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SEN Back to School guide for carers

Sending our children back to school, or if we're young adult carers going back to university, may seem like a huge step after a long break-off. Often more so, when our children have special educational needs.

Illustration of a classroom

For many of us, this transition comes with some strong emotions - not only for our children but also for us as parents and carers.

When our children are anxious and perhaps 'acting up' over going back, there is an emotional (and sometimes physical) impact on their parent carers or siblings too.

"One of my children is on the point of school refusal - it's very stressful. School starts tomorrow - wish us luck. One thing is for sure - we will all be exhausted from the build-up."

It's important to acknowledge that it's OK to feel anxious and that those feelings are being mirrored in many households right now.

Equally, if your child or you, as a young adult, can't wait to go back or get started - that's absolutely fine too! There are no right or wrong feelings - we're just acknowledging that there are feelings - and many are strong ones!

"I'm much more relaxed about my children going back to school than I thought. I'm keen for us to get back into the school routine."

Helpful resources for our children

Each child has different reasons for worrying about returning to school. There will be some children experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety over new routines, with fear of the unknown and of change. Social anxiety from the thought of being with lots of people again. Or perhaps anxiety over their academic performance - with worries about how far they feel they may have fallen behind last year.

There are also children with learning disabilities, who may need extra support with understanding new routines, new teachers and new classmates, for example.

We've sought recommendations from within the Mobilise community and beyond, to bring carers a list of valuable resources.

Helpful resources for children with anxiety

  • Child Line has Calm Zone, which has a brilliant toolbox of resources to support children with anxiety. Including breathing exercises, video games and ways to cope videos. There is a real breadth of tools, and hopefully something for everyone.

  • For older children, Safetynet has produced an online magazine, which talks directly to the child. This can be very helpful where children respond better to tips that haven't come from their parents. It talks about why we may be feeling anxious and things we can do to help ourselves.

Resources for children with learning disabilities and/or transition difficulties

  • For children who are familiar with using symbols, Widgit have a free 'back to school' pack with all kinds of helpful back to school symbols.

Screenshot of Widgit back to school symbols

Parent carer anxiety

As parent carers, some of us are experiencing worry and anxiety about our children returning. There are a few things we can do, which give us a sense of control and may address any concerns.

  1. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone or send an email to the school. Yes, they're busy - but they also want the return to school to be a success. We all have the same goal. Ask questions. Tell them what would help. Our idea may actually be helpful to many other families.

  2. Be kind to ourselves and access some of the resources and tools (see below), to support our own wellbeing. If our minds are 'at peace', this will only help our children.

Helpful resources for carers

It's so important that we remember to look after ourselves in all of this. All kinds of feelings may be coursing through us right now from relief, to guilt, from anxiety to fear.

In previous blogs, we're shared many tips to support ourselves, including:

Each of the blogs includes short, helpful activities and videos of practical ways to support ourselves.

And for those of us with children who may not make it back into school at all, this can be incredibly hard. Sometimes the best thing we can do, is to look after our own wellbeing, meaning we're in a stronger place to look after theirs. It can be helpful to find supportive communities with other families in similar positions. Just make sure the group is a positive and helpful experience. We have some advice on finding a safe peer support group.

Ou blog "out of control and caring" has some tips for noticing what we can and can't control. And our blog, "how to care for ourselves when there's no time" gives lots of tips on "micro-respite" moments for ourselves. Small moments to reset and nourish ourselves.

Illustration of a calendar.

Adjusting to a new timetable

It's valuable to pause and recognise that it isn't just those returning to school that have to get used to new routines.

As parent carers, we may well be about to have to adjust to a whole new schedule too!

"From September, I'll have 3 children at 3 different schools, with 3 different sets of clubs. And that's before I even start to address the anxiety each child has about going back. My brain and memory are going to get a serious work out as we adapt to yet another new normal and I try and keep things calm for the kids! I think my petrol bill is about to go through the roof too!"

Getting organised is the key here. Easy to say and perhaps a bit tougher to implement. Our weekly planner may be of help. It will help us to ensure we include our needs too!

Why not make a nice brew, in your favourite mug. Put on some music you love - maybe even our Mobilise Carer's Top Anthems (as chosen by the community!) Playlist, and turn the planning task into something a bit enjoyable!

Illustration of two young students.

Young adult carers

Many young adult carers are about to embark on university.

Our '10 top tips for young adult carers off to university' suggested by young adult carers may be a helpful read.

Abi, a young adult carer, uni student and regular attendee of our cuppas has kindly shared her thoughts and advice below:

"I am currently heading into my first year of university. The nerves are there, as with any big new change, comes the doubts, nerves and even the 'am I doing the right thing?' question."
"All you can do is plan for the worse case scenarios - if that is having a neighbour come in and help, or having a ready meal in the freezer - its okay to have them there."
"University will have lots of support in place for you so make the most of it. Applying for Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) if you have a disability – I did and honestly it’s going to make a massive difference knowing I have someone there to help me with my work and getting settled into the university."
"Join student unions and clubs, do not say no if you want to go out with a group of friends after a class, the friends you make now will shape your whole uni experience."
"The education centres if that’s college, school and universities will have lots of extra safety measures in place to keep you safe and ready to come back to learning – The university I’m going to, is giving 2 free reusable masks to each student to keep them safe, to use in and around campus."
"Finally get prepared now with your stationary, folders, plastic wallets, pens, highlighters and my top tip that saves me a lot of time when I am studying is Extra Long A4 dividers from Rymans."

What's next?

The wonderful thing about the Mobilise community is that we learn that we're not alone. We see this every time a carer, like Abi above, shares their story. There is so much empathy, support, tools and encouragement to be had.

Join the Mobilise community of unpaid carers and let us know what your Back to School story is. Our virtual cuppas are also from Monday to Friday. A place for laughs, a fun chat and real deep conversations!

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