10 Tips for Teachers to Help Children Who Don’t Want to Come to Class!
After over a year of ‘lockdown’, schools closed, education disrupted a world turned upside down, and the long school holidays, many children will understandably be feeling anxious about returning to school. The article below contains some tips and suggestions to support teachers to help the children in their class experiencing anxiety when returning to school.
There is a separate article HERE for parents to help them prepare their child for returning to school and tips for helping them manage their anxiety.
This article is written for teachers in general, however if you are a Muslim teacher and work with Muslim children then we have the added benefit of being able to draw on duas, prayer, Islamic sayings and stories with the child to help comfort them. InShaAllah you can find a way to weave all these into the suggestions below.
A Trusted Adult
Identify a member of staff, whether yourself or a learning assistant etc, who can be there to meet the child each morning. This will help the child form an attachment and trusting relationship and make it easier for them to transfer from the parent to the school. Ensure you greet the child with a smile and warmth, and depending on the height of the child get down to their eye level when talking to them. Make sure you inform the child that they can come to you during the day if they are struggling.
Balance Empathy with Kind but Firm Reassurance
It is important to acknowledge that the child is struggling and feeling distressed. Their feelings need to be validated and not dismissed as them ‘being silly’. However balance this with reassurance by conveying to the child that you trust they have the strength to work through and cope with their feelings etc.
When it’s time for the child to leave the parent, you can reassure the parent that the child will be fine and say something like ‘mum needs to go shopping now, but she’ll be here at the end to school to pick you up’. It is important that the parent leaves promptly at this stage, as if the child sense the parents is stressed or anxious, or there’s a chance they won’t leave, then this will only make the child’s anxiety worse.
At this point it may be helpful to distract the child. Take them by the hand and take them to class. Trying telling the child about some exciting thing that they’re going to be doing or ask them to do a task for you and let them feel that it is a special responsibility e.g. Would you be able to help me sort my pens and pencils out?
Maybe you have a class teddy bear…. Explain to the child the teddy bear is upset and scared and ask if the child could look after it for the morning?
If possible, have an area in your classroom dedicated to providing a calming or relaxing experience. It could be a corner where you have books, blankets, cushions, toys, fidget toys etc. Colouring-in sheets are also very helpful and a great way of helping a child calm down. If the child is distressed at any point during the day then they can be guided to the calm down corner. However, make sure this doesn’t become a habit and a means of avoiding school-work! The calm down corner should be used based on your judgement as to when it is needed, or at a specific or certain time during the day. (If you need more advice on setting up a calm down corner please get in touch)
The parent/carer may have already taught the child some techniques to help them calm themselves (try and find out from the parent although you can also ask the child if appropriate). There are numerous techniques that children can learn to manage their emotions including breathing exercises, mindfulness practices, relaxation and so on. Different techniques will be added to the Mental Health Matters page so keep checking back HERE. However, if you would like more specialist or detailed advice etc please get in touch.
Validate Coping Efforts
When you see the child making efforts to manage their anxiety, validate the effort they are making. Don’t focus on the outcome, but validate what they child is doing e.g. ‘I can see how hard you’re trying to breathe deeply and practice that exercise, it will help you feel calmer!’
Educate Yourself & the Child about Anxiety
Discuss with the child how anxiety feels in their body e.g. a knot in the stomach, thumping heart, dizziness, wobbly legs, that it is a bit like wave that comes and goes etc, so that they can recognise and name it when it occurs. Explain that everyone feels anxious and maybe provide your own example of a time when you were anxious and how it felt. This helps normalise the experience and makes it less frightening and isolating. You can explain that anxiety is actually there to keep us safe incase there is danger e.g a lion on the loose…., but sometimes we get anxious for reasons where there is no danger. Maybe give a funny example (or make one up) e.g. some people are afraid of cabbage, or balloons etc. Ask the child if there are any funny things they are afraid of to help them understand that anxiety is not always helpful and that there are skills we can learn to help us cope with it that make us feel better.
Prepare for Transitions
Transitions such as between classrooms, from class to the hall, dining room, break times etc can cause anxiety in children who are struggling. Help the child by preparing them in advance e.g. in 5 minutes we are going to the hall; after PE it will be lunchtime and so on.
Work with the Parents
You can direct parents to THIS ARTICLE so that they can help their children. It is far more effective if the school and parent work together and form a consistent approach to helping the child; teach and practice the same techniques and agree on what to say and do when the child is being dropped off at school in the morning. Otherwise, conflicting approaches or information with only make the child confused and more anxious.
Manage Your Own Anxiety
Looking after your own mental health and managing your own anxiety is essential. Teaching is one, if not the most, stressful of occupations. If you are anxious then it is likely that children will pick up on this. Many of the techniques to manage anxiety used by children are equally effective for adults. You could even make relaxation of coping skills a part of the school day with your class!
If you would like to find out more about child mental health for schools, teaching children coping skills, mindfulness techniques, setting up a calm area or managing your own wellbeing please get in touch via the contact page.