Anxiety and Return to school and Routine

                          October 2021

One month into the new school year and families and children have slipped back into routine with gratitude and some nerves. Many children and young people will have experienced Covid specific losses to their family unit in the last 18 months such as bereavement or unemployment.  Most young people have missed play, socialization, rites of passage, routines as well as opportunities to build relationships with trusted adults. Some anxiety and uncertainty are to be expected in the coming months and it will be important for the adults in their lives to model self-care and allow space for ‘big’ and not so big feelings to be expressed safely. Children have demonstrated flexibility, resilience and compassion for others and it is important that we acknowledge and affirm this in addition to providing supports for them to express frustration and grief.

So how can we support children and young people in a post pandemic world? I like to summarize my approach with 3 C’s, connect, communicate and compassion.

Connect                   Communicate                  Compassion

  • Connections are crucial. Relationships provide vital emotional connections for children which buffer against stress and anxiety. Take time to nurture relationships in your family. Make sure that your family schedule as time for exercise, play and free time and quality time together. Use a visual schedule, if necessary, see for some great ideas on how to use visual schedules
  • Communicate clearly and consistently by explaining expectations, setting boundaries and creating routines
  • Develop a Sunday evening plan to support young people prepare for the week ahead. This could include going over the routine for the coming week, reminding them what is scheduled and writing them on a calendar. Take time to calm any fears by providing a safe space for worries to be discussed. Focus on the positive- What three good things happened this weekend?
  • Some children will have difficulty ‘changing the channel’ and find it hard to move past anxious thoughts. Respond with compassion. Consider setting aside some ‘worry time’. Worry Time should last about 15 minutes. Sit your child during Worry Time to listen to the worries they have. This should be a peaceful time so no TV, no phones, no interruption from the rest of the family for any reason. Drawing or writing worries during this time can help and putting them in a Worry box can also help. Develop emotional literacy by supporting children to name their feelings. Naming how they feel makes it easier to deal with the feelings, this ‘name it to tame it’ approach is highly effective.  
  • Time in nature and physical activity have a strong evidence base for decreasing stress levels- get out for a walk, throw a ball or do a listening walk. A listening walk is a great activity to teach mindfulness in nature. Have the children go outside to a garden or a wood. Listen carefully to every sound, what you can you hear? Is it a bird? A dog? A person? Can you identify it? How many sounds can you hear?
  • Outdoor activities to promote wellbeing with younger children- Play with them, get some chalk and draw silly faces on the patio, teach them hopscotch, chalk a ‘road’ or ‘train track’s, take a few minutes out of your door to connect with them
  • Communicate with compassion and talk so that your children will listen.
    • Choose your time carefully. Are they well rested and fed? Are they distracted? Would a short car journey be a good time to have a chat?
    • Use a soft tone of voice and explain your point of view carefully and clearly.
    • Clarity of intent, make sure that you lead with your intention is to support and protect your child’s wellbeing and safety.
    • Repetition- Let a few days pass between conversations to allow the young person time to digest and reflect on the ideas presented
  • Teach children basic relaxation strategies, these moments are great for connecting with young people. Model self-care and self-regulation activities so that the practice of self-care becomes normalised in your home.
    • Practice the Pause, take a deep breath, pause, center yourself and then respond
    • Think compassion and connection- focus on remembering or bringing to mind positive memories or successful experience. Reflect on the positive qualities of that memory and how it makes you feel. This shift in thinking can balance out the feelings of anxiety
    • Practice blowing bubbles, bubbles are great for teaching children to control their breathing and also great fun
    • Squish Squash Squeeze- this progressive relaxation activity is very simple. Ask children to lie down with eyes closed. Ask them to squish or squeeze every muscle in their body then release. You can guide them by starting them at toes and working in up and you can help younger children by providing a squash with a cushion etc.
    • Be curious about their day. Ask open ended questions such as ‘what good thing happened today? Who came to visit your class today? Remember it is important to listen to their stories now because even if it seems like small stuff to you, it is big stuff to them.

