This week, tens of thousands of students in Dubai start their new school year. As the year begins, it’s essential that parents track the healthy wellbeing of their children and introduce systems that support them.
In a challenging time, the most important thing that parents can do is to provide a foundational layer of certainty.
For a minute, think back to when you were a teenager. Remember that feeling at the end of summer, immediately before starting the new school year. Remember that blurry mix of emotions: anticipation of seeing old friends, a nervousness about new classes and who the teacher will be, and a familiar blend of excitement and anxiety accompanying a new beginning.
As this school year begins, students will feel these same emotions as if nothing has changed. And yet, everything has changed.
In humans, the emotion of anxiety feels very different depending on whether it is paired with a sense of certainty or uncertainty.
Anxiety plus uncertainty is a recipe for fear. Amidst the pandemic, a pervasive uncertainty emerged. Children’s daily experience was less constant, expectations less defined. Even meeting friends, and play dates suddenly became: wait and see.
The burden placed on these young shoulders has been heavy, and it may remain there for some time.
But the anticipation of walking through the school doors offers a degree of dependability that lifts off some of that weight. For many students, the familiarity, structure, ritual, and community of school combine very differently with anxiety. Anxiety plus certainty can feel exiting and uplifting. It’s the reason why rollercoasters and skydiving and thriller movies exist. Blood pressure increases, palms get sweaty, but we know we’re going to be okay.
Certainty makes us feel safe in the face of challenge, and it lights the path forward. Anxiety plus certainty can feel a lot like hope.
It’s for this very reason that governments and organisations and communities and families have rallied to do what they can to help reduce the uncertainty for our children. And although it’s still there as part of the current reality for adults and students alike, there is also a palpable sense of hope – of certainty - in places like Dubai.
Collectively and individually, parents and guardians have a big role to play. Through our unconditional love and care and through clear, predictable patterns of behaviour, we help forge steady routines which are vital, now more than ever.
Routines are something we can control. They provide an anchor of stability and certainty. But they require some thought and planning initially. By introducing wellbeing routines into the family, it can help prepare your child to enter the new school year.
Research from the New Economics Foundation has identified ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ that can be used to provide a simple framework to help guide family routines in the coming weeks and months: Connect, Be Active, Keep Learning, Be Aware, Give to Others. Here are some ideas that you might incorporate into your family routine.
By connecting with your children you can find out what went well during their day at school. Checking in everyday helps them manage any worry they are feeling and to celebrate things that are going well. It can help too, to connect with other parents to talk about common struggles and to remain connected to your school to understand processes, strategies and support services.
Being active with the family doesn’t need to be a chore. You can start by enjoying a short 15-30 minute post or pre-dinner family walk each evening, or it can be fun to design a weekly exercise plan that includes yoga, stretching, aerobics, or dance.
Creating a ‘New-Food-Friday’ night where you cook a new meal together is a great way to keep learning together. Or maybe trying a ‘New-Film-Friday’ where adults and children take it in turns to choose a different genre of movie to watch.
Multiple studies have shown that engaging in gratitude journaling can elevate awareness and perspective which can be beneficial for your child’s mental wellbeing. Try putting on some quiet music and taking note of small things at home or school that people are grateful for.
Never underestimate the power of giving to others. Create a family culture of always smiling at and thanking anyone who supports your family, from the food delivery person to the Uber driver. Sometimes the smallest gifts can make the biggest difference. A regular Zoom call to a grandparent, for example, or overseas friend can be very uplifting for everyone.
Routines can be really effective in helping to create a sense of certainty and wellbeing. So, have fun and be creative with your wellbeing routines. Of course, please only engage in routines that are appropriate in your family and cultural context. And if you or your child is experiencing acute or chronic anxiety, please seek professional support.