Rayna Shock MA,
UKCP reg Child & Adult Counsellor / Psychotherapist,
Trainer & Consultant
Workshops & Advice for Parents
Lockdown: Advice for Parents -
How to help your children
return to School
Some of your children will be desperate to get back to school, to see their friends and their teachers again. Others might find leaving home more difficult after such a long time at home with their families. For these children, being at home will, unconsciously, have felt like returning to the safety of the womb and they may feel reluctant to re-emerge into the world once again.
There will also be some parents, who are worried about sending their children back to school for safety reasons and some who are anxious because they have to send their fearful child back because of their own work commitments. It is useful for parents to recognise that, since children are highly attuned to their parents’ emotions, parents’ anxiety will transfer, at some level, to them.
There are very many reasons why going back to school might be stressful for some children. So, how do parents help them return to what will not be a normal situation?
Prepare your children well for going back to school:
Your children need to be well prepared for what to expect when they go back to school, as far as this is possible. School will not be the same and they need to understand this, particularly any new procedures and rules around social distancing. There will be smaller classes, different rules, routines, lunch arrangements etc. which the school will have explained clearly to parents and which you can discuss with your children in an age appropriate way.
Your children need to be made aware that they may be separated from some of they friends. If they understand why this has to be the case and if you are positive in the way you put this to them, (explaining that it is a good opportunity to make new friends), your children will also feel more positive about the situation. The more upbeat and confident you are as parents, the more your children will be too, as they will naturally take their cue from you. Focusing on the positives will also help manage their expectations when they return to school.
It is important that you allow your children to ask you whatever questions they need and to express their fears and anxieties, if they have any, openly and without judgment. If you find that any of your children keeps asking the same questions, it is a clue that they are anxious and need reassurance.
It should already be clear that parents also need to prepare themselves emotionally for their children returning to school. You need to be honest about your own anxieties about releasing your children from home after so long, especially if they have separation anxiety or if they are anxious about going back. As suggested above, children are highly attuned to their parents’ feelings, whether these are expressed openly or not. So, if you are worried about returning to work outside the home yourself, just be aware that your children will sense that. If they see that their parents are worried, they may feel they need to be too, even if they are also eager to go back to school. The calmer and more positive and excited the parents sound, the more confident their children will be.
If you have a child who is reluctant to go back to school, or if s/he has siblings who are not going back, explain why this is the case and try to help your child to see that s/he is the lucky one to be going back. S/he will have the exciting opportunity to play with his/her (new) friends, see his/her teachers again etc. It would be useful to ask your child what she needs (from you, from school) to help him/her feel better/safer/more confident about going back into the classroom. Inform the class teacher that your chid is anxious or unhappy about returning, so that the teacher is aware.
If you, as parents, are anxious, make sure that you keep well informed and try to manage your own anxiety. School will have thought long and hard about your children’s safety, as well as that of the staff; so it will help if you can take a deep breath, trust the decisions school has made and hand over the responsibility for worrying about your children to the teachers while they are at school. It will free you up both to be more confident about sending them back and to get on with your own work!
2. When your daughter comes home from school:
Make sure that you spend quality time with your children to talk about their day. In a tone, which expects a positive response, ask them what they did that day, what they enjoyed and how they found the new routines etc. Ask them also if there was anything, which they found hard and explore this gently with them..
Quality time every day is particularly important for those children who may have attachment/separation issues and those children, who may have imagined that their siblings have had all day with their parent(s), even if they have not. This may seem obvious; but it is worth emphasising in this context, since everyone’s anxiety may be heightened.
3. Over time:
Most children will adapt easily to the new routines at school, especially as they will have been well prepared in advance. Others may take a little longer to adjust, depending on their personality. It is also worth noting that if a child does not display distress on his/her first day or even week back at school, it does not mean to say that this will always be the case. If your child has been talking openly to you every day after school, you should easily pick up any signs that all is not well.
If any of your children become more anxious, irritable, angry, frustrated or becomes quieter than normal, if s/he becomes fussier, complains of poor sleep or nightmares, develops more obsessive routines at home (for example, washing hands more obsessively than normal), this should alert you to the fact that your child may be distressed or anxious. It is important for parents to remain calm and to discover what lies behind the behaviours rather than punish them.
Because you have been speaking to your child regularly and openly about his/her feelings, with gentle encouragement, your child is likely to tell you what is wrong. It is really important to validate his/her feelings, however trivial they may seem. Listen attentively, ask open questions, empathise with your child; and try to manage your own emotions. Look at the situation from all perspectives, before exploring a solution. A calm, patient, rational approach is always recommended, as is alerting school if there is an issue you cannot resolve at home with your child.
Tip: Anger is a symptom of anxiety, so before you react angrily to any situation, try to work out whether anxiety lies behind the anger, so that you can choose more consciously how to respond. It would be useful to teach this also to the rest of the family so that you are all less reactive, when challenges arise!
Most of your children will be excited to return to school and will not experience any issues. Even if the above advice does not apply to your children right now, much of it applies in any situation, so is well worth considering for the future; and, if you are doing all these things anyway, you can feel reassured about the quality of your parenting skills!!