It is normal to experience feelings of anxiety and it is important that young people feel validated and heard when they express these feelings. Responding with compassion is important. It helps if you can educate yourself about anxiety. Anxiety is normal. It is the brains way of coping with danger. Anxiety becomes a problem if it is interfering with daily living. The link below is an accessible and child friendly explanation of how the brain works when experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety does not always show up as appearing worried. This excellent infographic from illustrates the many ways in which children can demonstrate their anxiety.

Returning to routine again

Well done, you have successfully managed to survive emergency education part 2. Survival is good enough. Are they safe and loved? Are they fed and warm? If yes then you have done enough.

It looks increasingly likely that most young children will be back in the classroom before Easter 2021 and all young people will be back in school after Easter. Children and their parents need time to prepare for the inevitable return to routine. Routine is always important but even more so in times of high stress. Over Christmas, the short days, (that felt so very long), the holidays, the exhaustion, the general feeling “shur look we will be back to normal soon” combined to make most homes a bit unscheduled. However, the days of regular routine will return, and should return. Structure and routine help make the world more predictable and more secure. This reduces stress and anxiety. Routine is particularly important for young people with additional needs. Regular routine protects our mental health, alleviates anxiety and puts less demand on the brain. When a task is has clear predictable steps to it, it reduces the cognitive load factor, cognitive load refers to the amount of mental effort needed to do a task.

What routines do children need to remember?

  1. Bedtime
  2. Alarm clocks and breakfast
  3. Putting on a uniform or real clothes
  4. Eating a packed lunch
  5. Getting ready on time

Bedtime and Breakfast: Regular routines especially around bedtime are associated with healthy sleep, better mental health and fewer behavioral difficulties. A simple way of putting this for children is that just like phones need recharging so do our brains. The amount of sleep we need is often underestimated; most school age children should be getting about 9 hours sleep. As adults we should be getting more than 7 hours per night, perhaps less TV and more shut eye might suit us all😊. Ok so getting everyone to bed at a reasonable hour is one thing, how to get them out of bed in time for breakfast, uniform, hair, shoes, coats, buses… the morning chaos list can be endless. One effective way is to plan backwards. Look at your mornings, what time does everyone need to be up and ready in order for you to have a stress-free start to the day, let’s say 7.30 am, well then if we work backwards to get 9 hours sleep, the young person needs to be asleep by 10.30, not in just resting in bed so bedtime becomes 10pm.

Time keeping: Visual schedules are a great resource to sequence evening and morning tasks and can be easily created in time increments that suit your household. Check out for some ideas about visual schedules. In the simplest terms you create a visual timetable that reflects the tasks that need to be completed before bedtime or during breakfast. Adapt to child’s literacy level and understanding of time level. For bedtime you might give a reminder 15 mins before bedtime, a visual timer like a Time Timer can be very useful for this. A bedtime reminder is very effective for minimising bedtime resistance. If you just announce “right now its bedtime” protest is very likely.

Getting ready: By the time schools re open, children will have been off school for the equivalent of a summer holiday. Does their uniform still fit? Do their school shoes still fit? Do they know where their school bag is? The level of engagement with remote schooling varies widely but any level of engagement makes it likely that the various school books are scattered around the kitchen/home office/place where the computer lives.  Get the children involved in a ‘school stuff’ scavenger hunt. Collect all the school equipment and books for school before the first day back.

Practice and preparation- Unfortunately it is highly probable that the lead in time for return to school will be short, so it would be helpful to begin preparing for the early starts and set eating times sooner rather than later. All day snacking is never a good idea but for children and teens returning to an environment of two breaks in the day it is vital that they get back into the habit of ‘elevenses’ and ‘lunch’ and nothing in between.   Practice setting alarm clocks, putting up hair, tying shoe laces but make these activities fun where possible, add a timer and make it a race, have a getting dressed standing on one leg competition or have the kids be in charge of getting you up and dressed. The key thing is to turn the thinking and talking to returning to routine. It will be a less of shock when it does happen then.

Same Storm but Different Boats- every family has experienced the pandemic in a different and the levels of stress and anxiety in each household will vary.  It is important to acknowledge that for some children the return to school will increase their stress levels, and for other children returning to school will be unsettling and somewhat confusing after the relative freedom of the last couple of months. Choose compassion and connection over confrontation and chaos.

Some useful links below.

