Life as we know it has gone out the window. In a world turned upside down with isolation and social distancing, how do we prepare our child to return to school?
There is no doubt that children are aware of the ongoing pandemic, probablly more aware than we give them credit for. If your children are anything like mine, they will be asking plentiful questions about what they have heard regarding Covid-19; why they can’t see their friends, can’t play on the park, and can’t go to school. With the recent announcements regarding schools reopening as soon as June (in England), parents and children alike are feeling nervous and apprehensive about the return to school.
For some, the opening of schools will be welcome news. It means the return of normality (or some form of!); being able to go back to work, a break from the house, and the end of the stresses of home education. However, there is currently still a huge amount of uncertainty about what the return to school will look like, and for many of us this is major source of anxiety and stress. For children, it can be hard to articulate the stress they are feeling (and picking up on from around them), and this can manifest in challenging behaviour issues and anxiety.
As a Reception teacher, part of my job is preparing parents and children for the transition from home or nursery to school. This experience feels rather fitting to share with parents during the current pandemic, so I am going to share my top tips in a hope that you and your child can feel slightly less anxious and a little more prepared for what may be just around the corner:
1: Before you approach the subject with your child, make sure you are fully prepared yourself. Your child is an expert at picking up subtle clues you give off unconsciously, from your body language to your facial expressions. If you are feeling anxious your child is going to sense this, and will start to think there is something to feel anxious about. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed and confident about your situation, whether that be following the news or meditating. Top tip: try to trust that your child’s school wants only the very best for your child, and make peace with the things you cannot change.
2: Make sure children are aware of how to keep themselves safe. This one goes without saying, but there will not always be an adult around to enforce that children are following the recommendations, for example when your child visits the bathroom. Empowering children to take charge of their own health and safety can help them feel confident to deal with the situation.
3: Prepare your child that school may look quite different post lockdown. Nobody really knows what school will look like yet, but its pretty likely that it will not be the same as it is now. There is likely to be social distancing and reduced class sizes, so they may be separated from friends. This could be quite a shock if your child is unprepared for it.
4: Whilst still at home, provide your child with lots of opportunities to play and relax. Play is very important for children’s mental health and wellbeing, and will contribute to a sense of resilience for your child. This will help them feel better equipped to deal with the challenges they will face when reintegrating back into the school environment. (For more on promoting resilience in children, read my other articles here)
5: Provide your child with time to share their worries and talk. If they are not a big talker but they appear anxious or worried, you could try asking them specific questions such as ‘are you looking forward to seeing John again?’ and steering the conversation towards their fears. You could also try using a ‘worry box’ – a place where children can place their fears in written form for discussion at a later time. Creative activities such as clay and painting are great for relaxing children, and are activities which can be completed together (more information on promoting creativity can be found here). Top tip: try to balance listening to your child’s fear with unknowingly encouraging their fears – sometimes it is easy to blow them out of proportion without meaning to.
6: Involve your child in preparing their school items. This helps children feel in control, and to prepare to get into the school mindset. For example, they could sort their pencils back into their pencil case. (For tips on how to encourage your child to be independent , see this article)
7: Where possible, support them to stay in contact with friends. We are living in the digital age, and despite some downsides to this it does provide families with a useful way of staying in contact with others. Maintaining friendship bonds can help children feel less isolated, and can improve their sense of wellbeing, as well as supporting their transition back to school. You could arrange phone calls, Zoom meets, Xbox chats, or whatever works for your child (but try to supervise your child during these times).
8: Start to get back into the school routine. It can be easy to slip in the habits of later bedtimes and frequent lie ins when your schedule doesn’t demand those early morning starts. This can make getting back to school seem quite a daunting and tiring prospect for children. By gradually bringing back bedtimes by a few minutes each day, and ensuring get back into their early morning routines, your child will feel better prepare for the challenges ahead.
I hope these tips help you and your child to feel a little more ready to face the return to school. Do you have any more tips that work for you and your child? Please share them, I would love to hear what you find helpful.
Love, Heather x
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