Supporting your child’s return to school
Going back to school after the Covid-19 lockdown, or after a period of quarantine or self-isolation, can be a difficult experience for children whose routines have been disrupted by the pandemic.
‘While some children may be eager to return to their old routine, others may need help to adjust, so it’s a good idea to start planning how to support your child and make it as stress-free as possible, says Caroline Yolland, school counsellor at The Beacon School, an independent school for boys aged four to 13 in Amersham.
So how can we tackle this new step in our children’s education? We asked Caroline for her top tips.
Tell your child what’s planned
As soon as you know what day they will be back in the classroom, tell them when they'll be returning to school.
Find a quiet time with no distractions, and explain calmly, without any bias from your own opinions and feelings, why it’s now considered safe to go back to school. The evidence on which the government is basing its decisions is that the risk of children becoming ill with coronavirus is far smaller than benefits of being back in school.
Create a ‘countdown calendar’
If your child has any worries about going back to school, a visual calendar or timetable can help to ease their anxiety.
Preparing your child like this will provide a sense of predictability and security, and counteract any feelings of uncertainty and disruption they may have experienced while learning at home.
If you have more than one child, you may need to make one calendar for each, especially if they’re returning at different times because of different self-isolation schedules.
Talk to your child about their feelings
It’s natural for your child to feel sad, worried, cross or overexcited about going back to school and reconnecting with their classmates and teacher, and this could affect their behaviour, for example with tears or angry outbursts.
If your child is struggling with big feelings, try to stay calm and name their emotions out loud so they know you’re listening: for example, ‘I can see that you’re feeling angry at the moment.’
Learning to be an active listener without imposing any judgements or trying to ‘fix’ the problem is a real skill, and will be hugely beneficial to your child both now and into the future.
Reassure your child about the ‘new normal’ safety measures
With social distancing measures and other changes to school life in place, UK classrooms have become slightly different places. Remind your child about why their new classroom layout and school-day routines have been put in place, and how they help keep everyone safe.
Schools have had a lot of flexibility in how they make the environment as Covid-safe as possible, but new measures your school may have adopted might include:
- Being in a 'bubble' of pupils – probably their own class or year group – with each bubble being kept separate from others, as far as possible.
- A different classroom set-up, with desks facing the front.
- Being dropped and picked up from the school gate instead of the playground.
- Starting and finishing school at different times.
- Eating lunch in their classroom, which may mean that no hot lunches are on offer.
- No whole-school assemblies.
- One-way systems around school.
- Designated areas of the playground for each bubble, with minimal crossover.
- A bigger focus on regular hand-washing and hand-sanitising.
- Although face coverings and other PPE aren't mandatory in classrooms, some staff members may choose to wear masks and gloves. By now, your child is likely to be used to seeing people wearing face coverings, but it's still important to talk to them openly and honestly about why some teachers might be wearing them at school, and answer any questions they may have.
The Children's Commissioner's free, downloadable Going back to school guide for kids offers tips to help children cope if they’re feeling worried.
Keep talking about the changes after they're back in the classroom to discover if they’re causing your child any anxiety.
Ask for a catch-up call for your child…
If your child is very anxious about returning to school after a period of homeschooling, ask their school if they could have some brief contact with their teacher before they go back. It could be a phone call, email, letter, online meeting or recorded video message.
… And for yourself
If your child has had a particularly difficult time, it may be helpful to have a catch-up call with their teacher about their experiences so they understand their specific needs and behaviours.
This will help the teacher support your child with any issues that may have arisen during the break from school, particularly if they’ve had a difficult experience, such as a bereavement due to coronavirus.
Help your child feel in control
Giving your child as much control as possible over the new school routine can help them feel more grounded.
You could, for example, ask your child to choose what they’d like in their lunchbox each day, or go online stationery shopping and let them decide what they'd like to buy: many schools are requesting that children have their own basic supplies so equipment doesn't have to be shared.
This can give them a sense of control and ownership over their return to school.
Scottish Government's Parent Club has a series of videos and information articles offering expert advice for parents as schools and nurseries reopen.
Top tips for being an active listener
At this time of uncertainty, it’s important to be a good listener to your child so they feel they can talk to you about their feelings. Try these steps to becoming an active listener.
- Turn devices off to show that you’re listening.
- Squat down to the same level as your child and maintain eye contact. Be aware, though, that older children and teenagers often don’t like eye contact.
- Smile and use a gentle tone of voice.
- Try to avoid impatient body language like eye rolling, foot tapping or sighing. This can discourage children from talking.
- Put your own thoughts and feelings to one side.
- Allow your child space to talk without interrupting or contradicting them.
- Don’t be afraid of silence if your child is using it to reflect and think, but step in if the silence feels uncomfortable.
- Find encouraging things to say, like ‘Tell me more,’ ‘And then?’ and ‘Go on, what else?’
Six anxiety-busters for kids
If your child is feeling unsettled about going back to school, these exercises could help to reduce their feelings of anxiety.
If one doesn’t work, just try another, and then make it a valued part of their day.
Mindfulness breathing: Focus on your breath and imagine a sailing boat that rises and falls on a wave with each breath. Alternatively, imagine your breath as a colour (breathe in blue and breathe out yellow).
Body scan: Lie on the floor in a comfortable position. Close your eyes, squeeze every muscle as tight as you can and then relax all your muscles. Think about how your body feels. Squish your toes and feet, squeeze your hands into fists and make your legs and arms as hard as stone. After a few seconds, release and relax your toes, feet, hands, legs and arms.
Heartbeat exercise: Jump up and down or do star jumps for one minute. Sit down and put your hand over your heart, then close your eyes and pay attention to your heartbeat and your breath.
One-minute breathing: Using a timer, how many breaths can you count in one minute? One breath counts as in and out.
Breathing buddies: Lie down and place a soft toy, cuddly, small pillow or cushion on your belly. Notice how it rises and falls with your breath. Pay attention to the rise and fall for a few breaths.
54321: This technique will take your child through their five senses to help remind them of the present. Take a deep breath and then notice five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell and then take one more deep breath.