Positive thinking and positive parenting – some fishful thinking

This is a useful collection of advice and tips from agencies around Ireland

Positive Parenting for a Pandemic Spring

Moving the family conversation from a negative to positive mindset through Gratitude.

The intentional practice of gratitude has been proven to improve wellbeing and increase happiness. As parents it is important that we model good self-care practice. It is all too easy to orientate our thoughts and conversation to the negative but the consequence of this negative talk is usually low mood and anxiety. Our brains are designed to be alert to danger and thus we tend to foucus on the negative. However, what we focus our attention on is what shapes our brain and our thinking. When we take time to count our blessings and include more positive reframing talk into our every day life, our mind set shifts from negative to positive. Taking the time to actively include more positive reframing into our lives improves resilience and overall Wellbeing.  We start seeing more Good Things in our lives when we actively look for them. The 3 Good Things activity is a proven and effective wellbeing intervention which can increase happiness levels. It is not about artificially creating positivity in your life but rather intentionally drawing your attention to the positive things already in your life.

Daily gratitude sharing or Three Good things

Setting aside some time each day to consistently focus on building up our ability to see the good in everyday life.  Don’t add undue stress to your family life by trying to create positive moments, this exercise is about finding the positive in everyday life.

Incorporate a daily sharing of ‘a good thing that happened today’ at family meal time. If each person takes a turn to share, ‘something nice about today’, then the family is sharing connection, building their gratitude muscles and learning how to reframe the events of the day positively.  Some examples could include; favorite dinner was cooked, got to the next level on a video game or got out for a short walk.

Bedtime three good things-, when you are winding down your day or putting the children to bed, take a moment to reflect on three things that went well that day or three things you feel grateful for.

Positive memory jars

Another way to actively include gratitude in your life is to create a memory jar. Choose and decorate a jar and keep in a central place. When a nice moment/memory/thing happens jot the details down on a scrap of paper and pop in the jar. These happy memories are a great resource to turn to on days when everything goes wrong (those days happen) or when someone needs some cheering up. Over the year, the jar gradually fills up and it makes a lovely resource at Christmas and birthdays to review the year through a positive lens.

Gratitude journaling

For the older children and adults in your family, an extension of the Three good things exercise is to keep a journal and write down the three good things and reflect on why there are good. This simple practice gets you into the habit of focusing on the positive and gives you space to reframe a tough day through a positive lens. The act of writing thoughts is important as it helps you clarify your thinking and focuses your mind. For best results this exercise is best done either every day for a week or once a week for six weeks.

So what are Good Things?

  1. What made you smile today? Did you laugh?
  2. Did you feel supported by someone today?
  3. Did you make a connection with someone today?
  4. Did you experience a moment of beauty to savour and appreciate?

Examples of Good Things could include

  • Laughter and conversation with family
  • Appreciation of nature- spring bulbs, birdsong, sunset
  • The scent of fresh laundry, the satisfaction of chores completed
  • A moment of peace and calm, that cup of tea that stayed warm whilst you drank it uninterrupted
  • Embracing the silliness and joyful imagination of children at play
  • Gardening
  • Exercise

In these difficult pandemic times of no school- at least no head lice checks or uniforms to iron😊

Learning to reframe events in a positive light is a habit and takes practice but it has well evidenced benefits for your and your family.


For more information on Three Good Things and other positive psychology interventions see

Seligman, M. E., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: empirical validation of interventions. American psychologist60(5), 410.

Bolier, L., Haverman, M., Westerhof, G. J., Riper, H., Smit, F., & Bohlmeijer, E. (2013). Positive psychology interventions: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. BMC public health13(1), 1-20.

Parenting through the exam process

Skills for successful study: Parenting through the exam process

The exam classes of 2020 have had a rocky start to their exam year with Covid restrictions. In this blog, which accompanies the workshop Inspire 2020 “Parenting through the exam process” I outline some simple skills and strategies for successful study.

  1. Getting ready to Learn

Importance of sleep

Sleep is vital in helping students attend and concentrate. Sleep is food for the brain and if we skip sleep or don’t get enough sleep this has a negative influence on our energy, mood and performance. As a parent you can help students by encouraging and facilitating a relaxing wind down routine before bed. Discourage the use of fizzy drinks and coffee. Lead by example and model what a healthy bed time routine looks like. There is little point in asking your teen not to drink 3 cans of coke at 9pm and turn off his phone, when you fall asleep on sofa with phone in one hand and coffee cup in the other.

