It’s so important to create the right environment at school

The physical environment that is created in a school impacts on the emotional wellbeing of everyone who comes in to school. For children who experience disorganization and unpredictability outside of school, the organized and ordered environment of school contributes to their sense of safety and wellbeing. Classrooms that are clean, tidy and enable children to find things easily and have things in the same place so children can access them easily, provide a sense of stability in children’s otherwise unstable lives. A child who returns to school after a chaotic and unstructured week end can feel soothed by knowing the felt pens will be in the same place on Monday morning. The children can be encouraged to have responsibility for taking care of their class and this can involve a team work approach. A sense of ownership and pride can be encouraged across the school but specifically in relation to individual classes. It is important to involve children in this as it is their space and the more comfortable they feel the easier they will find it to engage with their learning.

Remember how unsettled we can feel as adults when things have been moved around and changed, these feelings are amplified for children, especially those whose lives outside of school are unsettled. Its crucial to make children feel safe and secure at school.

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Appreciating the staff team


Throughout the school year there are opportunities to recognise, value and appreciate the staff team, but schools are extremely busy places and it is not always easy to make the time or effort to do this.

Take time to reflect:

  • How happy are your staff team?
  • How do they feel about coming to work?
  • How is staff morale and what can you do to increase it?



Working in schools can be a demanding and exhausting but rewarding and enjoyable job. In order for staff to work most effectively and give their best to the children they need to feel happy and fulfilled. It is important they feel they are making a difference and that they are an essential cog in the wheel of school life. It is human nature to want to belong and to feel part of something and this needs to be recognised at throughout the school year.

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Natural curiosity or hyper vigilance?

As part of my role in one school i just work with staff and parents and often go in to classes to observe children. I arrange this with the teacher beforehand and ask them to identify children for me to observe. I am always interested to see how the class react to having someone new in the room, although most of the children may have already seen me around the school. Some children are not interested in me at all, they don’t even look at me or give me any attention while i am there. Other children are very interested in me, they may even approach me and ask me who i am and what i am doing in their class. Other children watch me from a distance, they never approach me, but they also keep watching me, even if i start moving around the classroom. They are sometimes still sat on the carpet while the rest of the class have returned to their seats. For these children, their preoccupation with me, and their need to literally never take their eyes off me, makes me wonder what they may have experienced in their lives to make them so watchful of an adult.

If there are children who behave like this in your class, it may be useful to consider the possible reasons for their behaviour, as this is more than just curiosity; it is a need to be overly watchful and is likely to be caused by high levels of anxiety.


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How some children show anxiety through their behaviour

Exploring how anxiety presents itself in school.

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Only 32 weeks to go…….

In the schools I work in its nearly half term. The days are being enthusiastically crossed off on the notice boards in staff rooms and there are  conversations between staff about their plans for that week. This first half term after the summer holidays is always hard I think, it’s a big adjustment and shock to return to school where it’s so full on all the time after several weeks holiday.

I know everyone, staff and children included is feeling tired and is ready for a break now, but hang on in there, keep positive, and support each other. Although the second half term is when the Christmas mayhem begins, the children are more settled. They have often adjusted to being in a different class, with a different teacher and other staff, and you are all getting to know each other more. Well done for getting this far….give yourself a pat on the back and pour yourself a glass of your favourite beverage, after all, it’s only 32 more school weeks till the summer holidays begin again…

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“Mum was screaming cos he beat her to the floor”…a story of resilience

This is what a seven year old child told me several weeks ago during our first play therapy session. He witnessed domestic violence for the first few years of his life but his life is now more settled and stable, enabling him and his mum to engage with me and the play therapy process. In class, his behaviour was often unpredictable and his responses sometimes extreme and erratic. He was regularly hitting other children, running out of class and shouting out constantly.

In the play room, his play often involves themes of power and control as he attempts to fight off or overpower the baddies. He has time outside his class being read to by his class teaching assistant after the sessions to help him regulate his emotions and adjust to the transition back to his class.

His class teacher and teaching assistant have an excellent understanding of his needs and are always open to and willing to implement any suggestions I make to help him. I have shared with them that he is working through some very traumatic early experiences and is working hard to explore, express and make sense of this with me. I am lucky to be based in school all day and to be able to regularly remind them of this, especially after a challenging day with him in class. As his sessions with me progress and he is working through the trauma in the playroom, his behaviour outside of the sessions is changing. His mum told me he is sleeping better and having less tantrums at home, and in class he is calmer and happier and is beginning to develop friendships with the other children.

