Returning to school after COVID-19 lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 and the lockdown has certainly had an impact on all of us, not least our children. So, how can we help?
As lockdown eases, children of all ages and their parents may feel anxious about returning to school after such an extended break and worrying about how safe it is for their children.
For many children, lockdown has been a happy and safe experience that they may not want to change but they will have no doubt desperately missed their friends, teachers, the school routine and extra-curricular activities.

Without doubt, the situation we have all been through has heightened anxiety levels for many people, however, be reassured it is entirely ‘normal’ to be feeling this way, and lot of people are feeling like this.

Any situation around change and uncertainty is something that can affect us all and we all have our own ways of responding to stress and anxiety.

Children may become withdrawn, regress, and become more ‘babyish’, start wetting the bed, be unusually clingy, want to be with you 24/7, be ‘naughtier’ and seek attention or lash out.
Young adults can also be withdrawn, avoid conversations, find it difficult to concentrate, be irritable and show their concerns by ‘catastrophising’ (giving the worst possible outcome of a situation).

As adults, we can normally reason out our fears and come up with solutions. Children find that difficult to do, and are unable to think about or verbalise how they feel and why?
Young adults can shut down to conversations of this type, as they may perceive it as more pressure. A lot of these types of behaviour are normal but do seek help and support if you have concerns or feel you are struggling to cope with your child’s anxiety.

Things that may help

• Children mostly take their cues about how to deal with situations from the adults around them. Be mindful of your own stress levels and anxiety and look after You too – Practising mindfulness or doing exercise is great. If they can join in – even better. Music and singing are a great mood shifter so try and factor in having some fun.

• Be aware of using negative language or talking about your worries about them returning to school within your child’s earshot.

• If your child is worried about going back to school, it isn’t enough to say, “everything will be alright”.

Acknowledge how they feel, and that it is ok if they feel worried.
You can ask younger children ‘where in their body is their worry?’ for a lot of children they will say their tummy. You can ask them if it is like ‘butterflies?’ and respond with ‘Oh I get those fluttery butterflies in my tummy too and this is what I do… and get them shaking off their worries, or taking deep breaths, or imagine letting the butterflies fly away to teach them a mechanism to cope.

• Younger children can benefit from having a worry teddy or doll, that they can tell their worries to before going to sleep.
• With older children – let them know it is Ok to feel anxious and that the feelings can just be some apprehension and are the same for excitement too! That after day one or two they will feel much better. Let them know you are there for them and encourage them to talk to who they feel most comfortable with. (A useful trick can be talking to your young teenager with the lights off, to help them feel less self-conscious).
• In the household, try to limit the news coverage of the pandemic and stick to things you can control within your environment and your child’s school.
• On a practical level – connect with parents and children your child knows from school. Arrange a safe play date or meeting where you can share your worries with other parents too.
• Look up the school on their website and check out any photos of the school. Walk or drive past the school a few times before the term starts. Also, get your child involved in getting their uniform and bag ready.
• Encourage your child to talk about what they like doing at school.
• If your child is moving from primary to secondary, remember that their anxieties are real, and ones they may have had anyway.
• Most schools have good information on their website about the safety measures they have put in place and the care they are taking to ensure a smooth return for all. Contact the school if you are particularly concerned. Maybe for those children who are most anxious, a visit could be arranged?
• Some Children worry about leaving their parent alone at home, reassure them that you will be fine, let them know your plans and that whoever is picking them up will be there. Plan what is for dinner those first days, so they feel reassured and know what to expect.
• For most children of all ages – after the first few days of getting back to school, a routine will soon be found, and they will have survived and so will you!

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