  • Learning to Learn

Organizing-Coloring coding books and school equipment. This simple strategy is an effective and visual way to help students organize their school stuff. 

  • Create a timetable using MSword or similar, or use highlighters.
  • Colour each subject so History may be green, maths could be red etc.
  • Then take the textbooks and workbooks associated with that subject and using coloured stickers, put the green stickers on the history book and copybook, red sticker on maths book and so on. It is useful to wrap the coloured sticker around the spine of the book so that it can be seen from front and back.

Organisational Skills

  1. Why do I need to be organized? –
    1. To know where things are
    2. To use time efficiently
    3. To be punctual
    4. To remember things
    5. To be prepared for school
  2. Use technology and set reminders for deadlines for assignments due, homework due, application dates
  3. Study environment- have a clearly defined space such as desk and dedicated shelf /box for storage
  4. Use a paper clip to mark the current page in workbooks/textbooks so no searching for ‘where was I’…
  5. SMART Learning Goals- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed e.g. I’m going to run a marathon next year is not as clear as I am going to run for 10 minutes this week, 20 minutes next week etc.
  6. Study environment- have a clearly defined space such as desk and dedicated shelf /box for storage
  7. Use a paper clip to mark the current page in workbooks/textbooks so no searching for ‘where was I’…
  8. SMART Learning Goals- Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed e.g. I’m going to run a marathon next year is not as clear as I am going to run for 10 minutes this week, 20 minutes next week etc.

Time management.

Students need to be able to calculate how long a task will take and modify their plans accordingly. A simple exercise to practice this is to get your teen to set a goal time, such as the time they need to be in school for. Then work out the amount of time needed to complete all morning tasks – getting up, dressed, breakfasted, walk/drive to school. Subtract this total of amount of time needed from the goal arrival time and now you have the time needed to get up in the morning. So, this could be 7am for some, 8.15 am for others, it will be context dependent.  This exercise can be developed further by adding 8-10 hours’ sleep to the getting up time and now you have the time your teen should be falling asleep. This second half of the exercise usually generates some interesting conversations.

Getting the most from textbooks: Reading and re reading textbooks endlessly is not an efficient way to study. Actively engaging with the text using different study strategies helps your brain form new connections and embeds the knowledge.

321 is one way of annotating a page from a textbook. When finished reading, write 3 important facts, 2 interesting things and 1 question.

PQRST is another simple technique to actively engage with text

Preview the chapter or article- Check the table of contents and map out the organization of ideas, Read the summary and/or intro and conclusion, headings, pictures, charts, etc. If there are none of the above aids, read the first sentence of every 2nd or 3rd paragraph to get an overall view. This overall view can also be called ‘getting the gist’ of the information.

Question before you read- Ask questions: based on the title of the chapter or piece, based on each heading, based on your previous knowledge. Read to answer your question- Read in 3-5 minute “chunks”, Read to find the answer to your question, Summarize your answer after reading- Say the answer out loud in your own words, Highlight only the most important words and ideas, Write down key words and phrases for each chunk to jog your memory when you review. Test yourself immediately- At the end of the session, test yourself on what you just read, talk your way through the headings, explaining the main ideas ideally aloud.

Thinking Skills

Metacognition is the term used to describe thinking about thinking. It is useful to understand how the brain processes information.

Help your child understand HOW?  It is important that students get into the habit of recognizing how they arrived at a solution to a problem as this will help them apply this reasoning to new situations.

  • Can you tell me how you did that?
  • How else could you have done that?              
  • What do you think the problem is?

Clarify don’t criticize; Try to encourage clarification of incorrect answers rather than dismissing them as incorrect.

  • Yes but you could look at it another way
  • Can you think of a better way to do this?
  • When is another time you need to…?
  • How do you know that is right?


