Simple Tips to Help Your Tutees Cope and Increase Resilience - Dec '17

By Olivia Raw MSc MBACP (Accred), Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist

How many of your tutees are anxious? Are they depressed? Have they suffered from bullying? Do they sleep enough? Do they eat too much or too little? How much time do your pupils spend on screens each day? What are their family relationships like?

One in three teenagers in the UK is diagnosed as being depressed. Newspapers are full of articles about how British school children are some of the most unhappy children in Europe. The charity Young Minds has found a 77% increase in hospital admissions for self- harm amongst teenage girls.

I am not a tutor and you do not need to be a therapist with the children you teach but does this ring true with what you see? Here are some very simple tips you might be able to weave into your lessons to help children cope and increase resilience.

I end my therapeutic assessments with the following questions. Perhaps you could too with your tutees? :
1) How much sleep do they get?
2) What meals do they have?
3) How much screen-time do they have a day?

I find that many of the pupils I have worked with have less sleep than they need for their age. A secondary school student should have about nine hours a night. An adult is eight hours.
With the children I work with, many survive on little food until lunch or even until the end of the school day. This adds to their tiredness and moods. I have said to children to go and have lunch rather than to see me for counselling. Otherwise what is the point?

Nine per cent of male teens spend more than 40 hours a week gaming. This is the time-commitment of a fulltime job. Maybe you could encourage your pupils to turn off technology and just ‘lark about’ with their siblings and friends?
So apart from sleep, meals and internet time, what can you do practically with students to manage what they are living? Here are two tips:
i) Helping change negative thoughts.
ii) Coping step plans.
i.) To help change negative thoughts with the “traffic lights system.”

Rule of thumb: Thoughts affect how we feel and how we feel affects how we act. If we can change our thoughts, we can in turn change how we feel and then how we act.
For example a red thought a pupil might have, “I am going to fail my exam”. This will lead to a red feeling (anxious), which will probably lead to the child to a red act (not trying for the exam).
If you can encourage the pupil to change the red thought to an orange thought, (“Am I exaggerating / is it really true?”) then the child will feel less anxious and will be more likely to act a bit more positively by trying to study.
And of course you want the child to get to a green thought. (“Last time I revised for the exam and I did well.”) This leads to the child feeling confident and the result they act positively, by studying hard for the exam.
Maybe have some red, orange and green cards in your bag or images on your laptop? When you see doubt creeping over the child’s face you could show the colours and ask the tutee to ‘fish out’ an orange or green thought and remind them to see what feeling that brings and how they will act.

The other idea you could try is coping step plans. Sometimes a child can see an issue as a mountain which they cannot overcome. The idea is to instead break the worry down into smaller chunks. I often use a picture of a ladder with the goal of what a child wants to achieve at the top of the ladder. Each rung on the ladder is one step towards what they want to achieve. With each rung I ask them to give a powerful thought (and sometimes a reward) to get them up each step.

I think that you have a unique role as tutors. You are not only educators, but you are also role models. Tutors can help guide parents. That is vital as schools and families can put children under a lot of pressure. Your role can be to help the parents slow down and think about their child’s innermost needs. Yes exams results are important but not at any price and certainly not the mental health of a child

Olivia Raw MSc MBACP (Accred)
Child & Adolescent Psychotherapist
Olivia works in a school and in private practice.

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