The majority of children and young people will have been away from their schools and colleges for quite some time and it is understandable that they might be anxious or worried about returning. There are many reasons why returning to school may feel difficult right now and young people may experience a range of emotions including anxiety, worry, sadness, irritability and fear.
Here are some tips to help you support your child's return to the school environment:
Talk to your child about how they're feeling
Ask them how they are feeling about going back to school and try not to make assumptions. Ask them if they are worried or feel scared about anything, but also if they are excited or looking forward to something. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal to feel a mixture of emotions and that everyone will be feeling slightly similar. Validate their feelings and reassure them it’s normal and ok to be worried. Use positive affirmations and focus on their strengths and the resources they have to help them through this time.
Provide your child with as much information about their new routine and school day as you can
This will help them to prepare for any changes that have been made to the timings of their day, the layout of their classroom, their peer groups and playtimes. For younger children, it can be really helpful for them to visualise these changes – so ask your child’s school if they can send any pictures or perhaps a video to help make things feel more familiar. Use creative periods at home to draw what they think the school will look like. This will be a fun activity and you might also be able to explore how they are feeling. It’s also important to focus on the things that haven’t changed at school and remind them that some things will be as before.
Reassure your child
During the lockdown we have been told to stay at home, remain socially distant from others and wash our hands regularly. This means children may find it difficult to go back to school because it will be a huge change from what they have been asked to do during the pandemic. Talk with your child about ways they can stay safe at school, such as washing their hands before and after eating, and reassure them that the school are putting measures in place to keep them safe.
Re-establish a routine to help ease into school life
During lockdown it is understandable that your family’s routine may have changed. Children are likely to have been waking up later or going to bed later. To help them get ready for school, try to gradually get them back into their usual morning and bedtime routines as they get closer to their return date.
As well as reflecting on what has happened during the lockdown, it is important to help children develop hope and a sense of excitement for the future. It might be hard to feel positive right now, but identifying the things that they can look forward to will help them to realise that the current situation will soon improve and their feelings will change. Perhaps arrange a playdate outside so they can talk through their feelings with their peer group.
Don’t put pressure on yourself
The transition back into school will affect children differently. Lots of children will experience ups and downs. Try your best to support, reassure and comfort them, without putting pressure on yourself to make sure their homework is done or they settle into a new routine straightaway. Create a safe and loving environment at home where children and young people can talk freely about their concerns and feel confident that you will listen and provide a safe container for any big emotions they may be experiencing. It’s important that you look after yourself as a parent so you can remain available, calm and responsive to your child’s needs. Find ways to support yourself and take time out to manage your own stress levels.
Seek support if you need it
Transitioning back to school after being in lockdown is no easy task. You may find that your child struggles to get back into school or experiences difficulties while they’re at school. If this is the case, reach out to your child’s school as soon as you can so that you can make them aware of the challenges and work together to support your child. If you are concerned about your child’s mental health and you think they need professional support, speak to the school and your GP about the best next step. Successfully returning children and young people to school will be a collaboration between parents and carers, school communities and the wider community. You’re not alone and reassure your child that there is a whole community of adults making things as safe as possible for them to return to school.
Written by: Kirsty Lilley
Kirsty has delivered mindfulness and self-compassion courses to a wide variety of workplaces during her career and is also a trained psychotherapist and coach. She has worked at a strategic level within organisations developing wellbeing policies and been responsible for developing training courses on improving mental health and wellbeing, as well as courses designed to help line managers support people with mental health difficulties effectively and continually works towards the reduction of stigma within workplace settings. Kirsty is committed to an integrated and compassionate approach when helping others to fulfil their potential.
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