  • Set realistic goals
  • Consider telling someone else about your goals as this may improve motivation
  • Ask yourself what will change if I do nothing?
  • Acknowledge and affirm all success- what have I achieved today, however small?
  • Acknowledge unhelpful thoughts but don’t dwell on them
  • Visualise success, imagine how it will feel to have achieved your goal, what will others see, how will you see yourself?
  • Take action, don’t over think JUST DO IT


Winston S. Churchill

The New Normal- Transition back to school during Covid 19

One of the very few positives about experiencing a global pandemic is that there is a global response to crisis. Teachers and Mental Health advocates have worked tirelessly to prepare students and schools for the transition back to school. To provide practical support to parents and teachers I have curated a selection of the many resources from across the globe, which you may find useful.

The Psychology Society of Ireland produced an excellent document about supporting the return to school. It is comprehensive, practical and evidence informed document. It would be very useful for a SEN team drawing up a transition plan.

For teenagers with Intellectual disability explaining the new normal has presented a lot of challenges, particularly as many of the health promotion advice is in written form. The website books beyond words has an excellent series of picture books designed for this group. Core issues such as social distancing, getting a covid test and dealing with bereavement are all covered in clear age appropriate way.

A lovely resource from New Zealand takes a creative and Arts based approach to supporting social and emotional learning post disaster. A very practical website with lesson plans and videos, it focuses on the power of creativity. A useful resource ready to go as is with minimal adjusting. In Irish schools it may even prompt a useful discussion about the native language and customs of other countries.

This short powerpoint resource from Touchbase UK takes a trauma informed approach and looks at self care and emotional regulation. A useful addition for a school pastoral care team.

This comprehensive resource from Young minds includes short film clips and other resources. It is UK based so some of the terms may not work in Ireland but the experience of transition and its accompanying nerves and anxiety is universal and 1st year heads and pastoral care teams will find it useful.

This short film called Mind the Gap transition to post primary was produced in Ireland  by the Navan School Completion Team and is an excellent resource for Irish teachers of 6th class and First year.

Parents and staff are understandably very worried about the mental health and well being of the young people in their care. This booklet from NHS Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health team was designed to support people manage during lockdown. However the CBT informed approach and the accessible language and format make it a very useful resource for SEN and Pastoral care teams supporting students experiencing anxiety. A useful part of a well-being tool kit.

Another excellent resource for CBT orientated approaches to anxiety is Anxiety Canada. A veritable treasure trove of PDF and e learning modules for children and adults it is a very useful and practical resource for SEN teachers.

The NCSE (National Council for Special Education) has some useful resources for supporting students, particularly strong resources for students with ASD.

Sadly many children and young people will have experienced bereavement in the last 6 months. This website is an excellent resource about responding to grief in classrooms with sensitivity.

Staff well-being is a critical part of a successful transition to a new normal. Now more so than ever the phrase ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ is relevant. This free course from the Public Health team in Wales is easily accessible and divided into small chunks so easier to squeeze a few minutes of ‘me’ time into each day

Finally the most important message to remember over the next few months will be the value of human connection.

Consistent Clear Communication that values connection over confrontation will be essential.

Creating a Communication friendly house

August 10th 2020

It is generally accepted that language is vitally important to all aspects of child development. Language enables children to process their thoughts, reflect on experiences and communicate their wishes. However not all children have access to language, or they may have language delays. In our home we are learning to live with deafness and language delay. We loosely subscribe to a practice of Total Communication, which in our home involves ISL (Irish Sign Language), Lamh (a modified language support system), non-verbal gestures and oral language. Total Communication places the focus on understanding.

Thus whilst language is important perhaps it is more correct to say that having the capacity to communicate and have that communication understood is of critical importance. This blog will outline some of the tips and tricks that we use to support communication in our home. They are generally real life adaptations of SLT sessions, without the luxury of the 30 minutes 1:1 in a quiet space.

