Autumn term-oil

by Guest Writer
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By Kate Freeman, Consultant - speech and language in education. 

Are you someone who loves the approach of winter, or who dreads it? I am definitely in the second group. Although I love the changes in colour that the autumn brings, I don’t at all look forward to the colder, darker nights. I also remember well the increased coughs, colds and general feelings of being run down that seemed to take place every autumn term.

So what are the issues that we need to think about and how can we best help our children and young people at this time of year?

The autumn term is often one that children and young people really struggle with. In terms of the number of weeks, it can be a particularly long-term. This year, depending on where you live, the autumn term is the longest of all three of the school terms. With the weather changing to colder and wetter across autumn, children, young people and families can soon feel very far away from the relative freedom of summer sunshine.

There are many other reasons why children and young people (especially those with speech, language and communication needs) can struggle with the autumn term:

Autumn usually heralds a move from one class to another, into a different space, perhaps with different peers and usually with a different adult. This can take a lot of getting used to. Add to this, trying to understand or be understood by a whole set of new people when communication is already tricky, and things get more complicated. In addition, some children, in this group especially, find managing any kind of change difficult and will be using extra emotional energy to manage a move to a new class.  

The impact of the clocks going back an hour in the autumn half-term holiday is one that affects many of us. It means that children and young people may well be leaving school in the dark, or certainly at dusk. They may also be heading off for school in the dark and have relatively fewer hours of sunlight. This is known to affect mood and can make many of us feel low and more prone to illness[1].

Then there is the increased number of coughs and colds that children experience. This is partly as a result of the change in weather and partly due to the mixing with other children which had been reduced over the summer holidays (and, before that, as a result of Covid-19!)

So, what can we as parents do to support our children and young people and help them (and us) get through the ‘autumn term-oil’?

For those children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and those who particularly struggle to manage change, it is important to let other people know how best to understand and support them. Previous blogs about communication passports highlight the importance of identifying individuals’ strengths, as well as guiding those around to understand their needs and to recognise and be able to support their difficulties.  

Getting used to new routines can be helped by having a visual timetable[2] so that children and young people know what to expect across each day, or across the week. (The time covered in a visual timetable depends on the age and ability of the child or young person). We all need to know what we are doing next and how our week is planned out – can you imagine how you would function without your diary or phone? Visual timetables can also help children and young people to be more organised, for example knowing when homework needs to be handed in, when the spelling test is and when they need their PE/sports kit.

Helping children with SLCN to be able to express themselves, by naming their emotions, can be very helpful. This way, when they are struggling, they will have the words that they need to ask for help. Making sure that emotions are talked about in your family is useful. Naming your own emotions will not only help your child or young person to understand how you are feeling, it will also provide the model for words that they can use, to name their own emotions. You can also help your child or young person to recognise their own emotions by naming them when you see them e.g. ‘It looks like you’re a bit sad now, shall we take some time out?’, or ‘ I can see you are angry, how can I help?’.

Recognising and supporting autumn term-oil - the emotional impact of managing change, the suppression in mood and any increased tiredness, is important. This can be more tricky when we, as parents, might be feeling the same!

It is worth having a look at diaries and seeing whether there is something that we could reduce. It may be that our children would benefit more from getting home from school and just flopping, rather than taking part in after-school choir, swimming, football or dance lessons. It may also be beneficial to us to start preparations for the evening a bit earlier, if employment allows.

Thinking about how we manage time when we get home with our children is useful:  We all need time to reflect on our day and I found that my children and I having a snack together when we got home from school helped us to re-group and hear about each other’s days. This also provided an opportunity for me to pick up anything that might be a concern regarding any of my children at school (the argument in the playground, the unfriending by a long-term mate, the fallout with a teacher etc.).  After school time around a snack was a time that I could really listen to them.

We all know that our communication skills are more difficult when we are feeling stressed or run down. The same applies for our children. So, getting out into natural light at weekends and finding a way to enable our homes to be a place of relaxation as winter approaches can be beneficial. It can affect every person who lives in the house, including us. There has been lots of discussion about the Nordic concept of Hygge[3] - it essentially boils down to finding ways to make the house as cosy as possible: Extra blankets on the sofas to wrap up in on dark, cold nights; the use of fairy lights to create a bit of sparkle and light inside when the outside light is fading; creating your own colouring pages that can be used by yourself and your children. 

Finding ways to support each other’s mental health, as well as to enable individual needs to be met, is especially important at this time of year. Maybe that way, it will be possible to pour a bit of (autumn term) oil on troubled waters.

[1] How to Embrace the Scandinavian Concept of Hygge (