This article’s title relates back to the time when wearing masks was an unusual activity – unless as a surgeon or a deep-sea diver! Nowadays, we are all more used to wearing masks, so do we abide by our airline adage of putting on our own oxygen mask before helping others?

I remember being stunned hearing this announcement in airline safety briefings, why would I want to be saved when my child could be saved first? As I have got older (and a little wiser maybe), I realise that I am no use to anyone if I don’t look after myself. And (continuing the analogy), I can’t help my child out of the aircraft if I haven’t put my mask on as a number one priority.

We are increasingly more aware of the importance of self-care as part of a positive attitude to mental wellbeing. We understand physical and mental fitness as important and resilience as a skill to be honed, helping us get through the ups and downs of life. We also need to model these skills to the children that we work with and care for, and perhaps to their parents and other team members too. And these is no time like the present.

Self-care is rarely at the top of our priority list when working with children, especially those with additional needs and in this line of work we naturally put others first. There is certainly little opportunity for thinking about your own needs when you have been on your feet all day long, planning and delivering learning and looking after children’s personal, social and emotional development. We shouldn’t lose sight however, of the value that being healthy, and in a good place mentally, has for ourselves and the children and young people we work with.

Once we have identified what supports us to maintain a positive outlook, we can consider how this links to being part of a strong team around the children we are working with.

Sharing the load

Working in a team helps share the load and ensures that all aspects of a child’s development are enabled to be as strong as possible. This also involves recognising how focussing on one area of a child’s needs might negatively impact on meeting other aspects of their development.

Top tip

Work with other practitioners to identify what your piece of the support puzzle looks like and what the pupils’ targets are. Identify how your targets can be incorporated into other practitioners’ support – and theirs into yours.


Looking outwards to the rest of the team, it is important to communicate with others about how best to support a child – what the child needs in all areas of their development and what the individual involved in supporting them also needs. Reports, meetings and informal discussions can all help with this type of communication.

Top tip

Build strong working relationships with parents, other staff and practitioners. This will help individuals to informally highlight any concerns or areas of success and make it easier to co-ordinate diaries for formal reviews of the pupil’s progress.

Working with parents

Does your ‘team around the child’ include the parent as an active player? Interestingly, in researching this article, there were some models which omitted the parent completely. I would propose that, not only is the parent a key player in the team that supports their child, but they are also often the conductor enabling the orchestra of support to work harmoniously with their child.

Top tip

Demonstrate to the parent that you are ‘on their side’ by supporting them in whatever way you can. For aspects out of your field of expertise, this may include signposting them to other organisations. Whatever supports the parent, will ultimately enable better progress for the pupil.

Supporting the whole child or young person

Let us not forget the child in the middle of this all. They will have the same emotional, creative and social needs as any other person. At a recent conference, I heard from a parent that the ‘homework’ being given by all the therapists and educators supporting his child, with special educational needs, totalled more hours than the child was awake between coming home from school and bed-time! Do we really want children to stay up extra late so that they can do their homework or the exercises that should support their learning the next day? Would the child getting an earlier night be more beneficial? With the team around the child working in partnership, overload can be avoided.

Top tip

Find out about the pupil’s additional strengths, pastimes and family and make sure that what you are doing relates to them as a whole person.

So next time a parent or colleague needs support, know that the conversation you have, the arm around their shoulders (when that is allowed again) or the words of support you offer are indeed helping the child you are all working with. They are mechanisms to build resilience and we all need that, to be the best we can be and to offer energetic, committed learning and intervention to those who really need it.

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