Written: July 2020 

Although we wrote this article early on in the coronavirus pandemic, it might still be helpful for your family if you have young carers as things continue to develop.

How young carers and families can plan going back to school.

Many families across the country have seen young people take on extra caring responsibilities during the coronavirus pandemic, and we recognise that it’s left many children feeling worried about going back to school. As a parent, this may also have unsettled you, and you may have many questions and concerns left unanswered. At Barnardo’s, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Girl and her grandmother making biscuits

Caring for others

While schools were closed for the majority of children, they may have spent more time looking after a brother or sister if, for example, their parents or carers are Key Workers. Alternatively, children may have had to look after an adult in their home, for example if they have been shielding. Helping out, doing lots of jobs around the house and providing care and emotional support for siblings or adults at home can be a key part of a child’s life growing up and many children tell us that they take pride in caring for their family and for those that they love. Children also tell us that at times, it can also be tiring and confusing, and that some of their peers and other adults don’t fully understand. If this sounds familiar, then your child could be a young carer. There is lots of support and help available for young carers. See our young carers’ hub here.

Many young carers have told us that:

  • They are worried about going back to school.
  • They worry about the people they care for. Being at home in the lockdown has been easier for some as they have been with those they care for more often. For these children going back to school might increase their worry.
  • They are worried about telling people at school about their caring responsibilities because they are worried this might mean they are separated from their family.
  • They hide their emotions from the people they are looking after so they don’t hurt their feelings.
  • They have been worried about missing out on school work during lockdown.
  • They have enjoyed school being closed as it was easier to manage their caring responsibilities. 

If your child has experienced these types of worries, then they may be experiencing anxiety. Anxiety is the feeling of worry, being uncomfortable or afraid that something bad is going to happen.  With the current coronavirus pandemic, there are lots of reasons why feelings of anxiety may have increased, creating added pressures within the home. We have some tips below which you may find helpful as you start to think about your child returning to school:

Tiredness/Sleep

Sleep has been one of the many things that have been disrupted through lockdown. It can only take a small disruption to our sleep habits to feel a big negative effect - and if you or your child are feeling anxious then this can interfere with the amount and the quality of sleep you get. Whilst routines may have been very different during lockdown, getting a good sleep routine which works for your child after the lockdown will be an important part of  helping your child feel ready to return to school. These suggestions may help your child to sleep better and feel more refreshed each day:

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Icon of a saucepan

Encourage them to avoid having lots to eat and drink in the last hour before they go to bed. If their bodies are still digesting this can make it difficult to sleep.

Icon of runners and a skipping rope

Encourage them to take exercise as regularly as they can, as this can help to improve mood. It can also help their body to have a more natural sleep cycle. However, remind them not to be hard on themselves if they cannot always do this.

Icon of a computer

If it’s possible for your child, encourage them to avoid using electronic devices such as phones or computers in the space where they sleep. If it’s possible in your household, encourage them not to eat or work in bed too. Incorporating other activities, such as the use of electronic devices, in the usual place of sleep can lead to sleep disturbance. In as much as you can, try to encourage your child that the bed is for sleeping and relaxation. 
Some electronic devices will have night-time or ‘blue light’ filters. Blue light frequencies are the same types of light that come from the sun and these can keep us awake, and can be found on electronic devices such as phones and tablets, and using a filter on your child's devices can reduce this frequency. If they have an apple phone then see instructions for applying the ‘night time’ filter here. If they have a device that uses android then see instructions for using a blue light filter here.

Icon of an alarm clock

Encourage your child to have regular bedtime and get-up times - which we recognise can sometimes be easier said than done! The pandemic has disrupted many families’ routines and sticking to them has been harder than ever. It’s okay if the planned routine doesn’t always happen and to be flexible where you need to be. Remember, there’s always tomorrow to try again if it doesn't work out today!

Icon of the moon and clouds

If your child is tired, it's okay to let them sleep more than usual- it is proven that teenagers especially need more sleep as their body and brains develop in adolescence, and especially as they get used to getting back into a school routine. This being said, if you notice they are sleeping excessively, and their diet and mood has changed, or is changing, perhaps explore how they are feeling and whether more support is needed. 

Icon of a tumbs up and a speech bubble that says "Let's chat"

We know that to see your child have to deal with anxiety can be really worrying as a parent.  To help deal with the root causes of anxious feelings try and talk about feelings, good and unsettling, throughout the day with your child - and try to avoid storing them up just before bed. Be patient with yourself, especially if you are tired too. Getting children into new sleep patterns takes time, and it won’t happen, as they say, ‘over night’, don’t get into battles with your child about sleep which make you both feel rubbish.

Remember, it’s okay to ask for help, there are people out there willing to support you. Reach out to friends, family or others in your community to seek the support you need, but remember if things get too much you can always speak to your GP, or self refer into See, Hear, Respond, where one of our project workers will be there to help.

Young boy wearing glasses reading at school

Building confidence

The lockdown may have meant children haven’t seen friends from school for a long time, they may be meeting a new teacher, or worried that they have ‘fallen behind’ with their lessons.The following ideas may help your child to build confidence in the face of some of these worries:

  • Let them know that no one is ‘behind’ and no one is ‘ahead’ right now, every family has responded differently through lockdown and done their best to cope with something we have never experienced before - it’s ok to be exactly where you are.  
  • Compile  a list of positive things that your child has done during lockdown and whilst they have been away from school and remind them regularly of all they have managed and coped with already. Update this as often as you can to reinforce positivity
  • Celebrate their talents and their interests. Try to provide opportunities and space for them to talk to you about what they are interested in. Praise their achievements when they demonstrate a talent or interest and thank them when they help out or undertake tasks at home.

Encourage your child to think about who the people are that provide them with support. You can ask questions like: 

Who are the people that make you feel good about yourself? Who are the people you can turn to for support or help? Who are the people that you feel understand you the best? What should I do if I notice you are feeling a bit down? What’s the best way to ask you about how you are feeling?

Help from teachers and others

Where you can, check in with teachers about school work and their school plan for helping students return to learning. They will be able to suggest ways that your child can plan their time. This will help ensure they know the main things that are most important to focus on.

Close up of young person's hands writing in a school book

As schools reopen, there might be new rules because of the coronavirus. This might include the times that children need to arrive and leave, what their classes look like, and whether they have to wear face masks. If your child usually helps to drop off or collect a brother, sister or relative at a different school, the times might have changed. Most schools will send out this information as a letter in the post, list it on the news page of their website or post an update on twitter. If you don’t see any updates, it’s okay to reach out to the school and ask any questions or queries you have. 

Most importantly of all, it is okay to ask for help. If your child is a Young Carer then they have the right to have an assessment about their support needs from your Local Authority Social Care Team. 

If you think that your family could benefit from some support then you can call 0800 157 7015 and speak to one of our dedicated team of project workers who are waiting to take your call. You also have the choice to self-refer into the see, hear, respond service by clicking on this link.