Difficult classwork, moving schools and being bullied are the top concerns children have as they start the new school year, a survey out today reveals.
The YouGov survey for Barnardo’s is published on the same day the charity broadcasts a ground-breaking TV advert highlighting the importance of mental health support services for children and young people.
In the ad, to be aired this morning on ITV, snarling computer generated hyenas symbolise the anxiety a frightened young girl feels as she walks home from school and checks her smartphone in her bedroom.
These feelings were echoed in a new back to school survey by YouGov of over 1,000 eight to 15-year-olds in England, Scotland and Wales which shows:
- 40 per cent are worried that school work will be too hard and they won’t be able to do it when they go back to school after the summer. This was a concern for half of 15 year olds as they approach their final year of GCSEs.
- 24 per cent are worried about changing schools, class or teachers, rising to 53 per cent of 11-year-olds as they move to secondary school.
- 19 per cent worry that someone they know might be bullied, or continue to be bullied and that they won’t have anyone to talk to. 53 per cent of 8 year olds said their friends had experienced someone hurting them, such as kicking or punching them.
- 70 per cent said this bullying had made their friends feel upset, 60 per cent sad and 40 per cent anxious.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said:
“Our TV advert makes for challenging viewing, but we want to show the very real fear and distress experienced by many children accessing Barnardo’s services.
“As a former teacher, I know that children returning to school after the summer worry about whether the work will be too hard, that they won’t like their new school, or that they might get picked on by other children.
“And for the vulnerable children Barnardo’s supports, this often comes on top of other challenges – such as a history of sexual abuse, criminal exploitation, or being in the care system.
“One-in-eight children aged 5 to19 in England has at least one mental health disorder and many reach crisis point before receiving treatment. Our UK-wide specialist mental health services see first-hand how anxieties have the potential to cause long lasting trauma.
“But as our new TV ad demonstrates, with the right support from a trusted adult, children can recover from difficult experiences and work towards a positive future.”
In terms of bullying, the YouGov results also reveal that:
- Four out of five children (77 per cent) know a friend who has experienced a form of bullying.
- 31 per cent of 13 year olds said their friends had been sent rude messages online.
- 41 per cent of 15 year olds said someone had said a friend has experienced someone telling others fake things about them online.
More than a third (35 per cent) said their friends had not wanted to go to school or college because of bullying, increasing to 44 per cent for 12 and 13-year-olds.
Thankfully, the majority of children said they would tell a friend (44 per cent), family member (77 per cent) or teacher (53 per cent) if another child or young person did or said something to them that made them feel upset.
Barnardo’s wants schools to recognise the important role they play and to provide safe spaces where children can talk to a trusted adult about their concerns.
The charity is calling for the Government and Ofsted to prioritise children’s mental health and wellbeing and make sure all children, parents and carers have access to education and guidance on safe social media use.
Case study – 11-year-old Shannon
Shannon was referred to Barnardo’s mental health service Harrow Horizons at the end of last year because she was repeatedly bullied at school.
The 11-year-old said: “I had jokes made about me and I was called fat. My glasses were broken. No one helped and I didn’t really tell anyone.
“I also experienced racist, homophobic and transphobic bullying and was repeatedly picked on. I was called ‘fat, bisexual and transgender’ and everyday people would say things that would hurt me inside.”
But through counselling Shannon has become more resilient and her confidence has increased.
She added: “When people are unkind to me at school I try to move away from them and keep my distance. If someone does say something to me, I try to either tell them that it doesn’t affect me as much anymore or I speak to someone.
“Right now I can cope better. For other young people who are experiencing problems at school, I think it’s important for them to know that there is always someone out there that can help you.
“Don’t be embarrassed to speak to them because doing so can help you. Even if the bullying doesn’t stop straight away; it will in the end.”
Barnardo’s ambassador, reality TV star Sam Thompson said:
“I think that everyone experiences anxieties in some way. For me it manifests itself in feelings and thoughts that aren’t ‘like me’. I spent 25 years of my life thinking that it was just a part of who I am and it wasn’t until it all got too much that I broke down to my mum and realised that it’s okay to ask for help.
“As an adult, anxiety is one of the most horrific things I have ever experienced so I can’t imagine what it must be like experiencing it all as a child or teenager too.
