Children in the UK who have been staying at home for the past two months, have now been told they will be returning to school on March 8th.
Many children are excited, looking forward to any hint of normality they can get after their third lockdown! Returning to see their friends, their teachers, getting back to a routine and no more online lessons!
But there may also be a lot of anxiety around this transition. Some children I'm speaking to are expressing a fear that this won't last, and they will have to go back into another lockdown. Some are worried that they have fallen behind in their work. Some are worried about friendships. Some are frustrated about all of the rules around social distancing and staying in their bubbles. Some are worried about getting sick, or bringing Covid home from school.
There's a lot to process.
This is where therapeutic storytelling can come in to support children with managing all of these big feelings: fears, worries and their hopes and excitement too!
I first shared a version of this story back in May 2020 and I have adapted it slightly for this second time around. My hope is that this therapeutic story provides a way to support children to feel excited and empowered in the face of this new change. It can also be used to help children to open up around all the thoughts and feelings they have about going back to school again in a pandemic.
When sharing therapeutic stories it can be helpful to 'stay in the story' with the child, especially at first. This means asking questions about the characters' thoughts, feelings and experiences, rather than the child's own. This might look like asking: "I wonder if there's anything else Annie might be worried about?"
"What do you think might help Annie feel better about going back?"
The child's answers to these questions will naturally reflect their own thoughts, feelings and experiences, so discussing the story in this way provides a great way to help them sort through their feelings without needing to talk about their own if they do not feel comfortable doing so.
However, many children may naturally open up about their own feelings after reading, and you can follow their lead, asking them to share their thoughts and listening without judgement. It's important to listen to and validate their emotions first and foremost, without rushing to find solutions. So this might look like: "It sounds like you're really worried about XYZ, it's normal to feel worried when there's a big change coming up." Or "So you're feeling really excited about seeing your friends, but you're sad that you won't be at home with me anymore. It's OK to have different feelings at once!"
Once children feel heard and understood, THEN you can move on to looking at ways to problem solve any issues and find ways to help. Listen and empathise first, always!
You can also encourage children to PLAY IT OUT! Perhaps they want to use puppets to act out the first day back to school or be the teacher for their stuffed toys or dolls. Just provide the space and time to play and many children will naturally gravitate to acting out and playing through their thoughts and worries. It might look like 'just playing' but play is how children process their experiences and emotions. They are working hard through their play to organise their thoughts, experiment with different roles and scenarios and express their feelings. Play is serious business!
Good luck superheroes. You've got this.