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Helping children stay positive in a pandemic

Claire Gibb, Stratford district school counsellor, talks about the impact of the pandemic on the wellbeing of students.

Sadly, in addition to the normal stressors of growing up, the coronavirus pandemic is massively affecting children and young people and increasing the amount of stress that they come under.

As a school counsellor for young people this has been clearly evident. The unpredictability of normal life has meant a big increase in worries and anxieties and low mood. This has affected us all in varying degrees, but for young people the effect has been profound. Trying to understand what’s happening in the world is daunting – being at home, parents furloughed or even losing their jobs, school or no school, exams or no exams? Isolating from others and then expected to reintegrate into society, both in school and with your peers, health worries for yourself, for others around you and bereavement has meant that many young people find themselves trying to combat ‘not knowing’ which leads to an increase in mental health issues.

As a counsellor for young people, specialising in cognitive behavioural therapy, I work with amazing individuals (and staff) in primary and secondary schools using group work and one-to-one therapy. For young people in secondary schools, my role is to help them to get things off their chest, reassure them of confidentiality, facilitate problem solving and work out life skills that they feel they need. The pupils work out what they would like to achieve when they leave the session, and we work together to facilitate that. That is made easier by my dog Albi who comes to most sessions and listens with his eyes shut, contributing nothing, but helping the pupils relax and open up. Counselling is face-to-face in the schools I work in, with stringent safe working practice guidelines and risk assessments. Many counsellors are now working online.

So what interventions have young people found useful? A quick whistle stop tour:

  • Recognising that low mood and worries/anxieties are normal and many people are feeling that way
  • Identifying that things will get better, it may feel like it won’t but take each day as it comes
  • Don’t bottle up your feelings, ask for help from friends, family, teachers, counsellors
  • Limit the amount of time watching the news/negative social media
  • Get yourself the facts
  • Try to keep routines with a target of what you would like to achieve each day as this will boost your mood and it will feel good when you achieve that
  • Before bed identify two achievements you have made
  • Work out what makes you calm – favourite programmes, music, chatting online, cooking and use these when your mood gets low
  • Use calming, meditation apps such as Headspace
  • Focus on what you have learnt rather than what you have lost
  • Do something to help others
  • Exercise. It is the best way of making you feel good as endorphins are released in the body. Whether it’s an exercise session online, running, or walking the dog, no matter what level of fitness, you can build up and feel fab
  • Make the most of websites that can help you with problems, including putting you in touch with somebody to talk to, such as YoungMinds or Childline. For counselling support, www.bacp.co.uk will point you in the right direction.

If you feel affected, you will get through this, you will learn lots about yourself in the face of uncertainty, and there is nothing wrong with hope... this will come to an end.

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