A message to schools, children, parents/carers & supporters
Firstly, we at Blue Smile are thinking of you very much during this time of change and uncertainty.
Like you, we are working hard to adjust to these new circumstances. We will continue to support schools, children and families to promote well-being and good mental health through this testing time.
Between March and July this year, our day-to-day work in schools seeing children for therapy and mentoring temporarily stopped due to school closures. During this time we adapted our services to continue providing support to children and parents/carers over the phone and online. You can read more about our early response to COVID-19 below.
Now, we are happy to report that we have resumed most of our face-to-face therapy and mentoring sessions in schools from September. We are taking the utmost precautions to ensure that we are safely providing support with new extensive procedures in place for risk assessment, personal hygiene, and cleaning. We are also providing individual art therapy kits for each child to further minimise risk.
We are striving to provide face to face therapy whenever possible, but we now have new processes in place that allow us to respond flexibly to different situations while continuing to offer support. If a child or therapist needs to self-isolate, we are providing phone call support to children and parents and online therapy when appropriate.
Blue Smile is committed to offering our essential support and care to children and parents as we all navigate these uncertain times ahead, and we will continue to adapt our services so that we can respond to the needs of our community.
As always, we are able to answer any questions via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
There will be regular updates on the website for advice, help on maintaining children’s wellbeing, and additional resources of support for parents and children.
The coronavirus outbreak has changed all of our lives. At Blue Smile, we are mindful that children are in need of additional support more than ever as their normal lives are disrupted, which may lead to more stress and anxiety. That is why the team at Blue Smile have been working very hard to develop new models of working in order to continue providing means of support to children and parents/carers while schools remain closed.
We have developed a Keeping-in-Touch phone service whereby our qualified therapists offer regular phone calls to parents and children to chat about how things are going, be a ‘listening ear’ and offer emotional support and advice as appropriate. We have also developed online counselling provision for older children.
Blue Smile also successfully applied for funding to make free individual art packs for all the children we work with. Each pack includes basic art materials such as crayons, a pencil, sharpener, rubber, small watercolour palette, plain and coloured paper, and a brief introduction and instruction sheet. A Blue Smile folder is provided to contain any artwork the child wishes to show their therapist when schools return to a more normal routine. Strict hygiene measures were adhered to when making the packs before they were delivered to schools for distribution to the ‘Blue Smile’ children. We hope that this project will communicate some reassurance to each ‘Blue Smile’ child that we are ‘keeping them in mind’ and that they have not been forgotten during this very unsettling time.
As we begin to feel the impact of coronavirus on our mental health, it is more important than ever to provide support to children and young people. At Blue Smile, we know that our expert, long-term therapy services will be needed by an increasing number of children in the months to come, and we need your support.
Although our fundraising events have necessarily been cancelled, there are still ways that you can support us, even through creative ways online! Our Fundraising Pack is available with lots of ideas and practical tips. Or perhaps you could click here to make a donation to support our work.
Every donation made is hugely appreciated and we thank you for standing with us at this time of great uncertainty and need.
As the summer holidays come to an end, all children in England will be returning to school for the start of a new school year. A small number of children went to school before the holidays, so they may know what to expect, but the vast majority of children stayed at home. In all cases, starting school or starting a new school year can be a stressful time, let alone during a pandemic. Children may be feeling excited, nervous, uncertain, or anxious as they anticipate returning to school. Here we have some guidance and resources for parents and carers to support children as they return for the new school year.
- Have ongoing discussions about any questions and concerns your children may have about returning to school.
Children may be wondering if it is safe to go back to school or they may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school. Explain that although coronavirus has not gone away completely, children are at very low risk of becoming ill from coronavirus. Explore child-friendly resources together such as BBC Newround which offers a wealth of informative updates and news about coronavirus in an engaging way:
- Video: Back to school advice from Dr. Radha
- Video: Summer Term in Lockdown – A Newsround Special
- Social distancing: Where can I meet my friends and family?
- Reassure children that school life will be different in order to make sure that it is as safe as possible.
Discuss the safety measures that will be in place at your child’s school to keep students and teachers healthy such as different start times, regular hand washing, social bubbles, and smaller class sizes. Practice different precautions together in a fun way such as washing hands with soap while singing along to a favourite song and practicing coughing or sneezing into the elbow. Remind children that they can always ask questions to their teachers if they are unsure about the new rules and safety measures at school.
- Gently check in with your child frequently and remind them that it is okay if it takes time to get used to being back at school.
Some children may be excited to see their friends again but friendships may not feel the same with all the new regulations and social distancing measures. Or some children may miss their mum, dad, or carer more than they expected after many months of staying at home. Have open conversations about what is on your children’s minds and let them know that it is natural to have different emotions or to feel overwhelmed when adjusting to new routines.
