The pandemic caused a lot of stress and anxiety globally and continues to affect our lives. As restrictions start to ease, there will be a need to transition back to society. For children, this means going back to school for face to face learning. Just as the transition to learning from home took a while to get used to, going back to school will need some adjustments too.
Transitioning back to school in the COVID-19 era presents many challenges for both parents and children. When the pandemic started, children were introduced to a new form of studying – online and it has given some advantages and disadvantages. Many parents reported that learning from home has given their children the opportunity to study at their own pace. Many children also liked the benefit of one on one support which has helped in learning a lot. Moreover, the children enjoyed learning with their parents at home.
Given these things that children and parents have made it a part of their daily routine, it makes sense to think that going back to school and other after school activities can bring in a mix of relief and a new set of anxiety and stress for parents and children.
It’s normal for school-aged kids to have mixed feelings about returning to school as New South Wales and some other parts of the world returns to face to face learning. Children may feel anxious, reluctant, excited, scared or just overwhelmed. How they feel may vary depending on their stage of development and age. How they would feel about returning to school may vary between children in the same family, it could also vary from day to day for a child. As a parent, it’s important to acknowledge these changes and talk to your children about going back to school.
1. Listen and Support
Talk to your child about how they are feeling. Listen and reassure them that it’s normal to feel scared, anxious or stressed. Talk to them about the good things of the upcoming changes, including what they like to do in school that they could not do at home while remote learning.
2. Reassure your child that it is safe to go to school
When schools closed because of the pandemic, parents had a conversation with their children about why the school must be closed and implemented a new way of learning to keep them safe. Some children may now worry about the safety of returning to school.
To reassure your child and make them feel safe, talk to them and explain that:
· The decision to return to school is based on medical advice and proper authorities have made these decisions
· Everybody at school is working hard to make sure that children are safe
· Anybody not feeling well should stay home
· The authorities are keeping an eye on everything- if it starts to be unsafe, decisions will be made on what to do
· Let your child know that it is normal to have mixed feelings of excitement, worry, fear and anger.
· Talk about what they look forward to and what they worry about
· Reinforce good hygiene
After school, try these things with them:
· Talk to them about their day, what they enjoyed, what they felt worried about and what they are looking forward to the next day
· Make some extra family time as your child likely missed being with you at home
· Your child may feel more tired so give them space to rest or do after school activities that can help them recharge
3. Create a plan
Plan for the first day, first week and even a week prior to school opening. Planning helps in reducing stress and anxiety by creating a structure and a routine for situations. Include after school activities that your kid would enjoy.
Preparing your child for changes to usual school procedures and regulations.
Your child’s school probably made a lot of changes to comply with government-mandated health protocols. The school will communicate this with you and may vary across schools. Help prepare your child :
· Talk to them about the upcoming changes that is happening around school premises to make them comfortable with it.
· Ask to have an extra 1:1 session with the teacher or learning support staff and your child before going back to school
· See if there are home learning practices that can be taken to the classroom
· Ask your child what will make their return to school easier and check if the teachers can accommodate this. This could be like knowing the seating plan or any first day activities.
Some schools may not allow parents to walk their children into the classroom. This could make it harder for some kids to separate from their parents. Prepare your child for this by:
· Talking about what might be different about the drop off and pick up procedures and how you will manage it.
· Roleplay the new procedure
· Reassure your child that there will be a school staff who will take them to the classrooms
· Ask your child if there’s anything that can things easier for them, like going in with a buddy or bringing something that makes them feel “brave”
Re-familiarize school routines:
· The week before- return your kids back to their usual sleeping and wake up time including meal times and morning and afternoon snacks.
· One day before- get your child to join you in packing their bags and preparing their uniform. This will give you time to check if anything is missing or forgotten.
· On the day of- allow extra time to get ready than usual.
4. Give it time.
Remember that transition can take a lot of time and every child can be different, so it is important to be aware and not add more stress by wanting to speed things up. Some children will immediately bounce back to their old routines and adapt to the new ones, while it will take others a long time to re-adjust.
Take note that being away from school for a long time and putting them back into a changed environment can cause stress and anxiety to children.
When your child returns to school before siblings
Younger children returning to school earlier than other members of the family may feel disappointed that their siblings are still learning from home. They may also feel disconnected from the family. You can help your kid:
· Reassure and acknowledge their feelings and let them know that it is okay to feel disappointed
· Explain that all children will be returning to school soon
· Give them something to look forward to coming home by allowing them to pick a fun activity to complete when they got home from school
· Avoid scheduling ‘fun’ activities with other family members while your child is at school
Get help if needed
If your child is experiencing a prolonged behavioural issue, seek help. The COVID-19 pandemic could trigger more serious stress and mental health issues and it is best to seek help as soon as possible. If you are concerned, you should talk to your GP or a Kid’s helpline, school psychologist or school counsellors.
You can also use the Australia-wide Find a Psychologist service or call 1800 333 497.
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