There are many children with experiences similar to this child’s in our schools. So many children have experienced domestic violence and it is far more common for children to have actually seen it than we like to think. I am constantly amazed by children’s resilience and ability to manage the most traumatic experiences and still be able to participate in school life, all be it with support.

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Calm Boxes – A simple and effective tool for helping children manage anxiety

Have you got children in your class who are still finding it hard to settle or need some extra help?

This free hand out and accompanying video introduces the idea of calm boxes as a resource for helping children feel safe and secure and develop self regulation.  An excellent effective resource for the classroom but also useful in the home environment.

Download hand out

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Children with attachment difficulties take longer to settle in a new class

Its week three of the new school year and from conversations i have been having this week with school staff, it seems that lots of children are still finding it hard to settle back to life in school. Children who have experienced trauma, inconsistent and unpredictable parenting, live with drama and chaos  as part of their everyday lives and have had unsettled and disrupted early experiences with the adults in their lives WILL find it much harder to adjust to being back at school.

These children’s difficult relationship experiences outside of school are often transferred into school and onto their relationships with their new teachers. These children have learnt that adults change their minds, don’t mean what they say, can’t be trusted and need to be tested all the time. Children who behave like this in our schools and are finding it much harder to settle in their new class and adjust to being back at school are just telling us that they are still feeling anxious, scared, worried and confused. They need the adults in school to be calm, consistent and predictable and to offer clear explanations about what is happening at regular intervals during the day. This will enable them to feel less anxious and scared, to feel safer in school and therefore clear some head space for them to start to engage with their learning.

New relationships take time to build and at the moment some children have had six weeks of being at home with different or no rules, versus four weeks of being back at school.

Be gentle and patient with the children, yourselves and each other.


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Building relationships with your new class

I have met with lots of school staff this week who have been finding the return to work a challenge. It can be hard for school staff to adjust to being back at school and all that it entails; it is also very hard for the children in many ways. Some of the children in our schools will have had 6 weeks of very little structure, routine and consistency. They may have not had enough sleep, been around lots of conflict and drama, and maybe not had enough to eat, or had lots of unhealthy food. Now they are back at school with routine, structure and consistency, which is great, but takes time to adapt.

I met with several teachers on Friday who were experiencing difficulties with getting their class to settle and we discussed how at this time of year it can be hard to remember that the class that left you in July had worked with you for a whole year, and the children you have now will need a year with you to get to the same place. For example, at the start of year 2 some children don’t even know which are their shoes after doing PE, by July they are able to find their own shoes, put them on and if you are very lucky even do them up.

I encouraged the class teachers to talk to their class first thing tomorrow morning and explore with them what they think they can do well and what they feel they still need help with, along with acknowledging how hard it is because you are all still getting to know each other. It can be really interesting to see what the children come up with, the things you may think they do well or need help with may be different.

Stay positive, support each other and remember it’s only 14 weeks till the Christmas holidays : – )


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Helping children to develop a positive self-image

Children who have a positive self-image are able to share their happiness about their appearance in a healthy way, for example, showing you their new shoes or haircut. This is an important aspect of children learning to be happy with who they are and along with self-confidence and self-esteem plays a role in self-acceptance. However, for some children this can be a preoccupation and override any sense of the person they are. They may feel that the person they are is defined by how they look and what they wear rather than the qualities and attributes they have. This needs to be handled in a sensitive way by focusing on their personal characteristics.

A child who has a poor self-image may put themselves down by criticising their appearance and making comments such as ‘I hate my hair’. This may demonstrate a deeper sense of self-loathing and needs to be monitored closely. They may also have a lack of body awareness and disinterest in their appearance. This may be noticeable if a child has experienced neglect and may be unaware that their clothes or bodies are unclean. These children may be particularly vulnerable to being bullied by other children, especially as they start to become more aware of appearances as they get older. A balance between the two extremes is emotionally healthy, where a child is happy to get themselves and their clothes dirty playing outside but is also happy to wash their hands when they come in.

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