- Engage children in creative activities such as playing and drawing to help them express their emotions.
Creative expression and play can help children communicate difficult feelings such as anger, fear, or sadness in a safe and supportive environment. There are many creative resources and activities online that you can complete with your children:
- Going Back to School Guide
- A child-friendly guide created by the Children’s Commissioner for going back to school, including an activity page where a child can write about or draw things that make them excited and worried, and then share with a trusted adult.
- Going Back to School & Letting Go and Future Plans
- Activity worksheets created by Partnership for Children to help children creatively express and discuss their feelings about going back to school, reflect on what they missed during lockdown, and what they are looking forward to in the future.
- Wellbeing Resource Pack
- Emotional wellbeing resource pack created by MurrayHall Community Trust with numerous activity pages for children to write and draw about their emotions and thoughts such as Worry Tree, Hope Clouds and Mindfulness Colouring.
After several weeks in lockdown some parents and carers may be feeling the pressure and stress build up. Here is a link to a series of short videos created by the Maudsley Charity offering parenting tips and advice for handling difficult behaviour and helping children cope with negative emotions:
The advice is formulated by researchers and NHS mental health experts and includes topics such as:
- Building your child’s self-confidence and trust in you
- Promoting good behaviour
- How to limit conflict
- Keeping calm when your kids act up
The videos focusing on emotions offer tips drawn from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) principles and are especially helpful for children experiencing anxiety or depression. Video topics include:
- How to communicate better with your child
- Helping your child cope with anxiety
- Helping your child manage negative feelings
- How to boost positive emotions
Many weeks of lockdown have passed in which children and families have been required to make huge adjustments to their daily routines and lives. The next phase of some children starting to return to school from June may bring a fresh set of changes, worries, and difficulties. The prospect of schools opening up to more children will be a significant source of anxiety for parents and school staff. For children, returning to school may be a confusing and overwhelming experience with all the new rules for social distancing that need to be followed. At the same time, the government’s recent announcement that not all primary schools will be able to open before the end of the summer term will also be a huge disappointment for children who were looking forward to reconnecting with friends and teachers before the summer holidays.
Professor Prathiba Chitsabesan, NHS England’s top doctor for children and young people’s mental health, has issued advice that urges parents to watch for signs that children might be experiencing anxiety, distress or low mood as some children return to school in June. Some children may want to return to school but are unable to. These children may be struggling with loneliness, feeling left out, feeling isolated, and feeling uncertain about the future.
Signs that parents should look out for include:
- You might find they are more upset or find it hard to manage their emotions
- They may appear anxious or distressed
- Increasing trouble with sleeping and eating
- Appearing low in mood, withdrawn or tearful, angry outbursts that seem out of character
- Reporting worried or negative thoughts about themselves or their future
- For younger children, there may be more bed wetting
- Secretive behaviour
If a parent is worried about their child’s mental health, they can help by:
- Making time to talk to your child
- Allow your child to talk about their feelings
- Try to understand their problems and provide reassurance that you have heard them and are there to help
- Help your child do positive activities
- Try to keep a routine over the next few weeks
- Look after your own mental health
Parents should seek professional help if they notice any indications of self-harming behaviour such as visible signs of cutting, burns, or bruising.
- The Mental Health Foundation has provided advice and resources for a wide range of challenges that children, families and schools may face as pupils return to school.
- Topics covered include:
- Loss and bereavement
- Challenging experiences at home
- Uncertainty about the future
- Friendships and bullying
- Practical tools and strategies
As school uncertainties continue for several weeks, a wide range of issues can affect the mental health and wellbeing of teachers and school staff. With school closures and home teaching and learning continuing, teachers are having to work around the clock to adjust lesson plans and teaching methods. Many teachers and staff are directly on the frontline, teaching children of key workers in schools, and they will be concerned about the health and welfare of the children and their own family members at home. Uncertainties around the schedule and plan for re-opening schools also brings up many questions about how to keep everyone safe. A YouGov survey of 820 teachers specially commissioned by Education Support found that stress levels are higher than normal for the start of summer term with 59% of primary teachers currently experiencing higher levels of stress and anxiety than usual.
