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BLOG: Managing reopening anxiety

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After living under Covid-19 restrictions for so long some children may feel both excited and anxious at a new world, as we move into the next stage of restrictions easing.

As with any feeling of anxiety it is important to support children in your setting in order to best help them to understand and to adapt to another 'new normal'. We have laid out a few helpful tips plus some information on recognising reopening anxiety below on how you can provide support to any child in your care experiencing these worries.

                   

What is reopening anxiety?

Reopening anxiety is usually defined as feelings of nervousness, worry or reluctance surrounding the idea of lockdown restrictions being eased. It is important to remember that the UK had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world so being hesitant at reopening is normal.

For many children in an early years and childcare setting, living under ever-changing covid restrictions has meant ongoing disruption to their daily routines. As we move to the next stage of lockdown restrictions easing, while parents have been working mainly at home and settings have been open, the lifting of restrictions means many parents may be returning to their office. For some children this could increase the amount of time spent away from what they have become used to over the past year. It is important to remember that any disruption to a child’s routine may have an effect on their wellbeing and mental health, even if it is just temporary, so helping them to deal with this change through positive communication is the best way to ease their worry.

Recognising anxiety in children

Anxiety in children can present itself in many ways, and younger children often cannot explicitly express their feelings using words, so it is key to look for changes in behaviour as well as taking the time to listen. You know your children best and will be able to spot signs of them not being themselves, but the NHS has set out the below behaviours to look out for as a rough guideline:

  • Finding it hard to concentrate.
  • Not sleeping or waking up in the night.
  • Increased irritability or being quick to anger.
  • Decrease or increase in appetite.
  • Feeling tense or being fidgety.
  • Being clingy, particularly to caregivers and parents.

This is not an exhaustive list and some of these signs may be more apparent in some children than others. Make sure to keep open communication with a child’s parents to get a sense of their behaviour at home and whether there is more support you can offer. For more information on recognising anxiety in children you can visit the NHS website.

                   

Top Tips for dealing with anxiety in children:

  1. Don't dismiss any feelings of anxiety- It can be easy to dismiss anxiety in children by saying things like 'you'll be ok' or 'don’t be silly' but these are counterproductive. Listening and trying to empathise with a child instead makes them feel heard and can help alleviate worry and anger.
  2. Provide as much detail about new routines and rules as possible before it changes- this will help them to prepare for change. For younger children visual aids may help them understand better.
  3. See change as a positive- emphasise that the easing of restrictions is a good thing. If that also means a child will be at their setting more explain to the children that they will have more time to play with their friends.
  4. Don’t avoid conversations entirely- we know that it is tempting to want to protect children from the things that they are scared of but this only means that things will be harder in the long term. Try setting small but manageable tasks to gradually ease them back into normality.
  5. Set a new routine- speaking to a child’s parents and, if possible, their school, can help set a new routine for a child experiencing anxiety in which your care facility can be a part of. Reopening anxiety in particular, is likely to be temporary so setting out a new schedule can be a great way to ease into the new normal.

It is important to remember that there is no quick fix for anxiety, particularly worry about reopening. It can take many weeks, even months, for a new routine to become normal for children and at times it may feel like an uphill battle. Communication is key and PACEY is always here to help, below we have listed some extra resources that are available via your MyPACEY membership, as well as details on how to access NHS help for children’s mental health services.

Additional Resources

Supporting children in your setting

Childrens emotional needs

CEY smart Course- Transitions and settling in

NHS Guide to anxiety in children

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