I think most of us are looking forward to getting back into a routine and the children returning to school or nursery. However, I know that for many this comes with some anxiety and worry for both parents and children as to what will school look like, how different will things be, will my child be safe. With so much conflicting information from the media, the Government and schools it is hard to know how to handle the return to school and what to do about any fears or concerns that children may have.
While it has not always been easy on families to spend this enforced time together in a lot of cases it has created much stronger ties and links with each other and changed the way things are done at home. The more relaxed routines within the household have helped to create closer relationships and a recognition that pre lock down life was often stressful and busy and whilst many families are conscious they don’t want to return to this they also understand that life has to return to some sort of normality. Every family is different, but the most important thing is to plan ahead and ensure that your children’s needs and concerns are the priority.
Recognising that you and your children may struggle with separation after a long period of time together is the first step. Many of us have been very strict about social distancing, remaining in the home and not visiting others, masks, hand washing etc so retuning to school and nursery with the possibility that social distancing is not going to be as easy and that not everyone will behave in the same way as you can be hard. For a child who has been used to severe restrictions in the home this may come as a shock. We need to ensure that we prepare children in plenty of time for how things are going to work in their particular school or nursey.
So how can we help alleviate our children’s fears about returning to school and how can we ensure that it is a positive experience?
One of the biggest issues is that everything is changing on a week by week basis (sometimes day but day) and we cannot always plan too far ahead. Children need to understand that whilst there is a plan in place to get all children back into school and nursery everyone has to be flexible and that whilst we hope that our little ones will be back with their friends and have the same teachers etc this may not happen. We need to reassure them that whilst this is hard, it will be okay. None of us like uncertainty and the unknown and as parents we often try to find an answer to our children’s questions even if we are unsure ourselves but it’s important for them to understand that sometimes you just don’t know and balance this with pointing out things that will be the same and are in their control, like handwashing, wearing masks, pick ups times, etc.
If it’s possible contact the school or nursery and ask what arrangements they are putting in place so that you have time to explain and reassure you children, ask about playtimes, clubs, were they eat their lunch etc and if they are planning on using the outside more what is in place once the weather becomes colder. If you feel in control and knowledgeable about what might happen you will be more able to reassure your child and keep your own anxieties hidden.
Talk about how your child might handle a particular situation, for example if the school is creating bubbles of children how will they feel if only some of their friends are in that group and what will they do if another friend can’t play with them because they are in another bubble. Children are excellent at understanding situations if they are explained clearly and with recognition of how hard it might be for them. If your school is encouraging mask wearing, teach your child to put the mask on correctly and how to remove it to eat or if they are out in the open and do not need to wear it. If your child struggles with mask wearing help them feel more comfortable with the idea by making it into a fun game. One idea is to say, “Your mask gives you superpowers, so you want to make sure to keep it on all the time. And if you touch your face or touch someone else, that reduces your power.” Remind them of the important of handwashing and practice this as well. Chat to other parents about a fun way that children can greet each other if they usually run up and hug one another or put their arms around each other, get the children involved in finding different ways of showing their affection and delight at seeing each other. Explain to your child that if they have a problem it is still okay to talk to their teacher or another member of the school staff and if they feel anxious or unsafe it is important that they do this.
Remaining positive at all times when you talk about returning to school or nursey with your child is key, so encouraging them to look at the positives, like seeing their friends, being able to play football, doing activities they can’t do at home will help them to remember that school was a happy and fun environment
Remember that as a parent you have fears and anxieties around your child returning to school but so will the teachers. This is a new situation for them and being understanding and flexible will benefit everyone. Give the teachers time to see where you child might be struggling and let them get systems in place to support your child. There number one priority in all this is to make sure that no child will lose out academically or emotionally. If you do have concerns, then find out the best way to speak to someone. It may be that you are not allowed in the school but that the teacher can ring you or you can send an email. If you have concerns the school will want to know about them, just recognise that the likely hood is that you won’t be the only parent who has worries and it may take them a little while to get round to everyone.
It is a difficult time for everyone and each of us has our own way of coping, be kind and understanding of others and encourage your children to do the same. Remain positive and upbeat when you talk to your children about going back to school