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Mind the Gap. Returning to school and mental health after Covid-19

Module 1 - Relationsips

Having strong, supportive relationships is important for children's mental health and wellbeing. With schools planning to reopen, how can adults help children to rebuild their relationships with classmates and school staff? It will also mean adjusting at home - what happens when mum or dad stops being the teacher?


Since lockdown, parents and school staff have worked together, from a distance, to support children with their home learning. Over the next few weeks that 'gap' between home and school will be closing - but how do we help children to readjust and reconnect?

Introduction to Mind The Gap - Back To School

Sarah Creegan says that adults need to think about the 3 Rs when the kids go back to school. And, while reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic are important, that's not what she means!

Telling Your Own Story

During mental health week, Victoria takes a look at a way to support ourselves and our children to help us all feel safe and secure in this strange new world. The language that we use will impact how our brains react to the situations we are faced with. What story will you tell?

Find out more about the Laughology Mind the Gap virtual workshop for schools...


Before you can even think about closing those academic gaps, kids have to feel happy and safe. Here, Sarah Creegan suggests ways in which school staff can support children's mental health and wellbeing on their return to school.


Since lockdown began, there’s been a lot of concern around the impact on children’s academic progress. Some will have really enjoyed and benefitted from being taught at home and may find it tricky to settle back into a class of 30. Others may not have engaged as well with home learning. 

For children at both ends of the spectrum (and everyone in between), the most important thing to remember is that, until they feel safe and happy back at school, any ‘learning’ will be minimal. 

What can school staff do to rebuild relationships?

  • Have lots of chats. Although school staff have done their best to keep in touch with families over the past couple of months, it’s not the same as having those face-to-face conversations, which help us to bond with others. Put plenty of time aside to listen to the children’s stories and to share some of yours.
  • Have empathy. With everyone, but especially if someone comes back more withdrawn, or louder, than usual. Give them time and space to reconnect. For the quieter ones, maybe ask them to draw what they’ve been up to, to open up a conversation.
  • Have patience. As adults, it’s been tricky enough to focus during lockdown, so it’s likely that many of the children will find it difficult to pay attention for any length of time when they first come back. Plan short sharp bursts of learning, intermingled with lots of fun stuff.
  • Have wellbeing at the forefront of all you do. Laughology’s Happy-Centred School PSHE programme identifies 5 wellbeing enablers for children. Build activities that promote these areas into and around other, more-academic tasks:
    • Self-Confidence  
    • Achievement and Success  
    • Positive Relationships - (see the downloadable lesson plan in the DO! section)
    • Support 
    • Coping Skills – (download free coping skills lessons from our website)
  • Have a laugh. Ask the children to remind you of what makes them laugh – the chances are, while they’re explaining it, the giggles will start. You could also find some YouTube clips of animals doing silly things and babies giggling, to get each day off to a good start.
    • Have a mental health strategy. At Laughology we use our SPOT, SUPPORT, SIGNPOST model. 
    • SPOT. Some children and families will already be on your radar, from emails and conversations during lockdown. But do be aware that it may not be so obvious for others. It may be that you send a short questionnaire to all parents before the kids return, to ask questions related to their child’s mental health and wellbeing. For example: How have they coped during lockdown? How are they feeling about coming back? How have they been sleeping? Is there anything else it would help us to know?
    • SUPPORT. Seek support for yourself, if you’re unsure about a child. It’s always best to chat through any concerns with a Mental Health First Aider, your Designated Safeguarding Lead (DSL), your Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) or your line manager.
    • SUPPORT. Offer support to the family. It might be that the child would benefit from a 1:1 chat, or some ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistant) time. The parent might welcome a phone or video call.
    • SIGNPOST. It may be that some children and/ or their parents will need more specialist support, such as a CAMHS referral (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) or bereavement counselling. Make sure that you know what is available and appropriate, before making any suggestions.


So, your time as a home-schooling teacher is coming to an end. HOORAY! But how do you support your child to make a smooth transition back to school? And how do you get back to being 'just' mum or dad?


