Supporting the mental wellbeing of children in a world with Covid-19

The global pandemic has left no stone unturned in its ravaging of the world. At the time of writing, the World Health Organisation has reported that there have been 221,648,869 confirmed cases of Covid-19 including 4,582,338 deaths. Behind each case is a story, of illness, or isolation, of work lost and opportunities missed, of people gone and loved ones missed. While the interventions and mitigations designed to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 have helped to ensure that these figures are not far, far worse, they have also meant some hardship, not least for the younger generation in our communities.

A report published in January this year by the then Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield found that even before the Covid-19 crisis children’s mental health services “were far from meeting the existing level of need. In the pandemic, referrals to children’s mental health services increased by 35% while the number of children accessing treatment increased by just 4%.”

Emerging attainment gaps

As the pandemic has progressed the need to support children and young people is no less diminished. While wellbeing has been hit and there is a clear and present need to offer solace and care as well as to help children and young people to develop their own skills of resilience and self-understanding, we cannot overlook the gaps in academic attainment that are emerging.

One tool that can help this process is Therapeutic Storywriting. Therapeutic Storywriting Groups use the metaphor in stories to support children whose emotional and behavioural difficulties are getting in the way of their learning. Using trained professionals, schools can set up storywriting groups in the knowledge that this intervention is evidence-based and demonstrably effective in improving the wellbeing of children as well as their literacy skills.   

Therapeutic Storywriting Groups are for six pupils aged 7-13 years. They run for 10 sessions and each session lasts an hour. Training to enable you to run Therapeutic Storywriting Groups in your school explores the relationship between emotional and cognitive development, the emotional significance of story metaphor, and active listening in the context of story work. This is a targeted mental health intervention with a proven impact. Not only do children in the group develop their wellbeing but they also improve their literacy skills and their ability to thrive in learning situations.

Towards recovery

Research commissioned by the South-East Region SEN Partnership shows that Therapeutic Storywriting Groups help pupils to process difficult feelings, develop social skills and improve pupils’ engagement with learning. Being able to focus on the emotional and the academic skills that will lead to recovery from the impact of the pandemic could be very helpful at this time. 

Children live in the world of metaphor – from early role play to the engagement with stories read to them. As children reach school age they can start to write their own stories. Therapeutic Storywriting groups aim to help pupils connect with their own emotions and experiences. As Alice Walker says “writing really helps you heal yourself. I think if you write long enough, you will be a healthy person.’

A calm, bright future

The process of writing the stories in a supportive group is healing in itself. The stories can also indicate what future support can be put in place for the child within the school environment.

If we can combine the therapeutic with the academic, and the research underpinning Therapeutic Storywriting demonstrates that we can, we have a powerful tool for supporting children through their pandemic-related emotions and experiences to a brighter, calmer more fulfilling place.