Supporting your children in their return to school

By Kirsty Lilley, Mental Health Specialist at CABA, the wellbeing charity

The majority of children and young people have been away from their schools since lockdown, therefore it is unsurprisingly that they may be feeling anxious or worried about returning to 'normality'. There are many reasons why returning to school may feel difficult right now and young people may experience a range of emotions including anxiety, worry, sadness, irritability and fear.

As a parent, how can you work to support your children in the most productive way as they navigate this change? Whether they've been back a few days or are facing a staggered return to the classroom, this will be a huge change for your children, who will need to be supported throughout this transition.

Talk to your child about how they're feeling

Ask them how they are feeling about going back to school and remember to try not to make assumptions. Ask them if they are worried or feel scared about anything, but also if they are excited or looking forward to something. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal to feel a mixture of emotions and that everyone will be feeling slightly similar. Validate their feelings and reassure them it's normal and ok to be worried. Use positive affirmations and focus on their strengths and the resources they have to help them through this time.

Reassure your child

During the lockdown we have been told to stay at home, remain socially distant from others and wash our hands regularly. This means children may find it difficult to go back to school because it will be a huge change from what they have been asked to do during the pandemic. Talk with your child about ways they can stay safe at school, such as washing their hands before and after eating, and reassure them that the school are putting measures in place to keep them safe.

Re-establish a routine to help ease into school life

During lockdown it is understandable that your family's routine changed. To help them adapt to this strange new routine of early mornings and school lunches, make sure they know what's coming each day. Tell them who is collecting them from school at the end of the day and discuss with them what they're having for dinner. Having just a few certain aspects will make their day that little bit easier to understand.

Think ahead

As well as reflecting on what has happened during the past few weeks, it is important to help children develop hope and a sense of excitement for the future. At a time like this, it can be hard to feel positive, but identifying the things that they can look forward to will help them to realise that the current situation won't last forever and their feelings will change. Perhaps arrange a playdate or catch up with friends so they can talk through their feelings with their peer group.

Don't put pressure on yourself

The transition back into school is likely to take some time. Lots of children will experience ups and downs. Try your best to support, reassure and comfort them, without putting pressure on yourself to make sure their homework is done or they settle into a new routine straightaway. Create a safe and loving environment at home where children and young people can talk freely about their concerns and feel confident that you will listen and provide a safe container for any big emotions they may be experiencing. It's important that you look after yourself as a parent so you can remain available, calm and responsive to your child's needs. Find ways to support yourself and take time out to manage your own stress levels.

Seek support if you need it

Transitioning back to school after being in lockdown is no easy task. You may find that your child struggles to get back into school or experiences difficulties while they're at school. If this is the case, reach out to your child's school as soon as you can so that you can make them aware of the challenges and work together to support your child. If you are concerned about your child's mental health and you think they need professional support, speak to the school and your GP about the best next step. Successfully returning children and young people to school will be a collaboration between parents and carers, school communities and the wider community. You're not alone and reassure your child that there is a whole community of adults making things as safe as possible for them to return to school.

This is going to be a huge adjustment for both you and your children, so take it at a pace that suits your family. Being supportive and present will go a long way in ensuring your children transition back into school is as smooth as possible.

As lockdown continues to ease and new challenges emerge, we want to help you maintain a sense of balance and control in your lives. That's why CABA has launched a new campaign site called 'Keeping Yourself Well', which will feature a collection of self-help articles on topics such as returning to work, socialising, and managing increased workloads, along with information on all of our support services. Our content will cover all areas of wellbeing – mental, physical, career, financial, care and relationships – and we'll continue to add more useful resources in line with what's happening in the world.

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