The return to school: How to help your children deal with uncertainty and change
**GUEST BLOG: Dr Elyse Waites, Deputy Head Pastoral**
As schools prepare to reopen their doors to their pupils in September there is much for us all to consider. Whether you are a pupil, parent, teacher, or a combination of the above, there will be anxieties to overcome and a new normal to prepare for.
This phase of the Covid-19 pandemic could prove to be the most challenging yet.
In order to prepare for this return to school we need to consider the challenges we have all faced over the last 5 months and how we can tackle these and support our children in September:
Lack of social contact
All of us have experienced a reduction in our social circle and while there have undoubtedly been benefits to the increased family time this has generated, there are also risks of children feeling isolated. It is important therefore, to allow children to reintegrate with their peers and to re socialise themselves before they go back into the school environment, which will in itself have fundamentally changed.
During lockdown, your child’s friendships may have become strained or deteriorated. Peer groups are an important source of support for young people, and this isolation may mean that many will have lacked a vital source of support in managing the stresses of the lockdown period.
In order to combat this, allow them the time to meet friends in small groups face to face so they can slowly build up their confidence and widen their social sphere again. Online socialising may be a bigger part of your child’s life these days but nothing can replace the interpersonal connections forged in face to face interactions. Being able to respond to nonverbal cues is an essential part of young people’s emotional toolkit and this is much harder to do online.
Many of our young people have experienced fear and loss, they may have seen loved ones become seriously ill or even die and may even be recovering themselves. It is important that you encourage or facilitate access to school counselling provision, where it is appropriate, or to speak to friends and teachers about what they have been through. All schools will be required to teach mental wellbeing as part of the PSHE curriculum from September 2020 so it will be approached by your child’s teachers in the near future.
Increased screen time
All school children will have experienced increased levels of screen time during the lockdown period, whether through online lessons or keeping in touch with friends and family. If my house is anything to go by, there will have also been a more ‘relaxed’ approach to online entertainment from parents desperate to get their own work done. This higher level of screen time is not without its benefits and many schools may now be riding this wave of online teaching in order to provide a varied and accessible curriculum for all. The number of educational apps and websites has surged enormously worldwide, with estimates tripling the worth of the Edtech market by 2025. There are now legitimate and valid reasons for your children to spend more time online. The increased risks that come with this are not to be ignored, however, and it is important that you speak openly and honestly to your children about internet safety. Sites such as Childnet, Netaware, Internet Matters and Think U Know have very useful resources to help you do this.
Changes to the school environment
When your child returns to school, it will not be to the ‘normal’ timetable and routine. Classes may be relocated and teachers may be changed. There will certainly be less movement around any school site and less mixing of year groups. Lunches may be staggered, assemblies may not happen and sports fixtures and school trips are all likely to be cancelled for the foreseeable future. I would recommend sitting down with your children and speaking about this frankly and honestly. It is not a permanent change, but it is certainly an important one. Managing the disappointment and potential anger at the injustice of a missed residential or sports tournament is something that would be good to get out of the way before September so that the return to school won’t be any more difficult than it needs to be.
Top takeaways to help you manage your child’s anxiety about returning to school:
1 – It is important for you to manage your own emotions and anxieties around your child’s return to school. Children take their emotional cues from adults so it is important you remain calm, listen to their concerns and reassure them.
2 – Have open and honest conversations. Reassure them that it is normal to feel anxious and that emotions will change as time goes on. Have regular ‘checking in’ conversations and be calm and pro active throughout. Have these conversations when your child is calm and not overly worried. Drop these questions into chats you might have on walks or car drives.
3 – Remind them of the positives and of the mundane. Walk past their school and look at the building, remind them where they will be going back to. Look back at old school photos or recordings of assemblies or plays. Recount funny stories from the time before lockdown and ask questions such as ‘Who is the funniest person in your class?’, ‘Who are you most looking forward to seeing?’, ‘Who is most likely to have had a silly haircut?’ This should encourage recollection of the good times and remind your child that they are returning to a safe and nurturing environment.