Why do I have to go to school?
At Learning & Wellbeing Psychology, we have been thinking carefully about how our communities have been responding to the coronavirus pandemic. We wanted to recognise and honour the amazing ways that networks of schools, parents and families have found to support the children they know. Alongside this we also wanted to offer support for the difficult conversation that adults are having with children as they try to balance giving accurate and clear information with reassurance and support.
This story is designed as a response to messaging such as 'Stay safe, Stay home'. This slogan is useful and clear, especially as a whole country is coming to a realisation that everyone, all together needs to suddenly make radical changes. At Learning & Wellbeing Psychology, we have been thinking about what sense a child who has to leave the house might make of this message, for instance if they have to go to school because both parents are key workers. One of the issues that we thought might come up for children because of the message was worrying about whether it was safe to go to school. It seemed important to us to do some thinking about ways adults might talk with children about the concerns that this particular message might bring up. As we wrote the story, we were thinking about children in Key Stage 2 - so between Year 3 and Year 6. Although some of the ideas might be useful, like all social stories, this social story will need changing and adapting for each individual child. It is also useful to remember that the coping strategies which are suggested in the story are only the beginning of a conversation about what might help.
We felt that the four step planning process, which we discussed in our previous blog post as part of the process we went through to write a Leventhal- Belfer social story about 'Why do I have to stay at home?' still seemed helpful. However, after careful consideration we added some additional prompts to our story plan. This is because there is research and psychological thinking about what helps people cope well in extreme situation or crisis. This research suggests that several approaches can help a great deal. The first one is to focus on what people are doing to help. The second one is to have some control or influence within the situation. A further important thing is that everyone in the situation benefits from having specific things that they can do to help other people. This last one is also important, as it links to other research which suggests that connecting to relationships and finding meaning helps a lot when people are feeling threatened. The Psychologist magazine has useful links to accessible writings on these subjects. Importantly, we also wanted to give the message that while this situation would not last for ever, feelings of being worried or stressed made a lot of sense right now and are meaningful in a situation where lots of people might get sick or even die.
In the end there were seven planning prompts for our social story:
What is the dilemma, difficulty or theme that the child is struggling with?
What sorts of feelings do people have in these situations? What feelings does the child we are writing the story for have? Are we giving the message that these feelings make sense?
What does the child need to know about the situation to make better sense of it?
What action can all people take so that they don't get sick and to stop other people getting sick?
What are the adults doing to help each other? Are we being clear about the responsibilities that adults have?
What can the child do to help other people? Is it age-appropriate?
What strategies can we offer to start a conversation about ways the child can cope? Do the things we suggest promote social connectedness?
At Learning & Wellbeing Psychology, we have spent a week thinking about this social story, reading it to one another and trying to get a 'felt sense' of how a child might make sense of the messages in it. This speaks to how hard it is to talk with children about this difficult situation. It also says something to how sophisticated adults' thinking has to be in order to capture big ideas in a simple way. We think that the idea of 'sticking to your bubble' rather than 'stay safe, stay home', might work better for children who have to go to school, or perhaps have to move between different places if they are in care, or if their parents are separated and live in two different houses. Do change and adapt the social story for your child and your specific situation if you use it. Please let us know your thoughts!