24 August 2020
With just a few short days or weeks until our children return to school, parents, carers and schools are busy preparing for what is arguably the biggest step back towards normality since schools closed their doors on the 20th of March 2020. Schools have issued their Covid-19 pandemic protocols; new shoes, blazers and pencil cases have been purchased and our children and young people can’t wait to get back to school again. Or can they?
Research shows that whilst the vast majority of pupils of all ages are keen to get back into the swing of things, there is still a significant minority who have serious concerns about the return. Even those who are eager to see their friends and teachers again are bound – after six months at home – to have some worries and anxieties about how things will work in the post-Covid-19 era.
‘It’s important to remind children and young people that feeling worried or apprehensive around any transition is totally normal,’ says educational and child psychologist Dr. Jeremy Monsen. ‘Going back to school in September is often a nerve-wracking time for children and young people, whatever their age and Covid-19 has added a layer of complexity and uncertainty as to how it will all work. Parents and carers should try to create a sense of calm and reintroduce the structures and routines that were in place before lockdown well before school starts, and remind them that their friends will have all the same worries as them.’
How to prepare a child for the return to school?
Grace Moody-Stuart, consultancy director at The Good Schools Guide agrees. ‘Our clients often ask us how to prepare their children for school in September,’ she says. ‘We advise them to try to model a practical, can-do, approach. It’s important to nurture a sense of safety and, at the moment, bear in mind that until a certain age, children don’t have the emotional maturity to process all the bad news, so keep exposure to news media at a minimum for younger children. Try to talk about the future in a positive way to promote optimism and enthusiasm’.
Good schools are more tuned in to the needs of families than ever before and are working to ensure that the return is as stress-free as possible for their pupils. ‘We know that some families are flourishing, some are struggling and most are hovering between the two,’ says Gavin Franklin, head master of Wellesley House School in Kent. ‘We have more time to prepare for the return to school than we did to prepare for lockdown and there are many ways that parents can support their child at home in the run-up to going back to school’.
Together with these specialists and educators, The Good Schools Guide has come up with some advice on how best to overcome back-to-school worries for children and young people of all ages:
- Bring back routine and structure. Children and young adults thrive best when they know exactly what is going to happen, and structure promotes a sense of calm. Talk through how things will work at home once your children go back to school; younger children may respond well to a visual timetable illustrating their day, even more so if it can mirror their school routine before they go back. For all ages, get bedtimes back on track and wake teenagers up in the morning for at least a week before school starts.
- Develop a sense of safety. Contextualise media reports for older children and remind them that you are there to answer their questions or discuss specific fears. Give teenagers personal space; as long as you know they are in a safe place physically and emotionally, choose your battles and let them navigate the landscape at their own pace. Consider visiting the school grounds so the first day of term feels less daunting. Allow little ones to take a favourite comfort toy into school to form a reassuring gap between home and school. They can be hidden in a pocket or at the bottom of a bag but just their presence can help calm nerves.
- Ask for help. Explain your concerns to your child’s tutor or form teacher and, if possible, arrange a virtual meeting where your child can share their worries. Some schools have Family Liaison Officers or wellbeing mentors who could also help here too; identify a trusted adult for your child so they know they have someone at school who they can go to if things get too much.
- Manage your own emotions. It is perfectly normal for adults to feel stressed or frightened too; try to let your children see that you are managing this in a healthy way by talking, exercise or relaxation. Model kind behaviour towards other people and talk about the future in a positive way. Acknowledge that nobody is perfect and show that it’s how you manage life’s ups and downs that helps build resilience.
- Listen. If your child comes to you with their worries, count to ten in your head before you answer them, then normalize and reframe their emotions into a more positive statement. If they tell you they’re afraid of going back to school, for example, remind them that they felt the same way last year and were fine after a few days or weeks. Think about starting a worry jar. Family members of all ages can write their concerns down and put them in a jar. Look at them again after a week and if they are no longer worries, then throw them away. The ones that stay long term are those that need to be dealt with by talking or taking positive action. Sometimes the mere act of writing them down makes them seem smaller.
- Connect socially. Turn your attentions outwards by seeing friends. Try to get your children together with some school friends before the start of term so they have a friendly face or two on day one. Unstructured play is a tonic in itself and once your child starts school encourage plenty of play, downtime and socialising to help them leave the now unfamiliar pressures of the school day behind.
- Promote hopefulness. The notion that life moves in cycles is powerful; remind all your family members that it’s all about dealing with highs and lows and remembering that ‘all things pass, including this’.
Do you want help from The Good Schools Guide Education Consultants?
Our expert education consultants can provide your family with one-to-one help on all of the issues raised in this article and many more. If you would like to find out more about our services, visit the Education Consultants homepage or to speak directly with one of the team email [email protected] or call 0203 286 6824