Taking the anxiety out of uncertainty

Photo: istock.com/martin-dm

There is little at present about which we can be certain – except more uncertainty – and this has a big effect on anxiety. Attain's Editor talked to Mark English, Vice Master at University College School and Emma Goldsmith, Head of Winchester House.

If there is one single issue which we have all had to get used to during the past year, it's uncertainty. Ironically, uncertainty has become one of the few things which is a constant. This has undoubtedly taken its toll on both parents and children of all ages. The challenge for schools has been to support families during this period and to help them limit these feelings of uncertainty.

For Emma Goldsmith, Head of Winchester House Prep School in Northamptonshire, the situation is analogous to being on an aircraft in an emergency. You are told – as a parent – that if the oxygen masks drop down, you must put yours on first before helping your child. "I think the key message that we've been sending out to our families is that the parents have to look after themselves in order to be able to support the children in the best way possible," reflects Emma. The school set up a number of workshops to help parents support their children, offering advice to go outside, have breaks and making space in the day to talk.

It's extremely hard for all parents, who are grappling with their own pressures as well as worrying about their children. However, for truly Larkin-esque reasons, parents need to avoid over-sharing. "Actually, it's the uncertainty of the parents that the children pick up on," says Emma. "I think we have to be very wary of that and the messages we are giving children are not that of uncertainty... That we can actually give them some certainties – you know the sun is going to come up tomorrow; the spring is going to happen; things are going to change."

Mark English, Vice Master and Academic Director at University College School in London, shares a similar perspective. "I do think there is an important balance to be struck here for parents – not to, if you like, 'over share' with their children because I think that can then trigger all kinds of negative consequences."

Emma Goldsmith and Mark English discuss uncertainty and how to reduce levels of anxiety for parents and pupils

Matthew Smith is the Editor of Attain.