It takes a village to raise a child
“Once children are 5, school becomes an essential part of their development” says Noel McDermott, psychotherapist as he talks to Dad.info about his concerns for children who have now been out of school for over 100 days.
Most people have heard the phrase that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, well that isn’t just because parents need help (which we do) what it is actually about is that a socially healthy child NEEDS the equivalent of three families worth of people to engage with to develop normally. We don’t live as clans, we don’t leave our kids with our neighbours. The simplest way we can provide this social interaction is by having our kids go to school and for months now, for most of us, that hasn't been possible.
When children can't mix freely with their friends they often won’t talk about their fears with us. Often children try and protect their parents and bottle up feelings they would more readily share with someone outside their immediate family. Noel suggests that, "children need to develop close relationships with appropriate adults outside the home who will listen but tell parents if there is a problem, the perfect person to talk to is a teacher".
We are now hearing stories about children who are at risk being failed as schools can't protect them if they aren't seeing them. There is evidence of an increase in drinking across the board, read here for more: Lessons from Lockdown.
Domestic Violence increases when parents drink.
Schools are a protective factor for children, especially children from more vulnerable homes. We have talked a lot about what is safe recently? We asked Noel the question which has been worrying us recently, is it 'safe' to have children out of school?
Noel reminds us that, "in a war zone one of the first things development agencies do is go in and set up schools because they protect children psychologically. Schools repair our attachment process and support our children emotionally. This process is crucial. Schools have a levelling impact on poverty". Noel believes that, "across the board I would say that we have reached the point that the damage to children is much greater than any risk of infection. I can’t say strongly enough that the government are right to get schools open and get kids back".
As a society we are in shock, the shock has caused fear but five months in to lockdown Noel suggests, "we need to begin to change the conversation and focus less on our adult fears around the virus, which aren’t appropriate to children, to what is best for children. Children are desperate to get back to school and September will come round quickly".
For parents whose kids aren’t in school yet (which is many of us) now is the time to begin allowing your children to socialise with their school peers at the very least online but next steps in the real world.
During lockdown, the requirement to send your child for education has been removed by the Coronavirus act, but by the end of the summer it won’t be your choice any more. Noel's view is that, "If you hold your child back because of your adult fears about infection you need to challenge yourself on that. This virus does not affect children. It does not make them ill. There is increasing evidence that they do not transmit it. Simple social distancing and hygiene measures reduce the risk. As long as your kids are washing their hands the risk to you is low".
Read this article from David Spieglehalter for a breakdown of this risk: What are the fatal risks to children of Covid?
Noel is sympathetic to any parents feeling anxious about getting the kids back to school, but feels the time is right to refocus on what children need. "When we didn’t know as much about the virus people were feeling very anxious but at this point that anxiety is inappropriate. What will happen is we will see people feeling anxious, but as news reports stop over egging the risks and we see for ourselves that kids are functioning well at school, then parent's anxieties will reduce and the pressure from your own children will increase as they ask to go back to school with their friends".
Your kids will want to go back.
Children are inherently social animals, they want to be part of their tribe and will ask to go back.
Warning Signs (to look out for)
If your child has been quite isolated due to Covid-19 and your child’s mood shifts rapidly, or they are withdrawn, aren’t eating, having nightmares, experience radical weight change, or if their sleep pattern is disturbed, these are warning signs and should be taken seriously. Ask yourself how many of those have you seen in your kids and if you are worried pick up your phone to your GP and ask for professional advice.
- Encourage your child to slowly and safely begin seeing their friends, whether that is for social activities or study.
- Start talking about back-to-school. Listen to your child and take on board their concerns. Talk about what feels safe to them.
- Get information now from your child's school, be sympathetic that they might not know the whole plan yet, but find out more about how school will look and feel before they close.
Parenting in a Pandemic
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About the Expert
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He is the founder and CEO of three organisations, Psychotherapy and Consultancy Ltd, Sober Help Ltd and Mental Health Works Ltd. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources in order to help clients access help without leaving home - Learn More.