August 27th, 2020

Returning to School -it will all be a bit different

The next return to school will be like none other. Most children have been learning from home for months in the UK. Some went back in whole or in part at the end of last term. Some have not been in face to face learning since March.

A few parents have loved the opportunity to individualise their child’s learning and to spend some real quality time with their kids. Others have found it incredibly difficult to supervise home learning while working themselves or caring for younger children. This is not a moment to compare your parenting with others’ and feel bad if you are longing to send your kids back to school. Each family has different circumstances and how home learning has impacted you will have depended on multiple factors like your children’s ages, educational needs and abilities, their temperament, your work and childcare commitments, your own wellbeing and your support structures.

In September all school children, including those with special needs will be expected to return to school. Attendance will be mandatory. Schools have had to adjust quickly and put a range of measures in place with extra cleaning protocols and to try to keep children apart by keeping classes or whole year groups apart in separate ‘protective bubbles’ and by having staggered break times as well as reducing parent contact at drop offs. Many parents are concerned about how all this will work and there is confusion resulting from conflicting scientific advice.

I have no medical expertise and don’t purport to offer opinions on that but I know in each country with easing of restrictions we are constantly making assessments about balancing risks. In this case the risks we’re weighing up are the damage to education and social learnings from remaining out of school versus the risk of contracting or transmitting the virus. The current science (and this changes all the time with experience) seems to suggest that healthy children are less likely to contract or pass on the disease than adults and they experience less severe symptoms if they do fall ill. When they do get ill it seems more likely that they have contracted it from an adult rather than another child.  In some countries they have taken the view (based on differing amounts of virus in the community) that social distancing measures for children are unwarranted.

Of course there are many different views circulating and a high degree of confusion and anxiety about children returning to school. One of the things we have all had to get used to in the era of Covid-19 is a much higher degree of uncertainty and for many this is very hard to cope with. There are reports of disturbed sleep, higher rates of intense dreaming and more dependence on alcohol.

You may be anxious about sending your child back to school for reasons of logistics (issues with transport or contact with other people en route) or health (either theirs or that of another member of your household). But when your child goes back to school there will be some things you can do to help them settle back in happily:

  1. Manage stress. Your child may well be both excited and nervous at the same time. You may be anxious too. That is a normal response to what’s happening but stress releases the chemical cortisol which turns off the thinking brain so we need to get anxiety levels in check. Do whatever you can to manage your own anxiety as this will transmit to your children. Notice the feelings in your body that arise and thank your body for priming you to deal with what it perceives as a threat. Acknowledge your fears (my child might contract the virus), remind yourself of the probability of those fears arising (low in healthy children) and tell yourself that you will be able to cope if what you’re afraid of eventuates. Remind yourself of other times when you’ve been resourceful. How many unexpected circumstances have you dealt with in the course of this pandemic so far? You are adaptable.
  2. Avoid avoidance. Do not allow your child to avoid school because of anxiety. This will reinforce the idea that school really is a threatening place. Instead support them to understand how anxiety can play tricks on us by alerting us to threats which aren’t real or are out of proportion and help them face their fears. That doesn’t mean dismissing their worries. Parents need to help children move through anxiety to the calm on the other side. This is how resilience is nurtured.
  3. If your child is anxious have that same conversation with them, starting with acknowledging their fears and ending with focusing on their resourcefulness. Empathy is the antidote to stress. It is an important step in the maturation of a human being that they can hold two feelings at the same time. The anxiety they may have on returning to school is tempered by the excitement of being with friends again. The worries they may have about having fallen behind are balanced with knowing they can ask their teachers for help and that they may be more stimulated by working in a group setting. We can help our children accept these conflicting emotions just by naming them. “You probably feel a bit nervous about going back to school and excited at the same time.” Your child might have worries about friendships after long gaps of not seeing anyone. Acknowledge it if you’re aware that this is a concern even if they don’t voice it. “You might be worried about seeing your friends again after such a long gap. Maybe you’re wondering if they will still want to be your friend.”
  4. Let your child know what has been done to keep them safe at school and that their teachers are aware that there might be some gaps in their learning and will help them all to catch up.
  5. Find their inner resources. Feeling like you can do something alleviates anxiety. Virus-related concerns can be met with hygiene and social distancing measures and mask-wearing. Educational gaps can be dealt with through discussions with teachers. Friendship issues can be prepared for at home. This is a great opportunity to talk to your child about what it means to be a good friend. You might consider sitting down with your child to make an ‘advertisement for a good friend’. What qualities would they need? Get your child to identify those characteristics like sharing interests, loyalty, fun, accepting you as you are etc. Use role play to build on social skills like reading social cues, taking turns, asking for things and saying no appropriately, responding to teasing etc. Point to moments where your child has demonstrated resourcefulness previously.

Of course point to the good things about going back to school, and smile! Let your child know you will miss them and look forward to hearing all about their day at home time.

Posted in: Coronavirus , Schooling





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