Peterborough girl describes how she has tackled bullying thanks to help at city children’s centre

A Peterborough girl has described how she has received support from a Barnardo’s centre in the city as the charity offers tips for youngsters to settle into school.

Sunday, 8th September 2019, 7:37 am
Going to school can be an anxious time for children

With kids returning to the classrooms this week, the children’s charity has released the story of 13-year-old Sally (not her real name) who is supported by the Family Support Service as part of Barnardo’s Peterborough Children’s Centre.

Sally said: “I have always had comments made to me about my weight for as far back as I can remember and this has always upset me. I get called fat at least once a week and on one occasion I remember a boy shouting at me to ‘stop eating so much food fatty’ when I was eating some crisps.

“From that point onwards I no longer ate at school. School know about this and I am taking steps with my mum to address this together.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

“Sometimes the comments about my weight may be made in a jokey way and others laugh along but it still really upsets me. I don’t think they even realise half the time. I have even lost friends because of it.

“I get up at 5.30am every morning before school to make sure I have time to get ready properly and do my make-up and hair. There have been a couple of occasions when I haven’t even gone to school because I have got up too late and I wouldn’t have had time to get ready.

“Speaking to my support workers at Barnardo’s has really just given me space to talk about how I am feeling and helps me to get everything out. We talk about the language I use to describe myself and also about positive things and helping me to manage my emotions.

“Since working with Barnardo’s I now feel more in control and am able to remove myself from a situation and am a calmer person. The comments make me angry but I am often able to stop myself from reacting. I also talk to Barnardo’s about communication more generally and the best way of interacting with people as I get older.”

Barnardo’s has now revealed its top tips on how to help your child settle in at school:

Think about what could help them take on the day

Talk to your child about what makes them feel safe - what we sometimes call ‘putting our armour on’.

This might be styling their hair in a way they like, having a conversation with a friend or family member, eating their favourite breakfast, doing power poses in the mirror or doing something fun the night before.

Reflect and celebrate at the end of the day

Consider what your child might want at the end of the day; it could be a chance to chat with you, seeing or speaking to a friend, having their favourite meal, or simply writing in a diary. Celebrating each day at a time is incredibly important.

Help them to speak up about their needs

If there are particular things your child would like their school/new teacher to know about them, but feel unable to tell them in person, you could work with them to create a ‘pupil passport’ to let their new teacher know.

This can include useful information such as ‘I like it when I’m sat near the front of the room so I can see the door’ or ‘I don’t like it when people stand too close to me’. This can be created with words, pictures or anything creative.

Reassure them they’re not alone

It is completely normal for your child to feel worried and anxious about starting a new school or new year/term. It is also important that your child knows that they can talk to you about this, so try to talk to them about how they feel about going back to school.

If they are comfortable to talk about it with others, you could suggest they speak to children who may be in a similar situation. That way, they can share their experiences and go through the school transition together.

Barnardo’s five things you need to know about anxiety

Anxiety presents itself in different ways

Anxiety can look different from one person to another. There are immediate physical symptoms that might be recognised easily - like shaking, sweating and going red - but there can be other symptoms that are not obvious, like difficulty sleeping, restlessness and stomach aches that can come and go.

Other signs - like racing thoughts, finding it difficult to concentrate and wanting to withdraw from social situations - are harder to spot and might not be obvious to a child.

Children need help to identify their anxiety too

In fact, some children can find it hard to identify thoughts (and distinguish them from feelings) altogether. However, it is important to be aware of thoughts to be able to identify anxiety.

Anxious children tend to express their anxiety in their thoughts. They may jump to negative conclusions about situations.

For example, if a parent is late coming home one day, they might worry that this is because there’s been an accident. Anxious children are also more likely to have negative thoughts about themselves and may think they are not good enough, not well liked enough or bound to fail - which can lead to them avoiding certain situations.

Getting them talking about their thoughts can help.

Talking about anxiety can help

Communication is vital in getting to the root of a child’s anxiety. Gently asking the right questions can help them to find the thought that is troubling them.

For example, if they suddenly show signs of being scared or worried, ask them to describe what they think might be happening to make them feel this way. Talking it through can help lead them to finding the thought at the root of the anxiety.

Once you have identified this, you can work together to discuss how helpful these thoughts are, or how likely a potential outcome might be.

Experiencing anxiety is normal

Anxiety becomes an issue when it impacts a person frequently and when worries are difficult to manage, but anxiety itself is normal and common.

Most adults will be able to recall a time or a situation which made them feel anxious. It might have been down to an exam, a ride on a rollercoaster or speaking in front of lots of people.

It is totally normal to experience it at some point in life. This is important to remember and can help children feel better about dealing with their own anxiety.

There are ways to manage anxiety and anxious thoughts

Your child does not need to feel they are alone in trying to cope with anxiety. And it can be helpful to remind them that while anxiety can feel overwhelming and very uncomfortable at the time, it will pass and will not harm them.

Meanwhile, a YouGov survey for Barnardo’s of more than 1,000 eight to 15-year-olds in England, Scotland and Wales which shows:

· 40 per cent are worried that school work will be too hard and they will not be able to do it when they go back to school after the summer. This was a concern for half of 15-year-olds as they approach their final year of GCSEs.

· 24 per cent are worried about changing schools, class or teachers, rising to 53 per cent of 11-year-olds as they move to secondary school.

· 19 per cent worry that someone they know might be bullied, or continue to be bullied, and that they will not have anyone to talk to. Fifty-three per cent of eight-year-olds said their friends had experienced someone hurting them, such as kicking or punching them.

· 70 per cent said this bullying had made their friends feel upset, 60 per cent sad and 40 per cent anxious.

Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan said: “Our TV advert makes for challenging viewing, but we want to show the very real fear and distress experienced by many children accessing Barnardo’s services.

“As a former teacher I know that children returning to school after the summer worry about whether the work will be too hard, that they won’t like their new school, or that they might get picked on by other children.

“And for the vulnerable children Barnardo’s supports, this often comes on top of other challenges – such as a history of sexual abuse, criminal exploitation or being in the care system.

“One-in-eight children aged 5 to 19 in England has at least one mental health disorder and many reach crisis point before receiving treatment. Our UK-wide specialist mental health services see first-hand how anxieties have the potential to cause long lasting trauma.

“But as our new TV ad demonstrates, with the right support from a trusted adult, children can recover from difficult experiences and work towards a positive future.”

Barnardo’s wants schools to recognise the important role they play and to provide safe spaces where children can talk to a trusted adult about their concerns.

The charity is calling for the Government and Ofsted to prioritise children’s mental health and wellbeing and make sure all children, parents and carers have access to education and guidance on safe social media use.