The story behind School & Me...
As you may know, we have personally have had our struggles with separation anxiety and more recently this has also become general anxiety around school.
When I designed our Love Note Heart Patches last year, the driving force behind them was to help comfort children while they are at school and away from their caregiver, helping the to feel like they were still connected.
Our Love Note Patches are Child Physchologist Recommended
I have since done a lot of reading and research around children's mental health in order to support my own family and when looking for some activities I could do with my kids I came across Be Happy Resources. They create fun and engaging mental health resources for children which are used and loved by mental health professionals, teachers and parents across the UK. We have used many of their activities at home and I thought what they did was so amazing I got in touch with their founder Jenny. We realised we had a lot in common regarding why we do what we do, and we decided to join forces!
Our first collaboration is "School & Me" - a helpful toolkit to explore EBSA, school refusal and anxiety in children age 5-10.
We created this workbook to support other children like our own, so we decided to get them involved too! The awesome thing about these activities is that they have been co-produced with and approved by children who have struggled with school related anxiety.
An introduction to School Anxiety and EBSA
It's very normal for children to feel worried about school from time to time, for example when they have tests coming up or friendship issues. But if these worries start becoming more regular it might be described as School Anxiety.
If due to their anxiety your child starts to protest about going to school or refuse to go altogether this might be called School Avoidance, School Refusal, or the more preferred term; Emotionally Based School Avoidance.
Some signs your child might be worried about school include:
- telling you they don't want to go
- having trouble sleeping or worrying at bedtime
- not wanting to get ready in the morning
- a change in their work at school or home
- a change in behaviour- getting more angry/sad at school or home/becoming more withdrawn
- struggling at drop-off time
- having meltdowns after school (even though they might seem "fine" when at school)
- feeling unwell regularly such as having headaches or stomach aches
As a parent/caregiver, this is all really tough to watch. Taking your child to school when they are distressed is heartbreaking and can have a real impact on you too.
We designed the School & Me toolkit to help in a number of different ways...
- It explains school anxiety in a child-friendly way so your child will have a better understanding of the emotions they are feeling
- The activities are designed to open up conversations with your child about what they are struggling with and to help you both understand
- It comes with a caregiver guide to support each activity so you can get the most out them with ideas and prompts to help
- It offers practical solutions and coping tools to helping your child feel more happy, safe and comfortable at school
- It includes fun activities for before and after school to offer distractions
- It can be shown to your childs teacher so they can understand and put support in place
So if you are wondering where to start with helping your child overcome school anxiety these activities are a really lovely way to open up those conversations and understand why they are struggling. The discussions you have and tools in this kit will lead to some practical solutions that will hopefully help both at home and at school.
My top 5 personal tips for helping with school anxiety...
I wanted to share some of the things that have made the biggest impact day to day for us.
1) Offer your child some time to talk every day
Even if it's just 5-10 minutes it's a great habit to get into making sure there is some quiet time with no distractions (e.g. screens) where your child can talk to you if they want to. Sometimes it helps if you are doing something together such as colouring in. For us it's bedtime when all of the days events come flooding out, so I make sure we have some time set aside to chat about it all before it's time to go to sleep. You might find that straight after school your child doesn't want to talk about anything and just needs some time to rest and reset.
2) Make the teachers aware
Personally I would advise doing this as soon as you can because they are the ones who will be with your child all day and can support them. If your child appears "fine" at school they might have no idea that they are worried about it, or if they might have changed in behaviour it will help explain why. There are lots of things the teachers can out in place to support your child while they are at school. We found that once the teachers were aware this also helped the children with knowing who to speak to if they felt upset and that they would understand.
3) Find something your child loves doing
This might not seem relevant but having an activity your child feels like they do well at can hugely help their confidence, self-esteem and ability to be resilient when things go wrong. Even better if that activity is at school (e.g. Choir, football practice) but finding great hobbies at home works just as well- for us it's baking! Also letting them take responsibility and making some of the decisions too can really help (e.g taking charge of the activity or teaching someone else in the family how to do it).
4) They need to feel safe
For your child to be comfortable going to school they need to feel safe there. This can be achieved a number of ways such as; knowing where they can go if they need some time out, having a "safe person" they can talk to, knowing what to expect that day (a visual planner at school), having a comfort object (a teddy, their Love Note Patch!), a confident goodbye from you and reminder they will be safe.
5) Focus on the fun
Distractions alone won't solve the problem (if there is one) so it's important to work out what your child is struggling with too, BUT, having a bit of fun does help! Making your morning routine less stressful and more fun (yes, trust me I know it's HARD) gives them something else to think about on the way in to school other than what they are worrying about. Also, something fun on the way home from school/after school will give them something to look forward to. Even better, if you can make this all part of your daily routine it will become habit and it might even make the idea of school seem less overwhelming. We have included some games and activities in the School & Me Toolkit!
It is important to note that this toolkit is not a replacement for professional support. It may help your child in exploring and communicating how they are feeling and things that may be troubling them. We would recommend you share this toolkit with your child’s teacher or any professionals in your child’s life. If you have any concerns about your child's mental health, or you feel that their mental health may be worsening, please visit your GP or contact a mental health professional.