At Blue Smile, we have been thinking of all the education staff who continue to teach and support students through the COVID-19 crisis and we know that teachers and staff will need more support than ever to stay mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy. Therefore, we have gathered some mental health and wellbeing resources for teachers and school staff to access during these challenging times:
- Education Support
- A UK charity dedicated to supporting the mental health and wellbeing of education staff
- They operate a 24/7 free and confidential helpline with trained counsellors: 08000 562 561
- They also have a confidential grants service for current and former education staff who are struggling financially
- Anna Freud – National Centre for Children and Families
- The Centre has developed a booklet series aimed at supporting all staff working in school settings
- They also have Schools in Mind – a free network for school staff which shares practical, academic and clinical expertise on wellbeing and mental health issues that affect schools
- The General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS)
- In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, GTCS has collated and created resources for teachers, including webinars and materials by health and wellbeing professionals
- Headteacher Update
- A website dedicated to primary school leadership teams, offers best practice, advice and guidance on challenges and questions related to COVID-19 and primary school learning and teaching
With schools shut, many children will be spending lots of time on their computers and online in order to access schoolwork and learning. For many, their phones and social media apps will also be the only way that they are staying in touch with their friends. While the internet is providing an invaluable lifeline for everybody during the pandemic, it can also bring risks. As a parent or carer, you may have concerns about keeping your child safe online and how to talk to your child about online safety, and we have provided some guidance below:
- Talk regularly in open and honest conversations with children and young people about what they are doing online, just like you would ask about their day at school. Encouraging them to talk to you about the sites they like to visit and what apps they enjoy using will reassure them that you’re interested in their life, offline and online.
- Be positive but also be open about anything that makes you worried. You could say, “This site looks really fun” or “I’m a little worried about what I’ve seen here.” If you think some apps or sites are not suitable, then listen to why your child wants to use these apps so you can talk about it together. Ask your child what they think is suitable for different ages so that they feel involved in the decision making.
- Ask your children about how they stay safe online and talk together about what they can do to stay safe. If needed, remind them to be mindful of online contacts, scams, and keeping personal information private. Let your children know they can come to you if they’re worried about anything they have encountered online and that you will find a solution together.
- Keep talking with children and young people about the pandemic. They will be eager to understand more about the current situation and what this means for their future. Share suitable news and updates with children about information they are curious about and create opportunities to talk about them together.
- Embrace the benefits of social media to help get us through hard times. Social media is an invaluable tool for maintaining social contact while we are required to socially distance ourselves. Share uplifting content together or participate in building a sense of community online.
- Find ways of using the internet together as a family. Take part in online quizzes together, watch interactive science lectures with your children, exercise together through online videos, learn a new skill together online or visit a virtual museum.
- Technology is clearly an important part of our lives but be sure to factor in lots of non-tech activities too! Create some kind of routine for children with allows time for reading, schoolwork, hands-on activities, exercising, online games, and catching up online with friends and relatives.
Additional information about understanding online risks and keeping your child safe, such as setting up parental controls, advice on inappropriate or explicit content, and online games and video apps
Government guidance and additional resources for parents and carers to keep children safe online during the coronavirus pandemic
Provides key information about some of the most popular apps, social networking sites and other platforms that are currently being used by children and young people
Guidance from NSPCC for keeping children safe when they share videos or images to their social media accounts
As an adult there has been so much to take in on a daily basis while trying to be there for our kids as well!
Maybe you have felt or experienced some of the following: shock; stress; worry; panic; fear; exhaustion; unable to think straight or make decisions; restlessness and unable to concentrate.
You may have also responded with a surge of energy to try to manage all the change. You may have worked really hard to organise yourself and take control, not letting yourself rest until you felt on top of things. Or maybe you just blanked out and watched TV to switch off from it all and didn’t feel able to get anything done.
These are all normal stress reactions to change and uncertain events which may trigger a sense of threat to our normal routines.
As parents and carers, how can we help ourselves to cope with all this, which will help us care for our children’s needs?
Here are some tips:
- Care for ourselves physically
- Go easy on ourselves
- Give ourselves a break occasionally if we can
- Manage the time we spend on social media and reading the news
- Acknowledge our feelings to ourselves and others
- Stay connected to people, especially those who we find helpful & encouraging
- Think of what we can control at the moment
- Try to accept what we can’t control at the moment
Remember that as parents and carers, it is more important than ever to look after your mental health and well-being. Parenting can be challenging in everyday situations, and now the enormous changes to family life will put different demands on everyone. If you are struggling, it’s okay to reach out for support from friends, family, and organisations that are here to help.
Here are some organisations that can provide support:
- Lifeline Plus – call 0808 808 2121
- This is a free mental health and wellbeing helpline for people aged 18 and over, living in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The line will support people to manage their wellbeing, provide advice, or provide resources for other organisations for particular concerns.
- Available Monday-Friday, 9AM – 2PM
- Lifeline – call 0808 808 2121
- A free, confidential and anonymous helpline available 365 days of the year for adults in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. The line provides support to someone experiencing mental health distress or if you are supporting someone else in distress.
