Posted in Mental Health, school closures, Uncategorized

Coming Out Of Lockdown – 120 days later….

Hello!  Yes, I’m still here.  Just.

It feels very, very strange to be back in front of a screen as The Homework Fairy Godmother.  And I’m not here with advice, or any hints and tips today.  I wanted to share our journey through lockdown and beyond and how it’s affected us.  And it’s not been a pleasant ride.

It’s been 120 days since The Teen was last at school.  It’s been 118 days since The Tween was last at school.  We’ve navigated the troubled waters of online learning through this time and it has been a rough crossing.

Right at the beginning, I was confident I had home-learning IN THE BAG.  I knew this stuff.  I taught this stuff.  Time away from face-to-face tutoring was going to hit my finances, sure, but just THINK of all the online content I could produce, and I could teach via Zoom, right?  I could improve my fitness (hello, PE with Joe and Yoga with Adriene!) and I could teach the kids SOOOOOO many life skills.  The garden was going to be a sanctuary.  The house would get decorated.  This was going to be the time we’d REALLY come together as a family – good food, lots of family activities, online learning, everything was going to be UTTERLY BRILLIANT.

And for the first couple of weeks it was. 

Then I discovered that teaching via Zoom was horribly uncomfortable and almost impossible for me to do effectively.  I had lots of enquiries, and I gave it a good go, but it simply didn’t work for me, or the kids I tried to work with.  It didn’t fit with my teaching style, and I hated it. 

I’ve battled anxiety and depression for many years and I never seem to remember that upheaval and uncertainty are the biggest triggers for mental health issues for me.  I stopped sleeping well.  Getting through the days became like swimming through treacle.  All my energy went into supporting The Teen and Tween through their online tasks.  And they struggled too:  the sheer volume of work paralysed them both, and I would sit on Sunday night and at the crack of dawn Monday going through ALL the Teen’s work and a lot of The Tween’s organising and breaking it down into tasks.  They are both autistic, and although their academic ability is generally either at, above, or in some areas, way above their peers, their executive function (the ability to prioritise and organise their lives and work) is a very long way below.  This means that they can be willing to do the work, but completely in the dark on where to start, or if what they are doing is correct. 

Often, it would take an hour or two before they could produce anything meaningful.  The Teen settled in eventually, although he needed to talk through all his English Lit essays with me before he could write them, and then he needed me to read them and suggest improvements before he was able to hand them in without massive anxiety.

Some subjects seemed more accessible than others.  History and Geography were difficult – masses of Google slides to read through, and lots of research, which sent them down rabbit holes and off on tangents without a teacher there to guide them.  The Tween refused point blank to do any French after the fifth week, stating that she didn’t see the point of learning it.  I caved immediately (my French is appalling, anyway, so I was very little help) and informed her teacher.  Maths and Science were done through MyMaths and Educake, and this was a great success with both kids!  They Googled what they didn’t know, and the repetition in the questions really helped their understanding.  The Tween loved her Art homework, which she would spend hours on, and The Teen did the same with his IT homework. The school has been amazing, especially their form tutors, who rang weekly to see how they were.

We managed to get out for a walk most days, after an hour or so of procrastinating.  We baked nearly every day.  They began staying up later, and getting up later.  We put rules in place – they had a set bed time for school nights, but Fridays and Saturdays they stayed up often until midnight (or later).  It was less stressful for all of us – I got time in the morning to try and catch up with housework and organising their work, and they got time in their rooms without interruption doing their own thing (which normally involved online games and chatting to friends via WhatsApp).   The Teen often struggled to sleep, and had occasional night terrors, something he hadn’t suffered from since he was nine.  The Tween’s food choices dwindled – she stopped wanting to eat many foods she’d liked before lockdown and lived off toast, yoghurt, apples, grapes, the odd bit of chicken, ham and bacon.  Both began to hate baths and showers – I had to nag them to get clean and dressed.

Pretty soon days merged into each other.  I cooked, cleaned, fretted over things I couldn’t change, worried about the schoolwork, and became more anxious.  I’ve been here before, and I knew (in my head) that this was a completely normal and natural response to an unprecedented situation. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was failing.   I’d set myself a completely unrealistic goal and it had backfired spectacularly.  My only relief was sitting down in the evening, crochet hook in hand, creating a soft, squidgy crochet blanket.  I’d fall asleep sometime past ten, waking five or six times in the night, crawling out of bed and doing it again and again.

