I often marvel at how the emotions of situations are so rarely acknowledged despite their incredibly powerful, influential and potentially disastrous impact. This returning to ‘normal’ – well the new version of it – is no exception. There is an almost brutal expectation that we all just get on with it again and any attempts to express fraught feelings are at best shrugged off or at worst frowned upon. The danger of this – and I have already witnessed it – is that the strain emerges in displaced forms. People might snap, get ridiculously irritated with an inanimate object or cry for what seems like no apparent reason!
I went back to ‘proper’ work recently (I have worked throughout lockdown but with fewer pupils), teaching pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties in a PRU. My job , although part-time, is ‘full-on’ at the best of times like all teaching jobs but I can only describe the impact of returning to work as an affront to my whole being! There was physical and mental exhaustion, a sort of awkward jarring as I tried to remember how things were done, a fear that I would not meet expectations, a reduction in confidence that I could still do it and some relief when it wasn’t a disaster. And the emotions associated with all of this included anxiety, confusion, frustration, panic, numbness, fear, self-doubt, awkwardness, shock, exhaustion, flightiness and a little relief. It was all a little overwhelming and I am nearly a grown-up. I can only imagine children are feeling quite a powerful cocktail of emotions and that their limited opportunity and ability to express them, won’t be helping.
Schools usually go to great efforts to help pupils with transitions in ‘normal’ times but I think this needs upping in this current situation. Children have had home school, no school or not-quite-usual school for about five months. That’s a long time to have got out of routines and remember how things are done and this becomes more significant the younger children are. I guess I am just highlighting (loudly) that the emotional impact of this needs empathising with. It needs to be acknowledged that this return will be causing emotional strain, that we will take a while to adjust and, in the meantime, expect to feel all manner of wobbly emotions. And I think it’s that simple: we need to ask children how they are feeling. I certainly wish someone was asking me!
An emotional check in with children can be highly beneficial. They could be asked how they feel about:
- Seeing their friends again
- How their friendships might have changed
- How easy or hard it is to concentrate at school
- Anything they feel they don’t do as well as they did – or that they feel they have forgotten
- Which subjects are they happy about, which less so
- Being in a classroom – is the noise hard to cope with?
- Getting ‘up and out’ first thing – is this harder than it used to be?
- How tired these changes might be making them feel
- The journey to school – is this different in any way?
- Break times – are they fun?
- Lunch times – any concerns?
- Teachers and their expectations – are there new rules, routines of expectations that will take time to adjust to?
- The changes at school that have happened because of covid
- Weekends – how would they like to spend them?
- Evenings – have these changed and if so, in what way?
- What they are missing from lockdown
- Which adults in school they feel they can talk to if they are worried about anything
- Coronavirus – are they worried about anything?