One of our practitioners outlines some issues faced by one little boy during lockdown and how they found a special way to communicate:
I had been working with Eric for just a few weeks before the first lockdown began in March 2020; his school had referred him to me as they were concerned about his behaviour and progress in class.
Eric seemed to find it very difficult to complete tasks, holding onto the teacher to keep her next to him at all times, and when she wasn’t, he would wander about, shouting and sometimes hiding under the table. Eric’s mum Lena told me his behaviour at home was also challenging; he often refused to follow simple instructions and she felt like she was walking on eggshells, every battle threatening to turn into a “meltdown”.
Lena felt that Eric had struggled since his parents separated two years before, Eric now having very occasional visits with his dad, who was in a new relationship and had a new baby. When lockdown began and the schools closed, Lena told me she wasn’t sure how they would cope together at home all day, how she would manage his meltdowns as well as her own worries for her job and her family’s safety. We agreed to set up regular phone calls for us to talk, as well as weekly Zoom sessions for Eric.
In our early online sessions, Eric seemed very “scattered”; he would struggle to stay in front of the screen, disappear under the table, slam the laptop shut or switch the camera off. This “chaotic” feeling gave me a sense that Eric was feeling out of control inside without the routine of school and perhaps picking up on the uncertainty of adults about this new and unsettling situation.
On screen, I would bring Tiger, Eric’s favourite puppet from our school sessions, who would play and talk with Sharky, a small plastic shark that Eric brought along. “I’m going to bite you!” Sharky would growl fiercely through Eric. “Oh no, that’s so scary!” Tiger would cry through me. I wondered with Eric whether Sharky was feeling angry, or sad and missing his friend, perhaps wanting to bite off a piece of him to keep. By talking through the animals, we were able to explore some of Eric’s difficult feelings at a safe distance; providing him with the vocabulary of feelings enabled Eric to identify and understand his emotions - making them seem more manageable - a process we call “name it to tame it”.
In our phone calls, Lena and I thought together about ways to support Eric by replacing the missing structure of the school day. Together they made a visual timetable of his home routine and Lena marked on a calendar so Eric could see when he would next visit with dad. By working to make things more predictable for Eric where she could, Lena noted that Eric seemed more at ease, more able to trust in her and less like he needed to take control. In our Zoom sessions too Eric appeared more settled, now creating longer stories with a collection of his sharks which he presented like episodes of a TV show he called “Sharkworld”.
Back together in school in the Autumn term we continued our sessions, thinking together about the many changes in school but also recognising what had stayed the same, such as his friendships. Eric’s new class teacher found that although he still liked to check in with her regularly, he seemed more confident and able to try new tasks by himself, showing a developing ability to trust in adults and so feeling safer to explore new things.
Right now, we find ourselves once more in lockdown, and Eric and I are back together on Zoom. Season 2 of “Sharkworld” has been an eventful one so far, with sudden attacks and dramatic battles between the sharks, orchestrated with much glee by Eric. But through the show he has also begun to be the teacher, explaining about the different sharks, their skills, likes and dislikes. I am captivated not only by the stories but also by his growing sense of confidence and identity. We don’t know how many more episodes are to come this season, but while the show is on the air, there are many exciting adventures to be had!