  • Do a quick environmental audit of your home. Are certain areas of the kitchen, living room etc., always in shadow? If so try to avoid standing in these areas when speaking as the shadow will make it harder to read your lips and facial expression.
  • To support listening and attention: slow down your speech and chunk the delivery of the information, this means leave a 1-2 second pause between each piece of information. Make sure you have their attention before you start talking, do this by calling their name and waiting until they have shifted their attention. This avoids the constant repetition of “what did I tell you”, and causes less stress in general
  • Follow your childs lead, what are they currently playing with or talking about? Take the time to enter their world and observe what they are doing. Resist the urge to tell them to play the ‘right way’, and ask “ can I play, what is happening here”. You will find yourself on some amazing adventures courtesy of the power of imagination.
  • Involve your whole body in listening. So take your head out of the fridge or washing machine when answering a question or giving an instruction. Telling the inside of the fridge that ‘dinner is ready’ isn’t effective. Make sure your face and lips can be seen clearly by the person listening. Try to avoid speaking when eating, this is an opportunity to model good manners as well as good communication practice.
  • Become familiar with narrating your life. Add language to everyday interactions and tasks, be explicit about what you are going to do, “ I am going to make some tea, I will put on the kettle”, The kettle is boiled, I must be careful, tea is very hot”. There will be days when you feel that you are channelling your inner David Attenborough as you narrate mundane tasks “ Lets put the clothes in the washing machine, this is your red top, it is going into the machine” but stick with it. It becomes second nature very quickly and exposes children to a lot more language use.
  • Personalised scrapbooks or memory books are popular with children of all ages but especially up to middle primary. How many photos of family events do you have on your phone? Do your children ever engage with those photos? Print 20 or 30 of them and create a family memory book. You can include the children in this activity if older and if you have the patience, if not present the memory book as completed object. You can create chapters- “This is us at the beach, What colour was your bucket? Who came to the beach with us? What did we see at the beach? etc or create themes to support social stories, “This is me with a mask, this is you with a mask, this is me cleaning my hands” etc.
  • Model correct pronunciation and use of language but try to avoid correcting mistakes. So when a child asks for ‘smudge’ and you know they mean ‘fudge’, reply with ‘Here is the fudge’, likewise with ‘ocks’ reply with ‘socks’ or ‘coffee book’, reply with ‘copy book’. Understanding these mispronunciations can often mean knowing the context, if you are unsure of what they are trying to say, look around and make an educated guess based on the current activity or time of day.
  • For younger children you could create opportunities for children to ask questions such as making small changes to a regular routine to create fun e.g. shoes on without socks, or cereal in the fridge, and wait for their reaction, they will notice the mistake and this opens up a chance for a communication exchange.
  • Ask open ended questions so instead of ‘how was school”, you could try “did you have fun today”
  • Games are a wonderful addition to regular family routines- Games such as Simon Says, Eye Spy Scrabble, Boggle etc teach language but also crucial skills such as turn taking, listening and following rules.
  • Listening Walk: This can be done indoors or outdoors, and does take a bit of planning. The idea is is to listen to sounds, particularly those they may not have been aware of previously. Before the walk you can suggest sounds to listen for or you can call the child’s attention to sounds as you walk along. After the walk, see how many sounds your child can remember and encourage him/her to describe them. Practise listening to environmental sounds and guessing where the sounds are coming from and what is making them.

As a parent it is really important to help your child learn how to communicate clearly. It is vital that every child learns to communicate so they can share with us their desires, dreams and feelings. Communication is a foundation skill for learning social and emotional skills such as self-awareness and self-regulation. Remember also to keep trying, don’t dismiss a child’s attempt to ask a question or tell a story, and don’t say ‘never mind’ or ‘it wasn’t important’ when they ask you about something that they misheard. Yes it takes an extra 60 seconds to slow down and explain what they missed but if you take the time, each time, you are teaching them language and most importantly that their right to be included and heard is valued and respected.

“A bend in the road is not the end of the road…Unless you fail to make the turn.”
― Helen Keller

Some useful websites and organisations are

The visiting teacher service at

Top Tips for improving Reading Skills at Home

         “Children must learn to read so that later they can read to learn”

Reading with young children is very important for development of language skills and early literacy skills. To read fluently children need basic reading skills and comprehension skills.

Reading is not an innate skill, we are not born with the ability to read we must learn it.  Reading is a complex skill involving the word recognition, understanding the conventions of print, comprehension of text, fluency and motivation. A fluent reader will decode the text, and make inferences and predictions about the text to enhance comprehension, all at the same time. Your child’s teacher will focus on teaching them the skills of word recognition, decoding, phonics and ultimately foundational reading skills. You can support this at home by creating a literacy friendly environment in your home. Even before they learn to begin to learn to read, children should enjoy listening to stories and talking about the meaning and interpretation of words and illustrations with others. Local libraries are a great source of books and lending rules are very generous, so why not work in a monthly trip to your local library into your schedule?

