Staff member Julie discusses helping children and young people cope with anxiety around returning to school

Senior Practitioner Julie on our children and young people’s services

I’m Julie, one of Changing Faces’ senior practitioners. I deliver wellbeing services to children, young people and their parents or carers.

My work is mostly based in the Yorkshire and Humber region, thanks to generous funding from BBC Children in Need.

Like many people, in March this year, my work world turned upside down when it became clear that running face to face counselling sessions and wellbeing events could no longer happen in the usual way due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

So overnight (with the help of my family shifting boxes, moving computers and tidying up) I managed to turn one of my rooms at home into my new Changing Faces office. Within days, my sessions with young people had shifted to online video and telephone calls. It’s working really well. I do miss meeting with everyone face to face, but I’m so pleased we could continue offering support to children, young people and their families.

At first, lots of the young people I work with told me that unlike many of their friends and family, they were finding lockdown easy – they felt ‘safe’ at home and talked about how there was no pressure on them socially, and how they had become relaxed regarding their visible difference, since only close family saw them. As lockdown rules began to ease, anxiety and apprehension about returning to school and college after the summer break, was a recurring theme.

We’ve just finished our first series of Zoom workshops that we ran over a four-week period with themes tackling some of the issues young people are facing. We talked about social anxiety, being stared at again, going back to school or being amongst large groups of people.

Eleanor, one of Changing Faces’ campaigners, joined the group for the first workshop and talked candidly about her own experiences of living with a visible difference at school, and now at university. Her inspiring talk generated many questions from the group around how she had coped and what practical advice she could give them.

Other sessions covered mindfulness and self-care, ways to reframe negative thoughts, boosting body confidence and improving social skills.

If you’d told me six months ago I’d be running workshops on Zoom I would have probably said, “what on earth is Zoom?” but these workshops have been lots of fun, and more importantly have provided a great deal of support to the young people taking part. We’re having a catch up in October to check-in on how everyone’s return to school, college and training has gone.

One of the young people who took part in the workshops said: “I feel so much more confident about the future now and feel equipped with lots of different techniques to help me.”

Support and resources for children and young people

Zoom worked really well for our workshops but adapting to life online isn’t without challenges – and video calls in themselves aren’t always easy when you have a visible difference. That’s why the wellbeing team has been writing a series of Covid-19 related factsheets, including one on video calls, to help anyone with a visible difference during the pandemic.

There’s some specific support and advice about returning to school too, which is particularly helpful if you, or your child, is transitioning to a new school. One of the things we did in the workshop was to create our own inspirational and uplifting playlist. It’s a selection of songs we shared with each other that help us when we need a boost.

The group wanted to share the playlist in case it helps other young people who may have worries about returning to school – they can listen and know that they aren’t alone.

We’ve also produced this audio session to help you manage feelings of anxiousness. This might be something to try if you or a young person are worried about going back to school, or any other social activity now lockdown measures are easing.

You can find out more about the advice and support services we offer by getting in touch with our Support & Information Line.

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