Supporting Schools After Lockdown 1/7: Rupture and Repair
As schools begin to reopen their doors to more pupils this week, Emma Connor, child psychotherapist and director of Your Space Therapies, embarks on a vital blog series aimed at supporting children and teachers through this transition. Over the next seven Fridays, she will be introducing therapeutic ways of thinking and practical strategies that can help us all stand beside schools at this time – beginning with the opportunity, hidden within the rupture of school closures, for a profound and far-reaching experience of repair.
In the past few weeks, I have been amazed at the way in which professionals supporting children’s mental health let the shock impact of lockdown ricochet through them, rubbed their eyes, and got to work creating a new set of ethics for working online. In the case of many, including my company, Your Space Therapies, this happened literally overnight.
Now the lockdown bubble we have been in is about to be popped as schools re-open. We are all going to need to adapt swiftly again. I hope this blog series will help.
The huge rupture of school lockdown has triggered anxiety, loss and grief that has, during the closure, echoed through empty halls and sat on little chairs in empty classrooms. As a child psychotherapist and school consultant, I found it profound to experience school staff grappling with building an online curriculum at the same time as saying goodbye to children, often without knowing whether these children would be emotionally or physically safe, or have any of the stimulation, admiration and connections that they experience in school every day.
Therapists have been thinking, reflecting, and holding schools in mind during this time. It is now our time to step up and stand beside schools as they reopen their doors.
This transition is going to be a wobbly one. Schools have had a matter of days to organise the logistics that social distancing demands. Social media is full of worried parents voicing their opinions about what is right and risky. Teachers are torn between their jobs, their safety and their longing to welcome children back.
Many children will have been ‘home schooled’ during this period. As a parent myself, I can only describe this experience as irrationally swinging between embodying first Miss Honey and, within half an hour, Miss Trunchbull and then back again. The children will be coming from many different experiences of ‘home-school’ and dragging with them a big bag of feelings including excitement, stress, grief and anxiety. It will be like holding a shaken can of lemonade ready to explode.
To begin this task, we must remember that school is a safe haven for so many children, the second chance at secure attachment that so many of them need. I spend many of my days providing training and consultancy for school staff to help the most un-teachable of children relate, learn and love. They don’t teach that as part of PGCEs and they don’t account for this in OFSTED but it always starts with a teacher with the capacity to love the seemingly most unlovable.
Counsellors and psychotherapists now have a duty to stand alongside the teaching staff as they open their doors again. We must be there to say it is going to be hard but with empathy, heart and space to allow grief and reconnection, they and the children will conquer this. Above all, we have a chance to show teachers how fundamental they are to children’s mental health – that, in this bleak time, they can give children an experience they maybe couldn’t have without lockdown: that they were held in mind, that they are important, that their teachers looked forward to seeing them again.
In this blog series, I will be introducing ways of thinking and practical strategies that will support school staff and therapists to make these transitions as therapeutically as possible, so that we can take this ‘silver lining’ opportunity to build on children’s attachment bonds, emotional resilience and ability to process and regulate their emotions.
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.