If you feel anxiety because you look different, it’s important to find ways to feel calm. This guide to relaxation is especially for young people.
Many young people may have missed friends, teachers and daily routine during the national lockdown. Others may have found it less stressful than going to school. In particular, this may apply to those with a visible difference.
For these students, going back to school may be a cause of stress and anxiety.
On this page, we share some suggestions on how to manage a child’s worries and concerns whilst being back at school during COVID-19 restrictions or managing periods of time off school due to cases of COVID-19.
It may be helpful to you if you are:
- A parent or guardian of a child with mark, scar or condition affecting their appearance (visible difference).
- An education professional or youth worker.
During the unusual period of enforced national lockdown, many children missed school friends, teachers and the daily routine that school offers.
However, some children may have found lockdown less stressful than attending school. In particular, this may be the case if they have a visible difference, They may have felt safe and cocooned in the family home, away from public scrutiny, comments, questions, stares, even teasing and bullying.
Since going back to school, some children may be concerned for a number of reasons. They may experience:
- Worry that they are behind with their studies.
- Anxiety that their social skills have dipped.
- A decline in confidence.
During lockdown, some may have felt shy or withdrawn and reluctant to connect with friends using video-call apps. Our video-call guide may help explain why this may be a challenge for your child and suggest ways to support them. Whilst using video-calling technology may feel easy for some children, others may struggle and feel more disconnected from friends and family during restrictions.
Some children may feel very worried and anxious about going back to school. This may feel even harder if your child felt anxious about their appearance before or felt vulnerable, isolated or unhappy previously at school.
Here are some ideas on how to support your child as they go back to school.
#1. Communicate with the school
Talk to the relevant head, teachers and pastoral support staff to explain any anxieties that your child has. This will give school staff a chance to consider and prepare for the worries your child is facing. They may be able to speak with your child to offer reassurance. It might be helpful to keep these lines of communication open on a regular basis.
#2. Name that emotion
This can be a confusing and overwhelming time, especially for younger children. Your child may have trouble understanding their feelings. With your child, you could make some emoji cards or painted pebbles together, showing different emotions, such as happy, sad, confused, worried, curious, tired and so on. “Labelling” feelings may make it easier for you and your child to talk about any worries and help you support them.
#3. Talk about it
Set aside time during the day to discuss feelings and worries. Let your child know it is OK to feel this way and that there are no “bad” or “good” feelings. It is natural to want to reassure your child, by saying things like, “Don’t worry” or, “It’ll be OK”. However, it may be more helpful to gently explore. Try asking, “What makes you think that might happen?” and, “How can we prepare you if it does?”
#4. Stick to a routine
Routine can be helpful and provides structure when children are not able to be at school. The routine may be a combination of schoolwork, play activities and downtime. If possible, aim to build in exercise by going out in the fresh air in a green space or nature each day.
#5. Focus on healthy schoolwork
If your child is off school, a shorter school day is sensible, with a focus on the topics your child actively enjoys and thrives in. However, it is also worth noting that the pandemic and living under restrictions has not been a normal time for any of us. Home schooling has its limitations and challenges for both parents and children.
#6. Learn while having fun
If schoolwork is a challenge, try activities with a learning or creative element. For example:
- Baking, where children can practise reading, weighing and measuring.
- A wildlife “safari” or scavenger hunt in the garden or nearby park.
- A fun online workout or dance competition in place of a PE session.
- Art or craft activities, like making slime, playdough, painting or drawing.
- Dressing up or putting on a play or some sort of performance.
- Writing a book about something they like, complete with their own drawings.
- Projects locally or in the home. For example, a book on cats in the neighbourhood, making decorations for doors and windows or chalk activities on the footpath.
#7. Connect with family
Keeping in regular touch with trusted family members can be helpful to remind children how to communicate. You could get grandparents or other family members outside the home involved in activities like quizzes, reading a story or virtual baking. This helps to make these social interactions feel fun and warm. This could also occur face to face either in a bubble or by observing social-distancing rules.
#8. Reconnect with friends and peers
A sense of connecting with friends and peers can make reintegration feel less stressful. Some schools or youth clubs have creative and inclusive ways of keeping children connected through online meetings. Others may be able to meet face to face. Some children may enjoy “virtual playdates” with friends or a “virtual sleep over” to watch a film together whilst eating popcorn or crisps. Depending on local restrictions, there may be opportunities to meet face to face, in a safe, socially distant way.
#9. Ensure a calm bedtime
Your child’s sleep pattern may have been affected by anxiety. Try making the run-up to bedtime peaceful and relaxing with calm activities like colouring, a jigsaw or Lego in place of electronic gadgets or television. Choosing a calm and happy bedtime story to read with your child is a good idea. Night-time anxiety can be reduced by making space during the day for conversations about COVID-19 or school worries. Remove all phones and electronic devices from the bedroom. The Sleep Charity has good resources for parents and children of all ages.
#10. Encourage self-soothing techniques
These can help your child feel calm and more in control of difficult situations or feelings. These may be:
- Relaxation via breathing exercises, meditation or guided imagery, where your child can visualise somewhere calm. You might consider relaxation apps, such as Headspace (12+ years) or Calm (3+ years).
- A positive playlist of inspiring music can be uplifting and calming.
- Grounding techniques – for example, the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Ask your child to tell you five things they can see, four things they can hear, three they can feel, two they can smell and one big deep breath in and out. This can be repeated several times with the child until they feel calmer.
- Hand massages are easy to do and relaxing. Use a plain, non-sticky hand lotion and gently massage your child’s hands. They can try this on you too.
- Creative activities such as colouring, crafts, puzzles, jigsaws, Lego or building blocks all help relaxation.
- Positivity journaling can also be valuable. Ask your child to write down or draw three positive things each night in a journal. These can be very simple things, like a walk in the sunshine, a family meal together or a good book.
We’ve created a relaxation session you can listen to with your child. It’s all about butterflies! It’s about the easing of lockdown but you might find it helpful for whatever anxieties your child is dealing with.
Remember, it is fine to take it gently. Going back to school, in the current circumstances, may feel strange for some children – and parents too.