How to respond to difficult questions and emotions in Lockdown 3
Here we are again.
The news that we were entering another national lockdown might not have been much of a surprise, but it still probably smarted when the decision was announced.
This lockdown is different from the last one. We survived the last one, but we are probably lower on energy reserves this time round. Sometimes knowing the hurdles ahead can make things harder, not easier.
On Monday 4th January, lots of children across England went into school for the first day of the Spring term. The 8pm announcement meant they went to sleep expecting to go to school on Tuesday and woke up to find schools had been closed. The rug was pulled out from under them while they were sleeping. Lots of questions would have been swirling around their heads, some of which they would have found hard to verbalise. Questions parents, carers and teachers would find almost impossible to answer.
Why was school safe yesterday, but it isn’t today?
Was I wrong to go into school on Monday?
Is it my fault if we all get the virus?
When will school open again?
Will school keep closing?
Why is it safe for my friend to go into school, but not for me?
Did I do something wrong?
Lockdown doesn’t mean life stops. Work for many parents is continuing but now there is the added pressure of home learning. Schools haven’t closed and teachers are still working incredibly hard. They are uploading work to online platforms before school starts, teaching children in the classroom during the school day and responding to remote learning comments after school. They are expected to do two teaching jobs on top of all the other roles they have.
Explaining which children are learning in school and which are learning at home can be tricky for parents and teachers. Helping vulnerable and critical worker children feel safe at school while helping the children learning at home feel valued is a difficult balancing act. The message that it is safe for some children to be in school and mix with their peers, while it isn’t safe for other children to be together, is confusing.
Explain everyone has an important role to play. Some children have the important job of going into school to do their learning, while other children have the important job of staying at home to do their learning. If you want to talk about their grownups' roles, try to keep it simple; explain some grownups have the important job of leaving home to go to work and some grownups have the important job of staying in their home.
No matter how well you explain the situation and value the roles we all have to play, children might still get upset about things being different. If they are in school and miss their remote learning friends, or if seeing their friends on video calls is too much, listen to them and support them through the big emotions. It is natural to mourn changes, especially ones we don’t like. Teachers, ask the children what you can do to make this period easier for them emotionally. For your remote learners, please listen to children and parents if they say the whole class video calls, or the learning schedule, is too much.
Lots of emotions are bound to be flying around at the moment and our window of tolerance will be smaller than usual. Simply put, our ‘window of tolerance’ is our ability to cope with things. Look at the people around you and think about yourself. If someone is no longer in their ‘window of tolerance’ they either ‘fall up’ and experience hyperarousal or they ‘fall down’ and experience hypoarousal.
Hyperarousal can make someone feel hyper vigilant, anxious or aggressive.
Hypoarousal can make someone feel numb, empty, silent or frozen.
Spotting what is happening to your own body and those around you can help you regulate emotions before they spiral out of control. At first you may notice what happened after the event, with practice you will start to notice what is happening in the moment. Regulate by grounding yourself, putting your feet firmly on the floor and doing big breaths in and out. You can use your finger to draw a square, breathe in and out on alternate sides of the square, slowing down your breaths after each circuit, or imagine breathing in the smell of a cake and slowly blowing out the candles. You can download free prompt posters for these calming techniques or a free meditation guide for children from PlanBee.com. If you are helping to regulate someone else, do the regulating exercise with them. It will help to keep you grounded.
This situation could have been handled better. Announcing school closures the day after they opened was not ideal and has made the job harder for teachers, parents and children alike.
Try not to focus on how things could have been done differently. Adults work out how you are making time for self care, the children around you need you to regulate them and guide them through the uncertain waters.