Now lockdown is easing, the Government have said that children must return to school in September. Schools have been busy interpreting the Government advice and the term “bubble” now has a new meaning in our society. For children and families, the last months are likely to have been tough. The majority of children will have missed socialising with their friends and some will have missed the routine of school. It is likely that children and young people will have varying degrees of anxiety about returning to school in the same way that some adults may have felt that anxiety when returning to work. For children, their anxiety may be compounded by any anxiety they observe in their parents or other adults within their family. We hope that these 10 tips will help to prepare your child (and you) for the transition back to school.
Prepare your child for the changes.
For many children, unless they have been attending school throughout lockdown, the school they return to will not be the same as the school they left in March. There will be different routines, different interactions with school staff and different ways of moving around the school. I have seen many schools post videos on You Tube or send detailed letters explaining the changes being made. These need to be shared with your child in a way they can understand depending on their age. Talking about the changes and reassuring your child will help to prepare them and lessen their anxiety.
Share your “worries” with your child.
Children and young people pick up on their parents’ anxieties. They may recognise that you are anxious or nervous but not necessarily know why. Try to be open about the things that are making you feel a little anxious but do this in a way that does not heighten your child’s anxieties – for example, you could make a family list of concerns then talk through them one by one or you could have a family worry bucket where worries are placed and then discussed at a time when you are all together. Try to remain positive and reassuring, acknowledge each concern then try to think as a family how you can limit the anxiety surrounding it. By being open with your child and showing that you can be nervous but still face the thing which causes you anxiety, you will support and encourage them to share their own worries and concerns with you. It is important that we role model how to deal with anxiety for our children.
Think about your routines.
For many during lockdown, the daily routine will have been significantly different to the routine when attending school; bedtimes may have been forgotten and late starts may have been a common occurrence. Don’t feel guilty about this – we have all had to deal with lockdown and our new ways of living in different ways. However, even though it is the summer holidays, it is worth considering reintroducing a daily routine especially in the mornings and evenings. Reschedule bedtimes and allow your child to get used to earlier mornings if they need to, so the timings are more in line with your typical school week routine. These can be relaxed at the weekend just as they would be during term time. Having a routine in place will reduce the impact and change of pace on the first few weeks of your child returning to school.
Reflect on your time in lockdown.
Sit with your child and talk about the things they achieved during lockdown. For some children, they may have managed to cope with being schooled at home– if this is the case, look back over their work and their achievements. For others, both parents and children, educating at home may not have been an easy task. However, I am sure that throughout that time you will have had lots of learning experiences. Examples might include, baking, gardening, watching documentaries or TV programmes, learning about nature on walks, reading a book or magazine, these are just a few. Whatever you have managed to do, discuss with your child what they have achieved, how they have grown in lockdown not just physically but as a person – be positive and show them their successes. If your child is worried that they may be behind on their work – reassure them that they will be able to catch up when they return to school.
Meet with friends.
As lockdown is easing, it is easier to have a socially-distanced meeting with friends. Seeing their friends and sharing their lockdown experiences may help your child if they feel anxious about returning to school. If a face to face meet up can’t happen, consider using technology like Zoom, Facetime or WhatsApp to have video calls. You could even organise a virtual tea party or BBQ! Some children may be more able to discuss and possibly resolve their concerns with their friends rather than their parents. Reconnecting with friends and classmates is an important part of returning to school.
Have some “practice runs”.
Getting back into the school routine can be particularly tricky for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities - having a practice run may help. Choose a time of day that isn't first thing in the morning, I would suggest between mid-morning and afternoon. Make it into a game, you could all pretend to be in bed like you would be on a school morning - what happens next? Role play the routine but make it fun. Think about what things need to be ready beforehand such as uniform, school bag, possibly a lunchbox. If your child responds well to competition or challenge, add a time element to it. You may want to have some time wearing school uniform at home so your child gets used to the feel of it again, especially if they have sensory difficulties. If practising the routine would not work for your child, what about making a photo story together of the different things that need to happen before going to school in the morning? Support your child to take pictures of the different stages - either they can be in the photos or they can take photos of you. Print them out and put them in order as a visual reminder to help your child. If your child finds demands/instructions stressful, have a think about what you can negotiate with them beforehand related to the school routine. Then make an "agreement" that you both sign so they feel they are in control of what is happening to them. Try to be as flexible as possible and value their input, even if it is not exactly how you would want it to be. Think about the end goal - there are lots of different ways to get there.
In the situation we are currently in, it is very easy to feel anxious and negative however it is very important for your child that you are positive about them returning to school. None of us can say what will happen in the future or how long we will be living with COVID-19 and that is unsettling for us as adults, but we need to provide as much stability as possible for our children. You may like to make a positivity poster together, writing down or drawing all of the positive things about returning to school. You could include seeing friends, things your child is good at, something positive you know about their new teacher or TA, things your child would like to achieve, however small. Keeping positive for your child will also help with your own mental well-being.
Plan something to look forward to.
It is possible that your child may have mixed feelings about the return to school. They may feel down and miss their family who they have spent every day with for nearly six months. You may also feel the same. Therefore, have something planned that you can look forward to – go on an outing, schedule in some quality family time, revisit some of the activities your family enjoyed during lockdown. Just because school is restarting, it doesn’t mean that things you enjoyed while you had time together as a family have to stop, they just need to be added into your life.
Talk about the school experience.
Make time to talk to your child after their first day back, their first week back and then at regular points after this. I know that many children, when asked by their parents about their school day, simply reply “I can’t remember” or “it was good” and this is fine but it maybe that one day your child will want to share a worry or concern with you. Keep your communication open as this will help to alleviate your fears and worries as well as those of your child.
If you need professional help, seek it.
Sadly, some children may have seen loved ones become ill during lockdown. Some may be having difficulty coping with their feelings or experience anxiety at the thought of returning to school. Sometimes, as parents, you may need some additional support to help you help your child. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s teacher, your GP or a child mental health charity such as Young Minds. You can also contact us at SEND Talk (www.kentsendsupport.com) and we will be pleased to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.