When schools temporarily closed their doors to the majority of pupils, what were parents and teachers saying? Of course, people were telling each other to stay safe and well. Yes, there was some reassurance about homeschooling the kids, alongside working from home - although we don’t think anyone had really understood the enormity of that! But, above all, as folks parted ways they were saying, ‘We’re going to miss you.’ Because, whether you realised it or not before Coronavirus hit, you most certainly will now - life is all about relationships.

So, how do the adults around the children help to rebuild their relationship with school, and how does that relationship at home return to something like it used to be – maybe with a few changes?

For Parents

When the time is right for your child and your family’s circumstances, they will be going back to school. To support their mental health and wellbeing, and to help them make a smooth transition:

  • Be open and share anything with school staff that they need to know. With social distancing measures in place, parents may not be able to have face-to-face meetings with teachers, so drop them an email or phone to explain about a family situation, or sleeping difficulties, or anxiety at coming back (yours or your child’s).
  • Be positive. At the moment, parents are having to decide when they feel it’s safe for their child to return. Phone calls to other parents and WhatsApp group messages may or may not be helping and, of course, little ones are very good at listening in! As adults, in unprecedented times, it’s normal to feel cautious or anxious, but children need to know that school staff are going to work really hard to make them happy and keep them safe. 
  • Be solution focussed and look to the future. Whilst it will be a good idea to ask your Year 6 child how they feel about going back to school, and you do need to listen to any worries they have, focus on how they can overcome these (see Laughology’s coping model, FLIP-It for home schooling parents) and ask them what they’re most looking forward to.
  • Be ‘just’ mum or dad again. When you know the date that your child is going back, you can start helping them to separate home and school a bit more. Due to the circumstances, a lot of children have become less independent and more reliant on parents, so it may be that you want to nudge them to start thinking for themselves a bit more, while easing up on the home learning.
  • Be supportive. Our mental health and emotional wellbeing go hand-in-hand with feeling physically safe. When the kids go back to school, staff will be encouraging them to wash their hands regularly, cough and sneeze into their elbow and bin tissues. You can support this by doing the same at home. 
  • Be realistic. All adults will be doing their best to keep the children 2m apart but, let’s face it, that’s not always going to happen. The biggest thing that children are looking forward to, when they return to school, is playing with their friends and having a cuddle! If they come home and say that’s what they’ve done, gently remind them of the rules at the moment, but also acknowledge how lovely that must have been!


You've watched the clips and read the tips. Now it's time to start getting the children to think about their relationships, as well as all of the lovely things that they're looking forward to when they get back to school. Here are some quick and easy activities to help you.

Ed’s Thunk: What are you most looking forward to doing when you get back to school?

We may be heading back to school soon, so what are you most excited about doing when you get there? Seeing your friends? A particular lesson? Simply getting back to normal?

DOWNLOADABLE LESSON PLAN FOR TEACHERS - How can I help others feel that they belong and be a good friend?

Looking for activities to support children's mental health and wellbeing when they come back to school? Why not download and deliver this lesson, to help the children understand that everyone has strengths, which help them belong to the school community.

DOWNLOADABLE ACTIVITY FOR PARENTS - Can I reflect on the positive relationships in my life?

As a family, why not do this activity and make a paper chain to celebrate all of the positive relationships in your lives. With schools reopening soon, make sure you include lots of the staff.

Coming up...

Next week we are looking at the importance of routines when getting back to normal. We're not just talking about the day-to-day and self-care routines (although they are important), we're talking about getting back into the groove of learning.

Remember, there are lots more downloadable resources on our website, including some great blogs for parents and blogs for teachers.

big chat about mental health logo


Are organisations and companies just paying lip service?
Join some of the most interesting and respected voices in positive psychology for our Our Big Chat about…Thinking outside the tick box, inaugural webinar. Our two and half hour interactive event will look at the best mental health strategies for organisations, identifying what works and what doesn’t.

Dave McPartlin:

Dave is the Headteacher of Flakefleet Primary School.
Creating the right environment for people and communities to flourish

Sunita Hirani

Sunita is one of the BBC’s key equality, diversity and inclusivity experts.
Why inclusion is essential for mental wellbeing

Professor Sir Cary Cooper

Cary is one the world’s most influential voices in occupational health and wellbeing.
Enhancing Mental Wellbeing at Work. Evidence based strategies for creating a wellbeing culture at work.

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