Finally, the end was in sight – last week I took the decision that it would be the end of term for us last Friday, even though they officially had four more days to go.  And it has been as if a weight is lifted.  The Teen has slept ten hours or more a night.  The Tween has started writing a book.  And I’m starting to be The Homework Fairy Godmother again.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, I hope that this makes YOU feel better about your homeschooling journey.  And that you’re not a failure if you haven’t managed to make sourdough bread, or learn a new language, or keep up with a fitness routine or the washing up.  You’re not alone if you’ve struggled to get or keep your children engaged in educational activities.  And you’re certainly not alone if you, too, have fought mental health struggles during this time.

Give yourself a break.  Have a cuppa, and make sure that you tell yourself you’re awesome to have got through this.  Whatever your situation, whatever you’ve faced – I’m proud of you.

Wishing you a week of peace and calm, my lovelies.

Posted in Mental Health, school closures

Five Things to Help When Home-Ed goes Tits Up

I get it.  That first week of school closures was a pleasant surprise for some of us.  Our Superstars were excited to get on with homework!  Some couldn’t wait to log on to Google Classroom, or Purple Mash, or SeeSaw – or dive into the pile of worksheets.

They were excited to spend time with us – bouncing along to PE with Joe, happily helping us in the kitchen, even enthusiastically doing chores!

(OK, that last one might be a stretch!)

And then… everything changed. 

You were left doing PE with Joe alone.

Getting school work done required nagging, and even then it was half-hearted. 

You’ve started wondering what on earth you’re doing wrong! 

This is perfectly natural.  Let me repeat that.

THIS IS COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY NATURAL!

This current situation is a traumatic experience for everyone, children included. We are experiencing grief – grief for the way life was, grief as we miss friends and family, and for some of us, grief for the loss of loved ones from this awful virus.

Some children react to trauma immediately.  Trauma responses may be irritability, anger, being weepy, being withdrawn.  Wanting to be with you constantly, or wanting to be alone.  Being unable to focus.  Feeling apathetic and lethargic, or hyperactive and unable to keep still.  Nightmares and night terrors.  Being unable to sleep,  or wanting to sleep a lot.  Spending hours on devices.

Others have a delayed response – occurring days, weeks, maybe months or years later.  Very few don’t react at all.  Responses will often come and go – one minute they seem absolutely fine, then all of a sudden they’re not.

DON’T feel as though it is your fault – it isn’t!  (You may be experiencing a similar response to this too.)

There is no one-size-fits-all response to trauma, and there is no global solution to it either. 

But here’s FIVE things that can help:

Go with the flow

Be prepared to change routines, or to drop them completely from time to time.  Or be prepared to stick rigidly to a routine if that is what your child is more comfortable with. 

Validate their feelings

They aren’t daft, these Superstars of ours.  They are picking up on our emotions constantly, and will often reflect those back at us.  Be mindful of their feelings – now is the time to reassure them, rather than dismiss fears.  If your child is worried about you becoming ill, then acknowledge that this is possible, but that you are doing all you can to minimise any risk to yourself.  A fear acknowledged and shared is unlikely to magnify and become catastrophic.  And be prepared to do this more than once!

Don’t compare

Don’t compare how your Superstar is doing to another Superstar – even in the same family.  The Teen is coping admirably, The Tween isn’t.  She needs much, much more support than her big brother RIGHT NOW.  (Of course, this could change at any time!).  Don’t compare how your family is doing to any families on social media.  Remember – social media LIES BIG TIME!  You only get to see the best bits! 

You are not their teacher

You are their parent/carer.  You are their support system, the person they come to in a crisis.  You are their HOME.  Yes, they learn lots from you all their life, but you are not their teacher for formal schooling.  So if they simply don’t want you to help them, or get frustrated with you, understand that you are their safe space.  This is really, really important!  You are keeping them safe at home.  THAT’S more important than teaching them how to work out percentages!

Let shit go

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – and if you’re really unlucky, I’ll sing it with actions in an Elsa costume.  LET IT GO!  Get rid of the expectations and work WITH your child when they are struggling with their emotions – even if that means not keeping to a rigid schedule.  If they want to bake buns instead of completing a science project, watch The Trolls for the twentieth time instead of all the educational online lessons that are available – it’s ok.  When they are in the midst of a trauma response, be their safe space.  Their comfort zone.  Their life-line.  You are not alone – children all over the world right now are going through the same thing.

