Supporting Schools After Lockdown 7/7: A Chance to Start Anew
How can we shape an emotionally healthy education system in the wake of lockdown? Emma Connor, child psychotherapist and director of Your Space Therapies, concludes her blog series by sharing her formula for creating therapeutic school communities – and issuing a passionate plea to therapists and schools to seize this vital opportunity.
For many of us, lockdown will have brought an opportunity to reflect on what we value in life. As our connections regrow and routines settle again there is the possibility to do things differently in schools, too.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need
This pyramid needs to be on the wall in every staffroom. It is a clear and simple reminder that unless children’s psychological needs are met it is impossible for them to move up the pyramid. They cannot feel safe without having their basic needs met, they cannot feel they belong without feeling safe and, if they lack all of these experiences, they cannot recognise their achievements or fulfil their potential.
The demands of school, pre-lockdown, for the most part focus on the top of the pyramid. This is akin to trying to build a house on quicksand. It is unsustainable, and has been damaging both the mental health of school staff and a generation of children’s developing minds.
We have an opportunity now to change things. As therapists, we can encourage schools to bungee jump right down to the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid and nest there until the world feels steady again.
Creating therapeutic school communities
This is my end game: for children to thrive in an emotionally healthy education system.
In this final blog of the series, I want to share with you my formula for creating therapeutic schools:
- Awareness: Understanding what experiences create secure attachment, good emotional regulation and healthy brain development. Having an attachment-focussed way of being in the school leadership and policies, a universal staff commitment to understanding children’s behaviour as communication and learning skills to support mental wellbeing.
- Empathy: Encourage a language where we actively try to feel the experiences of others, to join minds and hearts so that relationship becomes the emotionally healing resource for children. Empathy is for healthy brain development and creating resilient members of society.
- Boundaries and containment: Encourage schools to be containers; to nurture and hold children and their developing minds rather than testing, demanding and casting out. As Louise Bomber so eloquently put it in Inside I’m Hurting, we need to be, ‘Strong with our gentleness, and gentle with our strength’.
- Mutual Joy: The magical elixir, the best medicine – bring mutual joy into school with abundance. Allow children to light up your face and seek to light up theirs in return. When the joy chemicals flood children’s brains again, it will be like putting the lights on after a three-month power cut and they will be able to learn, remember and feel content.
Invite the therapists in
Throughout this blog series, I have encouraged the sharing with schools of the resources that child counsellors and psychotherapists possess. As therapists, we have the knowledge and skills to emotionally regulate the community and support teachers to start anew with a therapeutic mindset.
This is the time for those with mental health expertise to offer themselves to schools, be on hand for support and work holistically to repair the rupture of Covid-19. I encourage you to offer your skills to schools. I would also like to encourage Heads of schools to seek therapeutic input; children, families and school staff need this now more than ever.
The above concepts summarise this blog series, and offer a taster of the creative and practical strategies running throughout Your Space Therapies conferences. What schools need now is not only an understanding of what creates mental ill health but what they can do to change this, to help children be robust learners, have secure attachments and build their futures.
We have an opportunity, after lockdown to start anew – please, for the sake of a generation, let’s take it.
Your Space Therapies Limited offers counselling and psychotherapy for children and families, in person and online during the pandemic. For more information about their online mental health conferences, specifically designed to support children, professionals and school communities with emotional recovery from Covid-19, visit www.yourspacetherapies.org.