Returning to school is a big deal for children, particularly in light of Coronavirus and the changes introduced at schools to ensure health and safety, such as social distancing, smaller class groups and different start and finish times, amongst other measures. September saw children and young people returning to different year groups and new schools after a long period out of education. Facing the “new normal” places additional stress on children and young people as they may, for example, feel worried about getting sick and falling behind in school. Parents and carers also bear this stress, as they want to protect their children from the virus whilst they may also be facing their own changes in their career and other responsibilities, such as a change in caring and family responsibilities. This requires additional emotional support for both children and their parent/carer. For children, this means reassuring them that what they are feeling is normal, and to allow them to feel safe in expressing those feelings, without judgment.
Social distancing and the restrictions in place preventing children to socialise with friends and family can heighten anxiety, particularly for children that struggled with social anxiety prior to social distancing. Some children may not be comfortable with video chat and using technology as their sole interaction with friends and family. If this is the case, an open conversation with your child will help to address why they don’t feel comfortable. One reason may be that they feel overwhelmed, particularly if they have had many online classes during lockdown, they may simply need a break from using video call. Help them to address what it is they don’t like about it and try to come up with positive solutions, such as using audio chat instead of video, or encourage them to become creative, and write letters. Video calls can also be used to play various games such as bingo, charades and Pictionary, as well as board games such as frustration – organising game nights with family and friends is therefore still possible, and still enjoyable.
Overall, parents and carers must do what makes sense for them and their family during these stressful and uncertain times, by offering support to their children and celebrating successes in learning and education. Some children may have developed new hobbies during lockdown, or improved their reading and vocabulary, learnt to tie their shoes or ride a bike – whatever it may be, however big or small, celebrate the effort they have put in.
Top tips for helping children settle back into school:
- Have open conversations with children. Listen to any concerns they have without judgement and empathise with them.
- Celebrate any successes and achievements, even “little wins”.
- Encourage children to take up new hobbies and spend time doing things that they enjoy.
- Help reduce anxiety through exercise, sleep and a well-balanced diet.
- Provide structure to their routine by getting them prepared for school the night before.
- Give children space and time to problem solve and figure things out on their own.
Be positive and prioritise your relationship with your child, e.g. if you are working from home when they get home from school, take a 10-minute break and catchup with them about their day.