With so much in the media and elsewhere about the Omicron variant, the emotional pressures on children and staff have been significant as they return to school in the new year.
The reintroduction of face coverings, COVID-19 testing and staff absence are all contributing to heightened anxiety.
Here we consider how can we better support the mental health of staff, children and their families in the new term.
We must not pretend that everything is ‘normal’
Children and grown ups may have anxiety about returning to school after hearing so much about the new variant and the resulting changes in school. It is important to acknowledge this and understand that an adjustment period is going to be needed.
However much we wish for normality, for many of us, this may be an impossibility. It is important to acknowledge this and to let people have time to share their experiences.
Many of our children will need the adults around them to help them transition back into academy life
Many children will return to school after the Christmas break with high levels of personal anxiety, heightened by the anxieties being felt by the adults around them. With the rules around mask wearing coming into effect for secondary students, there is heightened anxiety around the possibility of more restrictions.
Some will have also experienced relational poverty and a lack of meaningful connections with others over the holidays. Our children need support which focuses on grounding and calming them, and simple things like a smile, giving them time and asking questions will have a powerful effect.
Staff energy may be low and anxiety high
Faced with some staff shortages, there is likely to be more pressure on school staff.
Their general wellbeing will inevitably have been impacted, which may affect their ability to lead, manage and respond to change in the coming months.
A slower re-start to the new school term will enable us to build resilience in the long term. Staff and pupils need time to adjust and settle back in, and we must focus on re-establishing relationships and routines.
There’s no such thing as over-communication during this time
During this period of uncertainty, knowing everything about our controls and measures will help reduce feelings of anxiety. What does testing look like? How will the school work with some staff away? Keeping in close contact is absolutely essential. Being open to answering questions where we can, but also being honest when we don’t know the answers is also important to help maintain trust and confidence.
Putting it all into practice
As we dive in to this new term, never has it been more important to put into practice what we as a sector have preached for so long about the mental health of all the people we serve.
Emma Martin is an educational psychologist employed full-time by E-ACT.