Like many other parents, I have spent much of lockdown trying to make sense of this unusual situation for my children while grappling with the uncertainty myself. Alongside helping them to understand what is going on, I have also tried to make them feel safe and comforted at a time when things are neither safe nor comfortable.
For one of my children, their return to some sense of normal has already happened. In their experience of returning to school lessons have been more relaxed with learning happening in the morning and play and exercise in the afternoon. It has provided some comfort, structure and given him a sense that all will be well again. I have also taken comfort in this, as I have with the casual exchanges I have overheard while waiting in superstore queues.
Husband to wife: “It is what it is, Duck?”
Wife to husband: “Yeah…it is what it is.”
It isn’t that simple though, is it? Some ten weeks on from hearing that exchange, their sentiments don’t provide me with the same comfort. On some days I feel like I’ve understood it all and I think, like my youngest, that life will return to a normal we once knew. However, having acclimatised to the new normal it begs the question of whether returning to normal is good enough.
The Importance of Learning Resilience and Independence
As a husband and a father, and together with my wife, we have jointly taken on the role of co-Captains of a ship transporting precious cargo in choppy waters. With no compass, no map and sharks circling, like other families, we have been making it up as we go – working out our own directions and keeping ourselves and our children out of harms way as well as possible.
Understandably, the weight and responsibly of maintaining our children’s mental, emotional and physical well-being has felt overwhelming and unachievable at times. Once we were able to move out of the panic brought on by the real and present danger of Covid-19, thinking of our children more as crew members, rather than precious cargo helped to ease our anxieties.
Of the many good things to come out of this experience, realising that our children are resilient and capable enough of contributing to their own well-being and safety has been a huge revelation. It has helped us understand, and acknowledge, our responsibility to support them to develop the skills and tools necessary to be resilient and more independent. In short, we realised that the burden of captaining the boat and maintaining everyone’s safety could be shared amongst the crew with the right support in place. But would this continue once they returned to school.
At school, who would continue to support their continued development in acquiring the skills and tools necessary? What about maintaining and encouraging their independent approach to settlement; to understanding that all really is well? Perhaps more crucially, is that damage that has undoubtedly been done with the irreparable loss of connections with friends, teachers, role models, structure and norm. How can the new challenges – and there will be many – be most quickly addressed and sustained to support their wellbeing?
The Resilience Alphabet
A friend and colleague of mine at Beacon Family Services recently came across a great tool. The Resilience Alphabet, developed by Martha Simpson and Philip Wong in collaboration with Aberdeen City Council and Education Scotland, can be used by teachers and pupils or by parents/carers and their children to understand and address the current and future challenges our children will face when returning to a new normal.
The Resilience Alphabet refers to resilience as, “how well you deal with and cope with difficult situations, which we are all facing at this time (May 2020).” It suggests that, “If you are resilient, you have the skills to bounce-back or recover from these difficulties.”
Within the Alphabet, the Think, Say, Do cycle provides structure and helps to embed an essential foundation of growth mindset for those working through it. The emotional health and well-being of all children (and adults) using the resource is essential and at the heart of this programme. Following on from Think, Say, Do there are ideas and activities to help your child build inner strength and wellbeing. For each letter there is a definition, something to think about, something positive to say and some suggestions of things to Make, Do or Write.
How can the Resilience Alphabet be used in schools?
For teachers and school leaders settling children back in to school, they should be planning to watch, listen, reflect upon and clearly map out each child’s journey towards resilience and independence with a bespoke and tailored programme for their pupils. To provide the right support against the backdrop of the global pandemic, all educators within our schools would do well to welcome these little people back warmly and with a discerning heart. Our children will have been hurt, confused, often neglected and traumatised in ways we may not fully realise or comprehend.
I would advise teachers to take time, and a good portion of compassion and empathy with you, as you begin the new year. Schedule it into your planning and prioritise care. Using The Resilience Alphabet, A (for Adapt), H (for Hope), L (for Laughter) or O (for Open) would act as good starting points for discussion and much needed connection.
The Resilience Alphabet for Primary Children, as well as a useful link to Building Strength and Well-being for Adults can be found here.
Pete Brindley is a former school leader, educator and therapist at Beacon Education Services, a part of Beacon Family Services. Beacon Family Services works with families, schools and communities to provide therapy sessions which help build relationships and connections with others. They have continued to offer their services throughout Covid-19, providing valuable connections and acting as a lifeline to struggling families.
You can find out more about how Beacon Family Services help families, vulnerable or at-risk pupils, or learn more about developing your practice as a therapist through training at beaconservices.com.