Remember – shout out if you need anything!  We are all in this parenting lark together!

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay sane, my lovelies!

Posted in Key Stage 2 Support, Mental Health, school closures, Uncategorized

School’s out – Now what?

I’m going to start by quoting one of my very favourite authors, Douglas Adams.

Right now, across the UK, there are hundreds of thousands of households in the same boat.

Me included.

And suddenly we feel responsible for continuing our children’s education for an indeterminate amount of time. Along with all the other responsibilities.

So here’s a five point plan to help.

You are not your child’s school.

Home is their safe space, their sanctuary. Don’t think about setting up at the dining room table with a shit-load of printed out worksheets and keeping them there from 9.00am to 3.00pm. I guarantee you’ll be at each other’s throats by 10.15 (if it lasts that long!)

All our children, however much they are bouncing around in excitement at the thought of no school, are going to be unsettled, anxious, and bewildered by this unprecedented announcement.

You are likely to see behaviour differences, whether that means challenging behaviour, crying, clinging, arguing, over-excitement. Children thrive on routine and we are so far out of normal routine that it can send them slightly loopy. You are the person that they feel comfortable being a pain in the arse to – try and take this as a compliment (however hard that feels!)

Give them time to de-stress. Give them time on electronics (often that is a tool they use to de-stress anyway!) They may sleep more, they may sleep less. They will need the reassurance that you are there for them. A LOT.

Find a routine.

Try and keep to routine bedtimes and getting up times. For The Teen and Tween, this means shifting their hours slightly because both of them feel better getting up a bit later, and going to bed a bit later than we normally do on a school day. But we’ll stick to those times because BOUNDARIES and ROUTINES feel safe. (Yes, they will argue about it. No, I won’t give in. Yes, this will make them feel safe. No, they’ll never admit it.)

Check out any homework packs your child has been given and see if you can sort it into small amounts to be done each day. SMALL being the operative word – unless you have a child that absolutely LOVES worksheets and whatever projects are in there, in which case let them dive right in if that makes them feel good.

Older children may be set work on Google Classrooms, or other online learning (this will probably be for kids in high school). Get them to have a look at what they need to do once a day – I’m the mother of a procrastinator who would worry about what needs to do so much that if she left it a few days the anxiety will make it too stressful to even look at.

Ask for help if any of the work set by the school baffles you and your child! You can always email or message me – on Facebook or on Instagram – I will be happy to help! Or put a shout-out on social media (I’ve seen hundreds of teachers share an offer to help with every single subject!) And Google is your friend too! Try not to get frustrated if you haven’t got a clue how to help them, as this will probably make them frustrated too.

Get outside.

So they can’t meet up with friends or hang around in playgrounds right now, but physical exercise releases those feel-good endorphins. Get outside into a wide open space. You’ll both get exercise, your bodies will make Vitamin D, and it’s great for your mental health too. The National Trust are opening all their parks and grounds FOR FREE right now – a great time to go!

Limit exposure to news.

I’ve started limiting my exposure to watching the daily briefings from the Government. Even that is stressful, but having BBC News on in the background continuously is threatening my mental health. And it’s often worse for our children, who take everything that they hear from adults as COMPLETE FACT – they generally can’t recognise speculation.

Talk to them about it calmly. (Remember, they are looking to YOU to see how to react.) Answer any questions, or try to find out the answers together. Watch Newsround. Brush up on your acting skills if you can and stay upbeat.

Let Shit Go.

For ALL of our kids SOME of the time, and for SOME of our kids ALL of the time, doing set schoolwork will be too stressful. Now’s the chance to do something completely different. Get crafting or making art. Baking or cooking. Decorate a room. Plant seeds or tend a garden. Take photos. Write a journal. Read absolutely anything. Facetime friends and relatives. Learn to sew, knit, crochet. Play games together (yes, I’m including video games in this!) Take naps. Dance. Sing. Play music. Watch a film. Watch make-up and hair tutorials. Coding tutorials are The Teen’s lifeblood, apparently.

All of these things involve LEARNING. (Not that they will notice!)

You could expand this if you wanted – for example, baking could involve maths (measuring the ingredients, working with units of measurement, calculating times in the oven, calculating costs), English (reading the recipe, writing their own version down, following instructions, reading ingredient packaging), gross and fine motor skills (stirring, holding, lifting, pouring) and life skills (washing up. ‘Nuff said.)

