OPINION: Help is at hand for all children as they deal with being back at school
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Anna Collishaw-Nikodemus, local campaigns manager for the NSPCC says help is available for children worried about being back at school
Once again, the school gates have opened and children and adults alike have begun a slow return to normal life.
Many children across the UK have been calling out for a return to normality throughout the cold winter months with the weather and restrictions making it impossible to see friends.
The social isolation of the pandemic has caused many of us, including children, to crave those interactions and with this in mind, as a parent, it’s more important than ever to ensure a child is prepared.
There will also be children who will be feeling nervous about returning to school with the pandemic still ongoing, and some will be worried about how well they have kept up with school work compared to their peers, while others will be suffering the impacts of strained family relationships or bereavement.
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It is perfectly normal for children to have misgivings about being back at school, and it is important that we all recognise that some may need extra support.
For parents and carers this could mean checking in and asking them how they feel about returning to school, or looking out for any changes in behaviour that could suggest they may be suffering with anxiety.
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For instance, they may be withdrawn, tearful, quieter than usual or lose their appetite.
In some cases, children may suffer with panic attacks, which can be very frightening for the child and those around them.
But by talking to children about how they feel, parents and carers can let them know they’re not alone and this is a good time to talk through some of their concerns.
It’s OK to not always have the right answer. What’s important is being honest about and researching that answer – perhaps together if the subject and content are suitable.
Between April 2020 and February 2021 Childline carried out 61,000 counselling sessions with children across the country which were focused on mental health.
We’ve heard from many young people who have found restrictions difficult and many who are now struggling with the transition back to school too. Some have experienced bullying or are worried about being bullied as school returns.
Our NSPCC website has some advice for parents who believe their child is being bullied.
We know there are many types; online, face-to-face, racial and many other forms of minority bullying.
But whatever form it takes, it’s important for a child to know that they can come to a trusted adult and speak out if they don’t feel safe and the likelihood of this happening starts with regular informal chats.
This could be done when watching TV and one character is bullying another. Parents can then ask questions like ‘why isn’t this OK?’ and 'what do you think they should do next?’.
Making these topics part of everyday conversation makes it much more likely a child will speak out.
Sometimes children and young people struggle to open up to their parents, that’s why Childline has its message boards.
This is a platform where children can talk to likeminded peers about their worries and concerns and there are also tips on the Childline website to cope with bullying.
It can be hard for parents to hear that their child has been bullied and it is understandable that these situations can trigger feelings of anger, but during this time it is important to remain calm for the sake of the child.
Understandably bullying can often get too much for a child and this is when they may need some additional support.
Childline has been here for children throughout the pandemic and will continue to be there.
Returning to school has been daunting for children, but with the added pressure of bullying, seeking free and confidential support before things get too much is important.
Childline can be contacted on 0800 1111 or at childline.org.uk
Together, we can make this a better year for children.