These tips are aimed at supporting your family through some of the challenges you might have as schools return and your family starts reintegrating into everyday life. But please contact your child's GP if you have concerns over their health or wellbeing.
Meeting up with others
Families and friends are now starting to meet up again as rules allow. This can be daunting for many people, including children and young people with a brain injury. It could possibly heighten some difficulties that your child may already have, such as being in loud environments. So it’s important to bear this in mind and try to plan in advance.
- Limit the people you are meeting to begin with. Perhaps a meeting with grandparents or another family member to test the water.
- Discuss in advance with the people you are meeting any anxieties your child has, so that they are aware.
- Agree a time limit with your child before meeting others. This may be appropriate if your child is feeling anxious. You can always extend this if you think things are going well.
- A ‘code word’ or gesture is something that can be suggested with some children. If they are feeling particularly uncomfortable in the situation, this is a way for them to communicate this with you without others knowing.
Going out and about
More public areas and leisure attractions have now opened. It is important to remember that not everybody will be respectful of social distancing, so it’s a good idea to have this in mind when getting out and about.
- Manage your child’s expectations. Explain where you are going and the plan for the day and that other people may be around.
- Choose times of day that might be a little quieter such as early morning or later in the afternoon.
- Call in advance or check the attraction’s website to learn what Covid-safe measures are in place to either reassure you or help you decide if you would like to go.
- Go prepared with a Covid-safe pack. Create a pack for your child with everything they need to feel safe. This might be wipes, sanitiser and extra masks if they use one.
Wearing a mask
There are some places where you must wear a face covering by law. However, there are exemptions including children under 11 and those with disabilities. Different rules exist in different parts of the UK.
Some children and young people with a brain injury may struggle with wearing a mask. They may feel claustrophobic, it may cause them distress or hinder how they communicate and also how they understand others who are wearing a mask or face covering.
- Exemptions include children under 11 and/or those with health conditions or a disability.
- An exemption card may be helpful if someone challenges your child for not wearing a mask. These can be downloaded.
- However, you do not have to prove that you don’t have to wear a mask if you have a health condition or disability.
- Masks and face coverings can impact facial expression and can make speech muffled. So if you are using a mask around your child, it might be helpful to turn to them while speaking and make use of eye contact and other gestures such as pointing to aid communication.
If your child would like to wear a mask in order to feel safe but is still struggling, here are some steps you could take:
- Encourage your child to practise wearing a mask in the house for five minutes at a time. This will help your child get used to the feeling and talking with a mask on.
- Make believe. If your child enjoys using their imagination, play a game of make believe. You could assign roles of shopkeeper and shopper, both wearing masks for example. This will give your child a feel for how it would be wearing a mask while being and about.
- Allow your child to choose their own design for their mask. This input will give them more interest and may be particularly helpful for younger children.
Returning to school
Your child may have sustained their brain injury during lockdown, or perhaps they already had their brain injury before they finished school. Either way, it’s a good idea to speak to the school. Communication between family and school is key in ensuring your child is given the best chance of settling back in.
- Arrange a meeting with the teacher or SENCO. If your child sustained their injury before the lockdown, this will allow you to explain any effects of your child’s injury and put a plan into place for your child settling back. Our book for teachers is a helpful resource in understanding ABI.
- If your child already had an existing brain injury, discuss any changes in circumstances with your child’s teacher. For instance, your child may have increased anxiety around their safety or the ways in which they manage fatigue or coping strategies might have changed.
- A phased return might be helpful, particularly if your child’s routine has changed. This means going back gradually, maybe a few hours to start will and building this up. You may have already went through a similar process when your child first returned to school following a brain injury. Another phased return will allow your child to settle back and manage the shift in routine again.
- Jot down notes and a brief action plan with the school and arrange for follow up meetings or calls until you feel that they are no longer necessary.
- Identify any issues that the teachers may notice and discuss classroom strategies that may help. Classroom strategies can be found in our booklet for schools.
Leaving your child home alone
For some older teenagers and young people with a brain injury, it can be appropriate for them to be left alone while parents pop out to do some shopping or messages. However, it is understandable if you or your child don’t feel comfortable about doing this, particularly as they have not had to be on their own for several months.
- Ask yourself is it still safe for your child – a young person or teenager – to be left alone?
- Start slowly. Instead of going out for half an hour, first try leaving for a five-minute walk and build this time up each time you go out. It gives your child the opportunity to experience being left alone for a short period, knowing you won’t be away for long.
- Discuss the rules. It’s a good idea to go over important things that your child might have forgotten during lockdown. For example, what to do in an emergency or rules for answering the door.
- Don’t rush it. If you and your child really aren’t ready for them to be left alone, that is OK. You are more likely to start feeling comfortable about it if you take your time and allow everybody to adjust. If you have another family member who can stay with your child while you pop out, this is a good way of giving yourself some time alone.
Expectations and changes
It’s important to remember that you may well see changes in your child during this time. These may be an increase in fatigue, behavioural issues or increased anxiety. However, the changes that happen could be positive ones. Your child might thrive as they begin to socialise and see friends and family again.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk to other people or to share any worries you have. Other parents, including those of children who don’t have a brain injury, are likely to be having similar concerns as lockdown eases and their children go back to school.
If you feel your child needs further support, talk to a professional such as your GP, or the school’s SENCO. Or if you are receiving support from a community rehabilitation service, talk through any concerns you have.