- Available 2PM – 11PM
- Qwell – qwell.io
- An online wellbeing support, including educational self-help articles and peer-to-peer support visa forums
- Adults are also able to receive help from qualified counsellors via drop in or scheduled online chat sessions
- Keep Your Head – keep-your-head.com/now
- This website brings together all the mental health support available across Cambridge and Peterborough
As the coronavirus crisis continues, children will be reacting to how their world has changed in the blink on an eye!
Here are the changes they may be experiencing – no nursery or school; no longer seeing friends or wider family; staying in most of the time; doing school work at home; no SATs tests; no usual activities; having parents and siblings around all of the time; not knowing when school will start again; being aware of a virus that is causing all this, as well as grappling with worries about people they know who might be ill or might get ill.
How can we as parents support our children through these changes?
Here are some tips:
*Create a new routine. A daily routine can be helpful and comforting. Children can help create this with you. You can use a picture timetable for younger children and a schedule plan for older ones. Small routines help us to feel normal and make life predictable and seem under control. Give children choices so that they feel they have some control too.
*Maintain boundaries with behaviour, as this will help children feel safe and cared for. But do make allowances for when they feel overwhelmed and need reassurance and support, as they are also struggling to get used to change.
*Help them to feel connected to wider family and friends by letting them be in touch in whatever way is appropriate for their age, through technology or by using art/pictures/letters to talk about family and friends or communicate with them.
*Check in with them about how they are finding this new way of living, listening to them and accepting their feelings. Give them reassurance that together we can cope.
*Explain but don’t overload them with information when they have questions about Coronavirus and what is happening. Reassure them but limit news coverage within the home. See below for some tips on how to speak with your children about Coronavirus.
*Give them opportunities to be helpful and successful with age appropriate everyday tasks or learning a new skill. For example, cooking, planning the day with you, making a cup of tea, helping with a pet, or sorting a drawer.
*Don’t try to be a brilliant teacher – be their learning friend. If the schoolwork gets too much give it a break and let them follow an interest they have. They will still be learning.
*Have a duvet day when you all need it as getting used to big changes is tiring for everyone.
Click on the link below for helpful information on staying healthy (produced by Healthy Schools Ealing):
We all know that children will be picking up information about the current coronavirus crisis which has meant big changes for them.
Young children will pick up clues from the behaviour of those around them in their expressions, tone of voice, and conversations on the phone. Even when we think they are not listening, or they might not understand, our conversations will give them information about what is going on. Older children might have more direct access through TV news reports, social media and through what their friends are telling them.
It is important that children are in the loop and receive thoughtful explanations and answers to their questions from their parents, so that they don’t jump to wrong conclusions or get overly anxious about stories that may not be true.
So how do we talk to our children about the Coronavirus?
Here are some tips which might be helpful:
*Talk in a calm voice and in a straightforward way giving them space to ask direct and difficult questions. Tone of voice is important for children as they can easily pick up on our feelings such as anxiety or agitation by the way we speak to them. This will be reassuring for them. Move onto something more every day to talk about at the end of the conversation.
*Tell children the facts that there is a virus which is making some people ill, a few people very ill and some very sick people can die because of it. Most people do not have to go to hospital, but our bodies are less good at fighting diseases when we are old. Not many children get it, but we can catch it from each other. Make sure that older children are not picking up myths or misinformation from social media or friends.
*Give children practical information on how to prevent catching the virus. Help them feel in control and keep this light and fun. Help children understand why they have to stay at home and help prevent the spread of the virus.
*Reassure children by sharing positive stories of people who have recovered. Reassure them that scientists and doctors are working really hard to help fight this new disease.
*Limit news bulletins as over exposure to news without proper explanation for children will make them anxious.
*Engage with difficult questions especially for older children as they are more capable of handling complex issues. Be honest if you don’t know the answer. Reassure them that there are some things that are not known yet, but people are working hard to find these things out for us.
*If a relative or family friend is seriously ill. In this situation you will need to be honest and prepare them. Remember children read body language and observe the stress of adults. Keep them up to date and acknowledge worries and stresses without overwhelming them with disturbing detail. Help them express their feelings with you by using drawing and writing. Make sure that you can talk to someone for your own support, so that you are able to support and hold your child’s worries with them.
Use the following resources for talking about Coronavirus with your children.
For younger primary age children:
For older children:
Advice for Young People by the Anna Freud Centre,(National Centre for Children and Families). Includes Self Care Summer packs for Primary and Secondary.
“How to support children going back to settings after lockdown, socially and emotionally” – A blog post written for Yellow Door by Carole Rawley, one of our self-employed therapists.