Supporting parents with mixed emotions as children return to education and care
As children return to education and care settings around Australia, many parents are experiencing mixed emotions. There may be feelings of jubilation and joy as children leave the house; a sense of normality returning or feelings of a looming sense of trepidation and uncertainty as to whether their child will become infected with COVID-19.
Regardless of their feelings about children returning to education and care, and of their experiences during isolation, parents and carers who previously relied on their community for their own sanity and for the support of their children, are feeling so many different emotions right now.
When welcoming these children and families back to education and care settings, it is vitally important for educators and leaders to remember that all feelings are valid. There is no right or wrong way for parents and carers to be feeling as their children return to a service.
Each individual, each family group, each employee team will have a different individual and collective experience of having lived through these unprecedented times. It is important for workplaces, education and care settings, friends and family members to honour that.
Showing respect, empathy and understanding for the emotional experience of others, be they children or adults, is one of many ways in which communities as a collective can support one another as the world navigates the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are a number of ways in which education and care settings can support their employees, children and families who are struggling at this time. Following are some suggestions which may support those who are experiencing a low point in their wellbeing:
- Encourage families to connect with friends during the day, maybe for a take away coffee.
- Validate their feelings as they are. There is no normal during this unprecedented time.
- Go for a walk. Being in the fresh air helps you to feel better.
- Suggest other physical movements they can do in their homes such as a fitness class or join in a yoga session online and do it with them if they don’t feel motivated.
- Offer to send some food home from the service. If the children are having casserole or lasagne, double the quantity and offer some to families.
- Call families via phone or internet for a check in and ask ‘how are you feeling?’. Become a listener and let them talk.
- Buy or pick flowers just to show you are thinking of them and care or maybe encourage the children to make something special for their families.
- Parents and carers who are exhausted need rest. Suggest a meditation app such as Insight Timer.
- Keep an eye on them. Notice any changes, however subtle and reach out to other organisations if needed, such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline.
- Centres could organise a ‘worry tree’ at the front entrance. Children and families can write up their worries, anonymously and pin it to the tree.
- Hold a talking circle in the children’s rooms. The children and educators can talk about their feelings in an age appropriate way.
- Services can provide information to families about mindful breathing and educators practice mindful breathing activities with the children, daily.
Above all remember that many people have never experienced a situation like the one we are currently living through. Many different groups in society have had their world turned upside down.
As restrictions lift, those working in education and care settings have a unique opportunity to be of service to others, and to support children and young people to view themselves as powerful agents of change, well equipped to help the world to shift into another paradigm, where people look out for others more and mental health wellbeing is honoured.
If you are interested in mindfulness or starting a yoga program in your early childhood education and care setting, then email [email protected] for your free eBook – 4 steps to kickstart your own ECEC mindfulness and yoga program.