I’ll be popping into my Facebook page and Instagram to waffle on LIVE on a regular basis, so please join me over there too!

My lovelies, this is going to be hard, but you are utterly awesome and you – and your Superstars – will get through this. Sending ALL of my love at this time.

Posted in bullying, Key Stage 2 Support, Mental Health, Uncategorized

What to do if your child is being bullied

It is utterly gut-wrenching to discover that your child has been targeted by a bully. You can feel completely helpless – and incredibly angry. It’s pretty much the one thing that can make the mildest mannered parent turn in to a raging bull. It’s extremely tempting to storm into school all guns blazing and yelling blue murder.

I know, I’ve been there at times with both The Teen and The Tween!

But we all know that angry confrontation is unlikely to solve the problem – so here is my guide to dealing with bullying in (and out) of school.

Listen, Listen, Listen!

Let your child talk. However tempting it is to jump in with possible solutions, they may have been bottling this up for a while and getting it all out into the open can be a great relief. Ask them if they have any ideas of how you can help. Ask them if they are happy for you to help – sometimes children feel that getting you involved will make the situation worse. Stay calm!

Gather evidence

Keep a diary of any incidents. Write down everything that your child tells you about the incident. If your child is being bullied on social media – take screen shots (messages may be deleted by the sender in certain apps, and in others, like SnapChat, they disappear after a certain amount of time). Take down names of both the perpetrators and any witnesses.

Check your school’s anti-bullying policy

Every state school in the UK is legally obliged to have a policy regarding bullying – check what your school promises to do. You can always refer to this when doing the next step…

Talk to your child’s teacher

Keep as calm as possible, and present the evidence that you’ve collected. Ask if they are aware of the situation – if so, what actions have been taken so far? If not – what actions will be taken by the school to adress the issue?

Follow up the meeting by an email or message!

Many schools have a messaging app now, like ClassTing, Bloomz, ParentSquare etc to enable you to direct message your child’s teacher. If not, an email to the school’s email address for the attention of the teacher is also good. Message your child’s teacher summarising what has been discussed and what actions were agreed – it is helpful to have a record of all contact with the school in case the situation isn’t resolved, and needs to be escalated. Keep a printed copy if possible!

Head up the pay scale!

If things are not resolved and your child is still experiencing bullying, request a meeting with the Head Teacher and the DSL – Designated Safeguarding Lead. All schools MUST have a DSL as part of their Safeguarding policy. As before, take all the evidence you have gathered and any written communication that you have sent to or received from the class teacher. Remember that schools have what is called a Duty of Care to make sure your child has safe access to learning – and bullying makes this access to education UNSAFE.

Again, follow up any meetings with an email or message summarising the meeting and what actions have been agreed on.

If your child has been targeted because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or disability, the Equality Act 2010 means that people cannot treat your child in a way that violates their dignity, or creates a hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment – this is considered discrimination under the act. This is extremely serious – bring this up in any meetings if any hate-speech with regards to these issues has been aimed at your child.

Still not sorted? Contact the Chair of Governers

At this point, it’s time to contact the Chair of Governers. The school will have the name and contact details of all the governers, and you can write to them (again, this is where your evidence and records of all meetings and contact with the school is useful) and insist on an investigation. Make sure you give a time frame as to when you wish to hear back from them.

If all else fails…

Contact your local education authority.

You can make a formal complaint about the school through your local education authority.

If your child is continuing to experience physical assaults and threats, contact the police and report it.

I hope that helps! If you have any advice you’d like to add, I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below, or (as always!) you can find me on Facebook, Instagram, or join our lovely Supporting Superstar Students Facebook group for LOADS of hints, tips, resources and advice about navigating those Key Stage Two years!

Posted in Mental Health, Transitions, Uncategorized

5 Things Your Child Might Be Thinking About Their Next School Year…

… and how you can help!

It’s half term, summer is here, Year 6 SATs are over, surely our kids are breathing a sigh of relief and enjoying life, right?

There are many kids (mine are two of them!) who are looking towards the end of this school year with some trepidation. The end of the school year means change – change of class, change of teacher, change of classmates and for our Year 6 and Year 2 kids – change of school.

Here’s five things your kids might be worrying about – and how you can help!

I don’t know my new teacher…

Virtually all schools now run transitions days or weeks where children get to spend time with their new teacher in their new classroom. However, these days are often right at the end of the summer term – your child may be getting worried before then!