There is some interesting research about the benefits of e-books, with extra features such as built in animations, suggesting that for children over the age of 3 they may be marginally better at vocabulary gains (BPS Research Digest 06/17) although crucially theses studies focused on basic e-books, with very simple animation. Whether you choose an e-book and a read-to-me app or a regular book there is no question that integrating reading into your family life will have positive benefits on language and literacy development.

What can I do as a parent to support reading?

  • A print rich environment: Make sure that there are lots of opportunities to read text in your home. Catalogues such as Aldi/Lidl/Smyths are really useful. For younger children ask them to find a letter or a letter sound in the text. For older children ask them to find a describing word or a doing word in the description. Read cereal boxes, juice boxes , connect the image with the words e.g. What is the juice flavor? How do you know? Where is the word orange? Can you find the letter O?
  • Model Reading- Try to ensure that children see you reading. Talk about the book before during and after reading using open questions e.g. why did that character do what he did?, If you were in that story what would you have done? Help break the sentences into word and words into sounds. Encourage them to use the letter sounds i.e. B A T rather than looking at pictures for clues.
  • Audio books-These are a great resource for children who are struggling as they can follow the text without the stress of having to decode the words.
  • Comic strips and Picture books- Learning to follow a story through picture is a valuable skill and encourages children to practice inference and prediction.
  • Reading and Thinking Activities- Let your child to listen to you reading a page of the story and encourage them to predict what will happen next in the story. Support the development of narrative skills by talking about the beginning, middle and end of the story, what is going to happen next? Play games and pretend to finish the story a page early and ask how do they know the story isn’t finished.
  • Family board games such as Boggle and Scrabble are a great way to develop language awareness in fun way.
  • Library- your local library is a treasure trove of books and community activities,
  • For middle primary students, the tasks of word recognition and decoding may be less of struggle but comprehension of text is a challenge. There is strong evidence to support the explicit teaching of comprehension strategies. This means that the student must learn how to break down the text in order to find the meaning. One useful way to do this is to activate prior knowledge. If there is picture of a Volcano, what do they already know about Volcanos? Another useful tip is Retelling, ask a child to re-tell the story to you.
  • For older post primary students who struggle with the second level text-books there is good evidence that a key word approach can be helpful. This means an explicit focus on subject specific words such as minus/divide/calculate etc. You can support your teen by creating literacy mats of key words for certain subjects. There are some great examples of literacy mats at
  • For post primary students it is also important to focus on functional literacy skills. This means do they have the skills necessary to live in the world independently. Adult literacy agencies have excellent literacy support resources that are targeted to the older student. Age appropriate learning materials are very important for this age group, these are often sold on education sites as High Interest books. Digital literacy is also important for this group. Can they read and send a text message? Can they read and send an email? Do they have sufficient literacy to manage their finances, pass the driver theory test, complete the Safe pass test.

References:,,, BPS research digest

Sleep and children: Supporting sufficient, good quality Sleep

July 16, 2020

“Sleep is the best meditation.” — Dalai Lama

Why is sleep so important?

Sufficient sleep is vital for health and emotional well-being.  Poor sleep over a sustained period of time has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity and depression. Children and young people who have regular access to good quality sleep have improved attention, behaviour and learning. Sleep deprived children have difficulty with mood disturbances and emotional regulation. In teenagers persistent sleep deprivation has been linked to depression and anxiety. The impact of poor bedtime routines on the family as a whole is also significant. Frequent arguments about bedtime, behavioural challenges such as repeatedly getting out of bed and difficulties getting up in the morning can result in conflict across the household.

What happens when you sleep?

The brain is not actually resting when you are asleep. Your brain cycles through REM and non REM sleep and this circadian rhythm supports healthy brain function. The brain consolidates learning that occurred during the day, supports metabolic function and recent research suggests that sleep plays a role in removing toxins. A simple way to explain the importance of sleep to children is to use the analogy of charging a battery. Children are familiar with the need to charge phones, tablets etc. so sleeping to recharge the brain is a useful visual analogy.

