Time for children and teenagers in the UK to go back to school. Having been Locked down in their homes since March.
Whilst some will have had good experiences of distanced learning and enjoyed being at home – at least some of the time – for many they will have missed their friends, forgotten their daily routine and got out of the habit of learning. Maybe they have been getting up too late and going to bed to late……………………….. Some will feel anxious about going back to school. Most will feel worried about something or other. But children are very adaptable and resilient and most will simply find their way back into the routine and in a week or two everything will feel much more settled and normal again.
What can parents do to help the process along?
Many people will be surprised to hear that – although children have some worries about going back to school – the people who are most worried are their parents………….
Will they be behind with their lessons?
Will they still get on with their friends?
How will they cope with the separation?
Will they be scared? – about school? – about catching COVID-19?
What if they’re upset?
It’s a little like going back to all those worries about starting Reception again and it is important to remember that they coped then – they will cope now.
The biggest predictor of how they will cope is how you as a parent copes. If you are okay – they will be okay. The consistent message we hear is that – although there are some risks from the virus in starting children back to school – there is a bigger risk to their wellbeing as a whole from being OUT of school. Parents need to help them get back safely and happily. So what can parents do?
1. Look after yourself – If you are anxious – find some ways to manage this AWAY from your children. Talk to others – partners, friends, other parents – about your concerns. But don’t talk to the children about YOUR worries. These are adult worries and children need the reassurance that you are okay about them going back to school.
2. Sort out the Routine – One of the things that many people have been missing through lockdown is the day to day routine of life that helps you to feel safe. School is a great way of providing this again – but children might need a few reminders. Younger children may be helped by talking them through what the day will be like – step by step detail can help. Older children may need reminding of the importance of good food and early bedtimes – now is the time to get that routine back in place. Along with a reminder that weekends and weekdays are different – “you can stay up later on Friday……………….” Make sure there are some nice things in the routine – even older children and teenagers still need time with their parents and a cuddle at the end of the day.
3. Accept what you Don’t Know – It is unlikely that school will be exactly the same as it was before Lockdown. Different dinner times, play times, places to wash your hands, etc. What is going to happen if someone is not well at school? Help your child think through who they can ask if they are unsure about something and also offer some reassurance that it is “okay not to know” – because in many situations it is “the teacher’s job to know what to do…………….” If a worry becomes very preoccupying don’t spend too much time on it – after a brief discussion you might say something like “that’s not something we can fix now – so let’s put it away and get on with something else”. You may even want to write it down “to get it out of your head” and keep it safe for when you do know the answer.
4. Develop Resilience – One of the most important things a parent can do is helping their child to face their worries and manage them themselves. It is a parent’s natural response to want to protect their child and do things for them – but this is not always the best way forward. At its worst, this can give a child the message that “the only way to manage this is to let me sort it out for you”. A much better lesson for children to learn is one that says “some things in life are difficult and tricky to manage – but with my help, you are strong enough to sort this out for yourself”. Avoidance is never the answer – and the thought of doing something is almost always worse than doing it. Help your child to make a list of their worries and to develop a plan for tackling them.
5. If they are Happy they will learn – Many parents are worried about the schooling that their children have missed and want them to catch up as quickly as possible. It is important to remember that everyone has been going through the same thing and a lot of academic pressure is likely to backfire making children tense and unhappy. Put an emphasis on the fun in going back to school. The learning will come.
6. Talk and Listen (don’t solve) – Many children are monosyllabic if asked about their days – if so – don’t ask them lots of questions – they are more likely to say less! Chat to them – tell them a bit about your day and give them the space to warm up and tell you about theirs. Often finding a situation where you are side by side (walking to school or in the car) is better that a face to face interrogation! Listen to what they have to say – try to stop yourself from coming up with some suggestions too quickly – just listen and let them think things through. Maybe reflect what they are saying back to them “it sounds like you had great fun at playtime: maybe you felt cross when your teacher said that: so there was a big crush at lunchtime – is that right?” – so that they feel you have heard them. Giving them time to think things through with a sympathetic ear can be much more helpful than premature solutions.
7. Feelings are Okay – Children have strong feelings! Strong feelings are not signs of mental health problems but more often are signs of a youngster developing their sense of themselves and the world and how to find their way through this. Parents often panic and feel that there is something wrong if their child is anxious, sad or distressed. More likely they are just reacting to what is going on in their lives. Young children may need some help in naming their emotions so that they learn that it is okay to react in a certain way. Older children may need this too – or to have their feelings heard and understood and shared. Again – don’t jump to quickly to solve a problem – but move on when your child is ready.
Our children will get through this time. Lockdown and managing COVID-19 has been a shared experience, a hardship and an anxiety for everyone. This does make it difficult for parents to manage. How can you be a parent? How can you listen and empathise when you are struggling with your own feelings? How can you offer reassurance when you need reassurance yourself? There is no doubt that these are trying and demanding times – but with talking and support there is a way through.