For many children, the return to school will be a great experience, they will be looking forward to seeing friends and teachers again and will race to the school gate ready to get “back to normal”. But this will not be every child’s experience. For some children and their parents, the return to school is likely to cause some anxiety and the message that we would like to transmit is not to worry, this is normal.
Over the past weeks we have been telling our children that the outside world is dangerous and that we must stay at home to be safe. Now we are telling them that they must go out into that outside world again. Additionally, upon their return to school they will discover that it isn’t exactly the same as it was before school closure. Children will experience social distancing, different start and finish times, areas out of bounds and maybe being taught by a different teacher. This might be daunting at first.
It is important that we are aware of the possible behaviour and emotional responses of our children to be able to provide the scaffolding needed to make their return to school a positive experience.
Some behaviours that we are likely to see on the days running up to the return to school and during the first days of school are:
- Reluctance or refusal to go to school
- Increased clinginess in the morning
- Increased tearfulness
- Poor sleep on nights before school
- Temper tantrums on school mornings
- Feeling sick- especially stomach aches, headaches and any other ache related to muscle tension (sore legs, jaws, etc.)
So, what can we do to help them return to school successfully?
Beacon School Support suggest some ideas to use that will help your children feel ready to go back to school
1. Explain that there will be new routines and rules
It’s important our children don’t go into school expecting everything to look like normal – only to get a huge shock when they walk through the door.
Explain things will look different – but tell your child not to worry, because the teachers have been thinking about how to make the school safe and will help you get used to the new layouts and routines.
And it can also be reassuring to talk about the things that haven’t changed.
- They’ll be dropped off on the same playground
- They’ll see the same adults around school
- You’ll be taking the same route to school
- They will be using some the same spaces in school
And remember to tell them who will drop them off and who will pick them up. Even if this seems obvious to us as adults, it helps gives children reassurance and a sense of security.
2. Talk about worries or fears
In the run-up to returning, make time for little conversations about how they’re feeling about going back to school.
Be careful how you do this – the aim is to see if they do have concerns, not to plant new ones!
- If your child does have worries, acknowledge their concerns first before offering reassurance. For example:
- It’s normal to feel worried about the virus, but here’s what you can do to stay safe in school
And a good way of turning a negative into a positive is using the phrase, “At least…”, as in:
- I know we can’t spend time together today, but at least we can have some time straight after school
- I know your best friend won’t be going to school with you, but at least the teachers are going to make sure everyone makes new friends
And don’t be surprised if children want to talk about the same issue a number of times. Children often need to (repeatedly!) revisit an idea with an adult to get reassurance nothing has changed.
3. Covey calm
It’s natural for all parents to have some level of anxiety about their child returning to school. But however you feel on the inside, it’s important to convey calm to your child.
Children pick up on lots of little clues about how their parents are feeling – and they use this information to inform how they should be feeling. If we look worried, they pick up on this and start worrying too!
To do this, we need to think about:
- What we say (and what they overhear)
- Our tone of voice
- Our body language
4. Routines for sleep
In most families, routines around children’s sleep have become more… flexible!
Bedtimes have drifted until later in the evening… and children are getting up later in the morning as a result. To move immediately from these routines to ‘normal running’ and getting into school for 9am could be jarring. So start moving your child’s bedtime back towards normality now.
Do this gradually, before they get back to school. Because if we leave it to the last minute, it’s likely our children won’t have time to adjust, and won’t be able to get to sleep at the earlier time. And then your child won’t only have to cope with going back to school on the first day back – they’ll be managing exhaustion too
5. Be kind to yourself
Everyone has been through an emotional rollercoaster over the last few months – that includes you and your child. And if you’ve felt overwhelmed or worried about sending your child back to school, that’s okay. It’s entirely normal.
So be kind to yourself. Make sure you:
- Build in time for activities you find de-stressing
- Get some exercise (even if that’s just walking)
- Take some time alone, if you need it
All of these activities will help make sure you’re in an emotionally strong place – so you can support your child with their emotions too.
We are here to help. If you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed or you are not sure what to do please talk to us. We might not have the answer, but we will certainly be there to support you and help in any way we can!