How much sleep do young people need?

Children: From ages 3 to 5 children need between 10-13 hours of sleep and from 6-12 children need between 9 to 12 hours sleep. So for primary school children aim to plan for 9-10 hours sleep every night. So when planning your bedtime routine think about what time the children need to be up and dressed and ready to go; in the morning and work backwards.

Teenagers: Generally teens need about 9 hours sleep per night, so practically speaking if their day needs to start at 7am, to allow for dressing, breakfast and school run, they should be in bed by 10pm. Does that reflect reality in your house? Probably not, as many children turn into night owls as they enter the teen years. Why? Recent research suggests that the circadian rhythm in teens is different to adults and they are less sleepy in the evenings but need more sleep in the morning. This research has prompted some scientists to call for school start times to be later for teens. This is certainly something that you should keep in mind if Autumn 2020 brings blended or online learning to schools and students don’t have to race out the door at 8am.

Bedtime Boundaries

Mum I’m thirsty”, “Mum I heard a noise”…

It is important to set clear boundaries around bedtime especially when experiencing bed-time resistance. Bedtime resistance is common and often there is less resistance about going to bed and instead it is resistance to staying in bed. It is very common and usually developmentally appropriate. In the very early years it is around issues of separation worries, then worrying about monsters or robbers and then worrying about school and peers and with the older teen often overstimulation due to blue light from electronics. Before implementing any change to a routine I always advise taking a few minutes to reflect and plan.

         Is your wind down routine giving sufficient time and space to each child to process the day? A bed time routine should take about 25-45 minutes. It should start at the same time each night and follow the same sequence each night.

         What is going on for your child? Often children wait until the business of the day is done before giving voice to their worries or fears, perhaps a new person in school, worry about Covid 19, frustration with sibling. It is very important that you give your child the space and time to be heard so they can settle down to sleep

         What are they trying to achieve? It may be time to review your bed-time routines, are they age appropriate? For siblings sharing a room, is there enough time between bedtimes for each child.

         Are you consistent? Consistency and clarity are essential elements of any approach to managing an unwanted behaviour. Are all adults in the house delivering the same message about bedtime?

Some tips and tricks may help with older children (3 +)

  • Monsters can be zapped with a bottle of magic spray at bedtime
  • Keeping a worry diary or journaling are good strategies for coping with anxious thoughts
  • Regular check ins at 5-10 intervals serve to reassure and can be helped with visual symbol like an egg timer
  • Reward charts and stickers are effective with some children
  • Losing ‘up time’ is another effective consequence, every minute out equals a minute lost ‘up’ the following night
  • A bed-time pass is another strategy for older children. A child gets a number of tickets for pre approved activities such as drink of water, looking for a teddy etc.

The decision to take a particular approach is one that must suit you and your family circumstances. Take some time to reflect on what will realistically work for you and your family.

Support Sleep by creating a sleep positive environment:

  • Electronic curfew- it is really important that exposure the blue light from electronic devices is minimized in the hour prior to sleep. The screen light has been linked to disruptions of melatonin production, which is the sleep hormone. Consider creating a charging station in a central area of the house and set a time for each family member to put down their device and place them charging.
  • Exercise and Fresh Air- Physical activity, playing outdoors in afternoon can really help with good quality sleep
  • Decide a bedtime- set a time to begin a calm and predictable wind down depending on what is age appropriate.
  • Bedtime Routine- Do the same relaxing wind down each evening in a logical order that moves from kitchen to bathroom to bedroom. So for example, a glass of milk in the kitchen, brush teeth in the bathroom, story time in bedroom.
  • Bedroom Environment- Take a look at your bedrooms. Are they conducive to peaceful sleep? Long summer nights and early summer mornings can make sleep difficult but blackout blinds or heavy lined curtains can really help. Even hanging two pairs of eyelet curtains together can mimic a black out lining just make sure that the curtain pole will take the weight. A comfortable bed and duvet that is appropriate for the season is helpful.

Want to find out more?

Check out my webinar on the importance of sleep, routine and tips to manage bedtime challenges with Jessica Kennedy @



Monitor on Psychology, July/August 2020, American Psychological Association