“No one should have to deal with their mental health and anxiety alone so please do what I did, and what the girl in the Barnardo’s advert did and find someone to speak to. Be honest, be open and I promise it does get better with time.”
Barnardo’s President Natasha Kaplinsky said:
“As a mother of two young children it is of great concern to hear that so many children feel anxious returning to school.
“Triggers include workload and bullying, and with so many children owning smart phones and other mobile devices, pressures inevitably build and can feel intense.”
“That’s why it’s so important that all children have a trusted adult they can turn to about their concerns, meaning that any problems are addressed early, preventing the development of future mental health problems.
“Although it may be a tough watch for some families, the new Barnardo’s advert is important as it highlights the charity’s specialist support services designed to help children deal with anxiety and other challenges.”
Barnardo’s tips on how to help your child feel ready for the start of term and settle in.
Think about what could help them take on the day
We all have little things that can make us feel more like ourselves. It’s worth talking to your child about what makes them feel safe - what we sometimes call “putting our armour on”. This might be styling their hair in a way they like, having a conversation with a friend or family member, eating their favourite breakfast, doing power poses in the mirror or doing something fun the night before.
Reflect and celebrate at the end of the day
Consider what your child might want at the end of the day; it could be a chance to chat with you, seeing or speaking to a friend, having their favourite meal, or simply writing in a diary. Celebrating each day at a time is incredibly important.
Help them to speak up about their needs
If there are particular things your child would like their school/new teacher to know about them, but feel unable to tell them in person, you could work with them to create a ‘pupil passport’ to let their new teacher know. This can include useful information such as “I like it when I’m sat near the front of the room so I can see the door” or “I don’t like it when people stand too close to me”. This can be created with words, pictures or anything creative.
Reassure them they're not alone
It's completely normal for your child to feel worried and anxious about starting a new school or new year/term. It’s also important that your child knows that they can talk to you about this, so try to talk to them about how they feel about going back to school. If they’re comfortable to talk about it with others, you could suggest they speak to children who may be in a similar situation. That way, they can share their experiences and go through the school transition together.
Barnardo’s five things you need to know about anxiety
Anxiety presents itself in different ways
Anxiety can look different from one person to another. There are immediate physical symptoms that might be recognised easily - like shaking, sweating and going red - but there can be other symptoms that aren’t obvious, like difficulty sleeping, restlessness and stomach aches that can come and go.
Other signs - like racing thoughts, finding it difficult to concentrate and wanting to withdraw from social situations - are harder to spot and might not be obvious to a child.
Children need help to identify their anxiety too
In fact, some children can find it hard to identify thoughts (and distinguish them from feelings) altogether. However, it’s important to be aware of thoughts to be able to identify anxiety.
Anxious children tend to express their anxiety in their thoughts. They may jump to negative conclusions about situations. For example, if a parent is late coming home one day, they might worry that this is because there’s been an accident. Anxious children are also more likely to have negative thoughts about themselves and may think they’re not good enough, not well liked enough or bound to fail - which can lead to them avoiding certain situations. Getting them talking about their thoughts can help.
Talking about anxiety can help
Communication is vital in getting to the root of a child’s anxiety. Gently asking the right questions can help them to find the thought that is troubling them. For example, if they suddenly show signs of being scared or worried, ask them to describe what they think might be happening to make them feel this way. Talking it through can help lead them to finding the thought at the root of the anxiety.
Once you’ve identified this, you can work together to discuss how helpful these thoughts are, or how likely a potential outcome might be. There’s more help on this in our guide to coping with anxiety.
Experiencing anxiety is normal
Anxiety becomes an issue when it impacts a person frequently and when worries are difficult to manage, but anxiety itself is normal and common. Most adults will be able to recall a time or a situation which made them feel anxious. It might have been down to an exam, a ride on a rollercoaster or speaking in front of lots of people. It’s totally normal to experience it at some point in life. This is important to remember and can help children feel better about dealing with their own anxiety.
There are ways to manage anxiety and anxious thoughts
Your child doesn’t need to feel they’re alone in trying to cope with anxiety. And it can be helpful to remind them that while anxiety can feel overwhelming and very uncomfortable at the time, it will pass and will not harm them.
Our practitioners use different exercises to help young people control their anxiety as and when it appears and you can use these too.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,032 eight to 15-year-olds. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd and 8th August 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of GB children (aged eight to 15).