Experts issue mental health advice as children go back to school

Specialists from Sussex Partnership's Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) are offering online tips and guidance to parents and children about going back to school, and how to manage the new feelings and emotions they have experienced during time away from the classroom.

CAMHS in Sussex and Hampshire are provided by Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides specialist mental health and learning disability services to children and young people in the county. Advice has been published to help parents communicate with their children, and for teachers and pupils to better understand the situation over the coming weeks and months.

A list of top tips includes advice such as monitoring excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty with attention and concentration.

Dr Alison Wallis, Clinical Director for Children and Young People's Services at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust said: "We understand the lockdown has put families and children under a lot of strain, with changes to their routine, pressures around home schooling and in some situations financial and employment challenges. We are committed to working with parents, young people and teachers to help them understand and manage the strong feelings they may have about their children returning to school.

"The last few months have been a particularly unsettling time for many children, and parents may have noticed changes to their child's behaviour as a result of them missing their friends, or not being part of mainstream education. Children and young people with disabilities including those with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and ADHD may find the impact of coronavirus particularly difficult to manage. It is important to explain change and manage any anxiety and distress they may be experiencing."

The NHS offers a large amount of mental health support for children and young people, and if a child needs urgent mental health support or advice, check nhs.uk for services in your area, including 24/7 crisis support.

Parents are encouraged to contact NHS 111, they will be asked a series of questions about the health of their child in order to access The Mental Health Triage Service. This can also be accessed through an online platform www.111.nhs.uk.

If you are experiencing a life threatening emergency, please call 999

Dr Wallis continued: "Schools are doing everything they can to keep children and young people safe, while adhering to government guidelines. We know there is lots of uncertainty for parents, children and teachers. Where possible, try and limit the amount of information you look at, online or on TV about coronavirus."

A wide variety of help and resources is available on the CAMHS websites (https://hampshirecamhs.nhs.uk and https://sussexcamhs.nhs.uk) including help and support for young people, parents and professionals.

Listen to Sussex Partnership's Partnership Voice podcast offering helpful tips to children, parents, carers and teachers about returning to the classroom here.

Drawing upon national guidance as well as their own clinical experience and expertise our CAMHS practitioners have put together a list of top tips for children, parents and teachers, below…

Top 5 tips for children and young people concerned about going back to school

  • Try and limit the amount of information you look at, online or on TV about coronavirus. There are so many messages, it can become confusing
  • Your school is doing the best they can by offering things like remote lessons
  • Your parents are also dealing with a lot of different things. Try to understand that, and try and help them around the house where you can
  •  Use technology to keep up to date with friends, and try to have positive conversations about things other than the virus
  • Talk to parents, carers or teachers about any worries and concerns you might have about coronavirus

Top 5 tips for parents and carers for dealing with behavioural changes

  • Children and young people with disabilities including those with autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities and ADHD may find the impact of coronavirus particularly difficult to manage. It is important to explain change and manage any anxiety and distress they may be experiencing
  • Some common things to watch for include excessive worry or sadness, unhealthy eating or sleeping habits, and difficulty with attention and concentration
  •  Monitor your child's exposure to stories and information about coronavirus, and potentially conflicting messages that might be seeing
  •  Listen to your child and accept their feelings, and concerns about going back to school. Encourage them to deal with their feelings and they will pass. Remind them of a time when they have overcome something emotional in the past
  • Remind your child that life will continue after Covid-19. Whilst it may be uncertain now, the best they can do is take each day as it comes and try and fill each day with something constructive

Top 5 tips for teachers to help children settle back in at school

  • Being out of school for a long time will have been a difficult situation for many children. They will have missed their friends, and they will also need to understand why they might not be able to sit in large groups in class anymore
  •  It is important not to assume how a child will react and cope; some will manage the reintegration and changes without too much difficulty, whereas others may struggle
  •  It is important to acknowledge that for some children it may take weeks or months to readjust to the changes that have already happened and will continue to happen in their daily lives. It doesn’t mean they will automatically need specialist mental health support
  •  Children may struggle to understand, express or communicate how they are feeling. You may notice changes in their behaviour or how they play and interact with others which may seem out of character, or different to how they were before lockdown
  • Communication is essential between parents, carers and professionals working with or supporting a child. It's important to be aware of how the child has coped during the pandemic and period of social distancing/ isolation particularly if they have experienced direct or indirect illness or bereavement