Coping with anxiety in uncertain times
September is often an anxious and testing time for children and young people with SEND and their families, as they can take longer to get used to new routines, teachers and classrooms. But with the longer term picture far from settled and more changes looking likely, we know that anxiety is likely to last far beyond the usual back to school worries this year.
You can get some classic Amaze tips and resources at the end of this article but we thought it would be really interesting to ask some of the young people with SEND involved in our Amazing Futures groups to tell us about how they have dealt with all the uncertainty and their anxiety.
What helps our young people from Amazing Futures?
Molly and Shannon attend our Amazing Futures groups in Brighton & Hove.
Shannon told us she had been really anxious about leaving the house. “I’d been making lots of excuses not to go out. But my Mum helped me by talking things through, saying I’d probably feel better once I’d started going out again. She travelled on the bus with me to start with, until I felt confident about travelling on my own again. I’m really happy to see my friends again after all this time.”
Molly is also really happy to be coming back to Amazing Futures groups in person. She said, “I don’t have any worries about us running groups because I’m confident that all the risks will be managed well. I was a bit anxious about getting on a bus for the first time, but it was fine and I met my friend Shannon in town and we walked up to Community Base together.”
Alice, a volunteer Peer Supporter for Brighton & Hove Amazing Futures, had lots of concerns about going back to work:
“Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been slowly returning. I work at the Royal Pavilion and my job is to talk to visitors as they walk through the building, and to look after the items in the rooms. I stopped working at the end of March when the government brought in lockdown measures.
“I have been feeling very anxious about returning to work because I haven’t known what to expect from the visitors, or from other members of staff. I’ve done different things to try and help myself feel less anxious and worried about work and about Covid and I hope that some of my techniques might be useful to other people returning to work, school, or college.
The first thing I did was to let my manager know that I was feeling worried. My manager helped to reassure me by letting me know about the changes that had been made to keep people safe. I felt better knowing what to expect in the building. For example, lots of people were wearing masks, there were more rules about one way routes, and more cleaning in the building. There were new rules about how to enter the building and how to interact with people. It helped me to know what to expect so that I wasn’t worried or spooked when I arrived for the first day.
The second thing I did was to plan my way of getting to work so that I knew how to time my journey. I knew that I wanted to avoid public transport and arrive early so I used Google maps to work out how much time I needed to walk to work. This meant that I could arrive at work with enough time to feel comfortable and calm before seeing my colleagues or the visitors.
The last thing I did was to decide before going what I was comfortable with. For example, some staff members have chosen to wear masks, some have chosen visors and some don’t use PPE at all. I decided that I was most comfortable in a mask and keeping my distance from other people. I found it easier to have decided beforehand and prepared myself for what other people would have chosen. This made me feel more confident in case anyone asked me about my decision – but in the end no one asked me! I found it difficult at first with every person choosing something different, but it was easier the more days I went to work.”
Amaze’s top tips for coping with anxiety
Get familiar with the procedures
Read the government’s advice for education or work settings and anything your child’s school or college sends you about learning in the new covid environment. If you know the facts, you are more likely to be confident and calm when talking to your child about how things will be.
Communicate little and often
All children, but especially children and young people with SEND, can struggle to absorb lots of new information in one go. It’s best to talk to them about things they may need to remember in small bursts, over several days.
Remind them they are not alone
Children and young people are often worried about being worried! Remind them that lots of people will be feeling nervous at the moment and that it’s natural to feel apprehensive.
Practise any changes
If you are changing any part of your routine – the time you start school, drop off and pick up arrangements or the way you travel to work, it’s useful to practise this before the day the changes start. And prepare them to know that this may change again.
Re-establish a routine
Things may not be ‘normal’ and it’s hard to plan for change but you can create predictability and reassurance through routine for the time being. Visual planners may be useful here.
Check in with them regularly but casually
Much as we might want to know everything, kids don’t want a barrage of questions about how they are coping as soon as they come home from school or college. Find a non-threatening time to check in, maybe while you’re doing chores or while you are driving in the car.
You don’t need to offer instant solutions to problems or worries they may be experiencing. Just allow them to be heard. Give them space to think about how they feel and express it if they can. Empathise and let them know you will come back to talk about it some more if you need to.
Look after yourself
You’ll be able to deal with your child’s anxiety better if you are feeling OK yourself, so try to keep doing the things that relax you and keep you sane. And look out for free events or courses to help your wellbeing.
Holding Space are offering a 6 week programme to work directly with parents whose children are anxious. It’s facilitated by their counsellor Annabel and includes worksheets and telephone/Skype support. They are also running weekly Walk & Talk sessions in Eastbourne every Thursday morning at 9.15am in October. Check website for more details: www.holdingspace.org.uk
Mindful Health, who have worked with Brighton & Hove Adult Social Care and Seaside view, are offering a free mindfulness course for parent carers starting 1 October. The course will be run via Zoom. To book a place or find out more contact Tara 07821 510884 or by e mail, email@example.com.
If your child’s worries or anxieties persist, reach out to people who can help. This may be teachers or SEN staff at their school or college. Or perhaps a GP or a mental health worker. You can call the Amaze helpline on 01273 772289 to talk through your worries. Families in East Sussex can also call call CITES.
Remember that amongst all the nerves, many children will also be very excited about seeing their friends and teachers again and all the new opportunities at school or college. Focus on the good bits they are looking forward to or enjoying already.
And it’s worth remembering that children are often more resilient than we may think and adapt to new situations all the time.
To return to the young people in our Amazing Futures group, we’ll leave the final word to Brandon
Brandon: “It feels really good to be back together again.”
Resources on coping with anxiety
- Amaze’s guide to Mental Health and Wellbeing during Covid-19
- Amaze’s guide to returning to school for children with SEND
- Government guidance for supporting your child’s mental health and wellbeing in the pandemic
- Young Minds’ guide to supporting children with anxiety about school
- National Autistic Society’s advice on dealing with anxiety