Student’s Mental Health: Supporting pupils during COVID-19
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Building Emotional Literacy and Resilience in Children
BY HELEN SPIERS
Resilience and emotional literacy are two of the most powerful tools in enabling young people to have good mental health and happy, successful lives. In these modules Helen talks about how poor attachments and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can make these tools harder for young people to obtain.
There is a strong link between social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) and language. During this course you will learn about how attachment difficulties affect early brain development. You will be given some strategies on how you can aid language development in children with SEMH in the classroom.
On this pathway, the counsellor will support the young person to explore the root of these anxious feelings so they can understand them and begin to overcome them. The student will learn to recognise triggers for their anxiety, strategies to manage it, as well as support to build their self-esteem and resilience.
During this 6 week programme, we’ll support the pupil in exploring the root of these difficult feelings so they can process them and begin to overcome them. We’ll help them to build their resilience and self-esteem so they can engage more with school life and feel prepared for future uncertainty.
Mable was created by a speech and language therapist and a programmer who are passionate about improving speech therapy services across the UK. What started as an idea has become a reality with hundreds of pupils across the nation now receiving assessment and intervention via the Mable platform online. Working with Mable, schools can see exactly how SEN funding is being spent; analysing data at an individual and whole school level. Sessions are booked around the pupil availability, not the therapists. Using gamification means children are motivated to attend sessions, and the in-built staff CPD allows staff to be upskilled in specific areas of SLCN.
Head of Child Counselling
Helen has over 15 years experience working with young people, as a primary school teacher and Child and Adolescent Counsellor. She has a post-graduate diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy as well as specialist training in counselling young people. Helen has worked in college, primary and secondary school settings. She’s passionate about working with young people of all ages and supporting them with their mental health.
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