Supporting children at school
The coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented; none of us has experienced this before and we don’t know what the long-term impact will be, both on ourselves and our families.
For some of our children, lockdown may have been a positive experience; an opportunity to spend more time and have new experiences with their family, with less pressure from tests and academic success. But for others, it may have been an anxious time – isolated from friends, worried about missing learning and falling behind, the loss of routines and the one constant in any child’s life: school.
As children and young people return to school and re-integrate with their peers and educational structures, they will be bringing their experience of coronavirus and lockdown with them. It is normal for them to feel nervous, both because of the time they’ve been away, and because they’re not going back to ‘normal’ school but a new version of it, and this can cause uncertainty.
Helping our children to feel comfortable and well adjusted – not just in the initial days of back to school when the overwhelming emotion may be happiness and positivity at seeing their friends again, but in the weeks and months ahead – will require sensitivity, care, and positivity. No two children are the same, of course, and an approach that works for one child may need some tweaking for another, but our tips below are designed to support.
Prepare: Having some understanding of what to expect can help children adjust and reduce anxiety, and schools will have briefed children on their return to school to fully prepare them for the new normal. However, as parents it’s harder for us to prepare our children in the normal sense of the word because, as guidelines continue to evolve, their school experience will too. For example, at the time of writing, schools have adapted and prepared by implemented ‘bubbles’, staggered start and end times, one-way systems, separate areas for play within the school grounds, and separation between, and within, classrooms. However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has suggested that secondary school pupils in England could be kept home every other fortnight if local coronavirus cases soar, so even this ‘new normal’ may change. Be prepared for this possibility.
Discuss: Children can find it difficult to articulate or share their feelings. Encourage an open discussion about any worries, hopes and fears – perhaps you can even share your own concerns about returning to work, or adjusting to the new normal. Let your child know their feelings are important. If you know your child’s specific fears or worries you can give them tailored reassurance that tackles them head on. Your child will also know that if they develop concerns later on, they can discuss them with you.
Be positive: Some children haven’t been able to wait to get back to school, but others may have been reluctant after a prolonged stay at home. You can help by being positive about school life in general – depending on the age of your children, this could range from the value of a normal routine, rekindling friendships, having someone else to play with or being able to pick up their education where they left off. When they come in from school, talk about how the day went – asking about the best (and worst) bits and be upbeat in your responses.
Reassure: Reassure your children that all will be well. Make sure they know that all of the changes, while disconcerting at first, are designed to keep everyone safe and well. If they’re concerned about exam performance, reassure them that schools and exam boards will take lockdown into consideration; if they’re worried their friends didn’t seem as pleased to see them as they thought, reassure them that their friends may be struggling to adjust to the new situation too, if they’re worried about being in a bubble away from their friends, reassure them that they’re great at making friends and this is an opportunity to do just that.
Get in a routine: While as parents we can’t control how school may continue to change, we can introduce a familiar and predictable routine at home – which will help younger children feel safe and older children feel reassured. Over the last six months, routines may have fallen by the wayside as we all struggled to adjust, however now is the time to reintroduce them.
Reach out for help: If you’re worried about how your child is coping, trust your instinct and reach out for help. You are not alone; we are all in this together. You could try your child’s school, as teachers have been preparing to support pupils through this challenging time, your GP, or the YoungMinds Parents Helpline, which can provide advice and support about a child’s mental health: 0808 802 5544 or via their website here.