There might be many reasons why a child doesn’t seem their usual self. They may be worried about something in school or worried about something at home. This might be very rational, such as due to a trauma such as a death of someone close or more irrational and unexplained. It is critical to talk to us as soon as you are worried – either to your child’s classteacher or to Mr Woolley.
It is important to establish if a child is developing unhealthy views about themselves or physiological responses to things which have changed or seem ‘out-of-kilter’ or if they are simply unhappy because things are not going their way or they don’t like something about a friendship (which could be more straightforward to solve).
Listen to your child and try to encourage them to share – be careful not to put words in their mouth so you can see a problem from their point of view. Sometimes talking can be a bit intense; some children may be happier writing down things that worry them. They may feel happier talking to an adult slightly removed from the pressures of a family situation such as a trusted friend, grandparent or other family member.
Children learn so much from the older children around them and from us as adults, especially parents. Therefore it is really important to model positive mental health and wellbeing mindsets yourself - if you are worried for long periods of time your children will pick up on this.
It’s OK to worry – we all do this at times, such as prior to a dentist check or before a job interview – but we deal with this and get through the experience. This teaches us we can get passed these feelings of worry - children lack this experience so modelling this and showing your child how you learn to cope is a powerful message.
Try not to normalise ‘worrying’, try to help them build resilience. For example a child who is irrationally worrying about something, saying 'don't worry' won't help but equally trying to make it go away also won't solve the problem. Try to explore what can you do to help you stop worrying, or what steps can take to break the problem down. Just talking aloud about what it is that is worrying may simply be the solution.
• Talk to parents about our concerns – share the problem and try to solve together
• Pupil conferencing with children – taking time to talk & listen
• Peers may be able to help – or may be the problem, may be doing something with good faith that doesn’t help
• In the context of SEN need such as a negative self-view – an individualised approach, related to support for learning such as specific rewards or a special book
• If context of difficult peer interactions strive to ensure positive interactions and address any negative behaviours.
• We might consider referring to our school educational Psychologist to offer guidance.
There are lots of charities and advisory bodies who have expertise in supporting a wide range of conditions. You might find some of the strategies useful:
ELSA is our key support in school. It consists of short programmes of sessions delivered individually or is very small groups by our trained provider Mrs Soley (training is via the Hampshire Educational Psychology Service and is underpinned by Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Approaches). These session will be targeted towards a particular need and are therefore conducted outside of the classroom, usually in the library, where children can open up confidently. ELSA can be used to:
• Help develop certain positive behaviours, such as how to approach others and ask to play with them – possibly as part of SEN support for a learning need
• Time to share worries and concerns in a calm, safe place outside of the classroom
• Opportunities to develop better ways of thinking about challenges – incorporating principles of cognitive behavioural therapy
• Review of individual supports for key needs
• Reactive support when a child presents with strong emotion which would prevent learning
• Support with friendships and learning to interact more positively with peers
• Specific supports related to an event, such as coping with parents divorcing and learning that this change doesn’t affect how they are loved
It is important to remember, however that ELSA is not a therapy service and cannot address more deeply held mental health concerns – referrals to other professionals (including approaching your GP) would be more appropriate to address these needs.