How to support children’s return to school - advice for parents
For the second time in under a year, children have experienced major turbulence in their school lives. The massive restrictions brought on by this latest lockdown have been piled on top of months of changes, anxiety and uncertainty. But there are things we can do to support children as they prepare to return to school.
The impact of school closures for children and families will have been significantly increased due to the lack of control over the changes, the speed they happened and the sense of déjà vu. A child might be desperate to return to school and hold on incredibly tight to the idea of it. This puts a lot of pressure on the schedule to go to plan and can leave the child with unrealistic expectations of what school will be like when they are back in the classroom. At the other end of the spectrum a child might be withdrawn and reluctant to engage with the idea of returning to school. School life and their friends were taken away, and that hurt, big time, so why would they open themselves up to being hurt again?
If you are worried about your child falling behind academically during lockdown, try to put that to one side. Your child's teacher will have loads of ideas on how to support them.
The tips below will help you prepare your child for returning to school by supporting their emotional needs.
Keeping the lines of communication open
Talk to your child, let them know you are there for them. If they don’t want to talk, let them know you will be ready to listen when they are ready to talk. Try to avoid making your child feel under pressure during the conversation or minimising what they say. Sometimes just being present is the most important thing we can do.
Some great responses to validate feelings are ‘I can hear you feel really nervous about...’, ‘Gosh, I can see how that would feel scary’. Responses like this let your child know you have listened, you can acknowledge and name the feeling without confirming it.
Give control where you can
Having a sense of control can ease anxiety and create a feeling of stability, but be careful not to overpromise. For example, let your child decide the order they complete agreed tasks, but don’t give them free rein on what the tasks are. Decide together what fun things you’ll do this week, but don’t plan something you have no control over, for example, what will happen at school.
Get outside when you can
Going outside reduces stress and is a simple way of improving the mental health and well-being of your family. So go outside, blow the cobwebs away and stretch your legs when you can.
If you, or your child, need some motivation getting outside try these free I Spy... Outdoor Challenge Cards.
Develop a positive mindset
Seeing the positive doesn’t mean ignoring the negative. Acknowledge what is difficult and think about what you can do to improve things. Ignoring negative feelings and events is similar to trying to hold a balloon underwater. It is possible for a short period of time, but eventually the balloon will spring up and cause a splash. After negative events or feelings have been processed, encourage your child to identify something positive. The positive things could be thought about privately or shared with someone trusted. Questions to prompt this line of thought could be ‘What did you enjoy today?’, ‘What are you looking forward to tomorrow?’ and ‘What are you looking forward to in the future?’
Having the ability to identify positives can be a light in a dark day.
This free Fixed Vs Growth Mindset Poster can help your child change how they approach challenges.
You know what typical behaviour looks like for your child. Look out for changes to identify if they are struggling. Behaviour is generally a more accurate identifier of well-being than anything else. Changes in sleeping or eating habits or an increase in emotional outbursts are signs your child might need some extra support. When you look beyond the behaviour, you can find the trigger and work out what support is needed. Try not to focus on what they did, but look for the why as this will lead you to how you can work as a team to move past the problem.