What you can do:

  • take a look at your school’s website or reception/office and look at the photographs of the staff. Chat to them about the different teachers they can see. How many do they know? What would they tell a new kid about the teacher they have had this year?
  • talk to your child’s teacher. They should be able to arrange for your child to meet teachers that they may have in the new school year.

The work will be too hard…

Schools are really good at sharing current work in displays around school, on their websites, and now even on social media! Our kids can look at this and think to themselves, “I’ll never be able to do THAT!”

This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and fear of failure.

What you can do:

  • Remind your child that this work is what has been produced AT THE END of the school year – those children have learned a lot since September and probably wouldn’t have been able to produce that work at the beginning
  • Reassure your child that their new teacher will KNOW your kid’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses BEFORE the new school year starts – their current teacher will pass on LOTS of information to the new one!

I won’t be with my friends…

This is a tricky one. While teachers DO make an effort to make sure that every child has friends in class, if your child is being placed into ability groups (as is usual moving to a large secondary school), your child may not be placed with their best friend if they are of differing abilities. And sometimes, certain friendships might not be conducive to effective learning… I remember being split up from my best friend in my third year at Junior School because we just wouldn’t stop talking and distracting each other!

What you can do:

  • Reassure your child that they will get to see their friend at breaks and lunch times. You might want to arrange for them to see each other after school or at weekends so they can spend more time together
  • Remind them that you know how hard it is to make new friends sometimes, but they will get to know other people in their class
  • Talk to their current teacher – they can take friendship groups into consideration when new classes are being organised

I won’t be able to find my way around…

This was a huge worry for The Teen when he was in Year 6 and getting ready to transition to High School. He has the directional ability of a drunk bluebottle, so I admit I was a tad concerned too!

What you can do:

  • make sure your child goes to transition days – the high school The Teen goes to now does a whole transition week, where the Year 6 kids spend five days in with their new form tutor. They learn their way around as a group, and by the end of the week feel much more confident.
  • most schools are happy for you and your child to visit the school after school hours so you can look round again – this is often REALLY useful if your child feels intimidated by the sheer size of some of the students! Most Year 10 and 11s tower over me, let alone The Tween!

I might get bullied…

This one is very, very common. Our lovely Year 6 kids going to high school or Year 2 kids going to Junior school are used to being THE BIGGEST KIDS in their school. They are the big fish in the little ponds, and going back to being the youngest again is daunting. ALL SCHOOLS should now have a policy on bullying, and should be proactive in making sure it doesn’t happen – but it still can.

What you can do:

  • Check out the new school’s policy on dealing with bullying – it should be on their website, and if not, contact the school office and ask for a copy.
  • Find out who you need to talk to if your child is bullied – I found The Teen’s Year 7 form tutor and the head of year both fantastic to talk to, and very effective at dealing with a particular issue The Teen had. Make sure your child knows who this person is!
  • Stay calm – sometimes our kids worry that we will go storming in, protecting our beloved babies roaring like a lion – and they feel we would make the situation worse. Even when you are spitting bullets, keeping calm is essential when both TALKING ABOUT and DEALING WITH bullying.
  • Reassure your child that IF bullying happens, you will work with them to deal with it.

Check out the blog post about SATs stress and anxiety to find other ways that may help your child if they are anxious about September HERE.

I’d love to know how your kids are feeling about the new school year in September! Hit me up on Facebook here or on Instagram here – or leave me a comment below!

Posted in Mental Health, Uncategorized

Mental Health in May!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States – and it’s seventy  years since it was first started in all the way back in 1949.  Here in the UK, we are coming up to Mental Health Awareness Week, which starts on Monday 13th May – ironically, this is also SATs week for our Key Stage Two kids, when they are likely to be more stressed than usual!

As parents, we feel confident in picking up our children when they fall – putting plasters on grazed knees, soothing away nightmares, giving Calpol for a fever, but dealing with their mental health can be frightening and make us feel helpless.

Throughout May I’ll be sharing hints, tips and resources to help YOU help your child if they are becoming anxious or worrying about school, friendships, bullying, loneliness, body image, exams, the new school year and new classes/schools. 

And remember – mild anxiety and worries are normal parts of life for all of us, adults and children alike.  But if you think your child is at risk of harming themselves, or are constantly struggling with anxiety, low mood or depression, please reach out for help: