5 March 2021
Many children and young people will be heading back into school from 8th March after a period of learning from home.
Some children may be feeling ok about this, others may not be. The NHS has lots of helpful tips and advice for children and young people about the transition back into school.
Many parents and carers might also be feeling unsure about the return to school, or be thinking about home schooling has gone over recent weeks. To help manage these thoughts, our East Durham mental health team has adapted their ‘unhelpful thinking habits*’ information to give lockdown learning / return to school examples (see table below).
If you are a parent or carer, you may notice some thinking styles in the examples below that you can relate to more than others, don’t be alarmed if you can relate to them all! Once you can identify your unhelpful thinking styles, you can start to notice them – they very often occur just before and during distressing situations. Once you can notice them, then that can help you to challenge or distance yourself from those thoughts, and see the situation in a different and more helpful way.
When we notice only what the filter allows or wants us to notice and we dismiss anything that doesn’t ‘fit’. Like looking through dark blinkers or ‘gloomy specs’, or only catching the negative stuff in our ‘kitchen strainers’ whilst anything more positive or realistic is dismissed.
|Example – “I’ve done such a bad job with home-schooling – the teachers are going to think I’m a terrible parent!”
Alternative thought – “I’ve done my best in this difficult time – I’m only noticing the bad things and not focusing on anything good.”
Believing we know what is going to happen in the future.
|Example – “I’m going to get called into school and be told my child has fallen behind in their schoolwork.”
Alternative thought – “I have no evidence that my child has fallen behind, or that I’m going to get called into the school. Even if they have fallen behind, a lot of children will be in this situation – it’s understandable.”
Assuming we know what others are thinking (usually about us)
|Example – “All the other parents think I’ve been selfish by prioritising my full-time job over home-schooling”
Alternative thought – “No parent has said anything to me and I need to remember that everyone’s circumstances are different.”
|Compare and despair
Seeing only the good and positive aspects in others, and comparing ourselves negatively against them
|Example – “Janet says she has completed every piece of school-work with both of her children and continued to work whilst the schools have been shut. I’ve missed some of my child’s work and I only have one child. I’ve also been struggling with my work.”
Alternative thought – “I’m still doing the main duties of my role and done some home-schooling, which is an achievement during these difficult times. Although Janet might look like she is doing it all, she could be struggling and not speaking up.”
Putting ourselves down, self-criticism, blaming ourselves for events or situations that are not totally our responsibility.
Think of it as an internal bully.
|Example – “My child is feeling anxious about going back to school – it is all my fault, I should have supported them better!”
Alternative thought – “A lot of children will be feeling anxious about going back to school. I’ve supported them the best I can – it’s not just my responsibility, there are other family members and school staff who are involved in my child’s life.”
|Shoulds and musts
Thinking or saying ‘I should’ (or shouldn’t) and ‘I must’ puts pressure on ourselves, and sets up unrealistic expectations.
|Example – “Today I must go to drop the children off at school, go to work and do extra-curricular activities after school to help the children catch up with what they have missed out on during lockdown – I should also do three loads of washing, mop the floors, clean the windows, get some exercise, drink plenty water and cook a healthy home-cooked meal at the end of the day!”
Alternative thought – “Today I just need to drop the kids off at school and do my best at work – anything else is a bonus – the housework can wait until the weekend and the children don’t need to do extra work!”
Making judgements about events, ourselves, others, or the world, rather than describing what we actually see and have evidence for.
|Example – “I am stupid! I can’t help my children with their homework now they are back at school.”
Alternative thought – “I’m not a teacher, I’m helping my children as best I can – I can always reach out for support from the school if my children are struggling to understand something.”
I feel bad, so it must be bad.
I feel anxious so I must be in danger.
|Example – “I feel anxious about my child returning to school. What if they shouldn’t be going back to school so soon?”
Alternative thought – “It’s understandable that I feel anxious about the change but my child will benefit from going back to school. If I feel anxious that doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen. Instead I could manage my own anxiety through self-care.”
|Mountains and molehills
Exaggerating the risk of danger, or the negatives. Minimising the odds of how things are most likely to turn out, or minimising positives
|Example – “The teacher will think I’m a terrible parent because my child doesn’t know how to multiply fractions – I should have taught them better when we were home-schooling.”
Alternative thought – “The teacher will understand that some children will need some further support with certain topics. During home-schooling she was always positive and thanked me for sending work back.”
Imagining and believing that the worst possible thing will happen.
|Example – “When my child goes back to school they will catch coronavirus and bring it home to the whole family. What if one of us ends up in hospital on a ventilator?”
Alternative thought – “There are several measures in place to limit the likelihood of my child catching coronavirus and they are aware of how to keep themselves safe. There is only a small possibility of this happening; the likelihood is that we will be ok.”
|Black and white thinking
Believing that something or someone can be only good or bad, right or wrong, rather than anything in-between or ‘shades of grey’.
|Example – “I am a bad parent for being pleased that my child is back at school and I don’t have to home-school anymore”
Alternative thought – “My child and I will both benefit from them returning to school. Thinking this does not make me a bad parent, I know I’ll still miss them when they’re at school.”
Current situations and events can trigger upsetting memories, leading us to believe that the danger is here and now, rather than in the past, causing us distress right now.
| Example – “When the schools returned in September, my child struggled to adapt to the change – I know this will happen again”
Alternative thought – “My child did have difficulties returning to school last September; however they have gone through this before and know what to expect this time. Both myself and the school are aware of how to best support my child if this does happen again”
There is a great range of mental health and wellbeing support across our area including:
- self help information on the Recovery College Online
- Kooth – free counselling and wellbeing support website for children up to 18
- self-referral talking therapies services
- and you can talk to your GP if you, or someone you knows, needs mental health or emotional wellbeing support.
*Unhelpful thinking habits information has been developed based on information from www.getselfhelp.co.uk.