The ongoing pandemic has seen normal life completely change. We have been told to stay at home, social distance, avoid gathering with friends and family, exercise outside once per day and to work from home. All this has taken some getting used to and had an effect on our mental health.
Just like all these aspects of the pandemic have affected our mental wellbeing, all these plus the fact that schools have been closed and classes have been held online will have affected our children’s mental health significantly. They are not allowed to see their friends or their teachers and have to adapt to a whole new way of learning in a short space of time. As well as this many children do not fully understand the pandemic and its cause and so are left confused and upset.
On the 8th March, schools were once again allowed to open their doors to all pupils and to full capacity. While this is the first step in getting all our lives back to normal and a time for excitement and joy, some children may find this transition back to school quite difficult. This may be for many reasons, they have not had the social interaction they usually would, they may fear getting ill and in some cases may have developed mental health problems such as phobias and anxiety.
As a parent or carer of a child of school age, you play such an important part in helping them get through this transition back into their school and to normal life through your nurturing and support. Here are just a few ideas on things you can do to help your child feel more confident in returning to school.
Let them know their feelings are valid
Your child will more than likely be feeling all sorts of different emotions during this time. They may feel excited to go back to school to see their friends and be enthusiastic about their learning, but they may also feel quite anxious about the return, worried about how school may have changed and scared about the virus.
If they are feeling the latter and are anxious about going back to school the first thing you need to do is talk to them, with the main focus being to let them know that how they are feeling is ok. There is nothing wrong with feeling anxious or scared about the return and that many children will be feeling the same as them. Acknowledge how they are feeling, and listen to them. You could even tell them that lots of adults will be feeling that way as well about going back to work. We have all had to work or learn from home for a long time now and to feel anxious about returning is completely normal.
Keep a routine
During the lockdowns and the last few months especially with school being closed, we may have lost our sense of routine, especially in regards to school. While routines and structure in a day may not seem too important to adults, to children they can reassure them and are an important factor in their mood and productivity levels. Making sure to get back into the routine of having uniforms and lunches ready the night before, waking up early enough so that the children are not rushing and have time for a good healthy breakfast can set them up for a good day at school.
Additionally, sleep is so important to our own and our children’s mental health and a good night’s sleep can help your child be alert and ready to learn. Pairing regular bedtimes with a relaxing night time routine, such as a story before bed and no screens for 30 minutes before sleep, can significantly improve the quality of a child’s sleep.
Make sure to talk to your child regularly during the next couple of weeks and do not assume that just because they seem to be fine that they are, as they could be bottling up their feelings or simply do not know how to express themselves. Make this a regular conversation, asking them how they are, what they have enjoyed in the week, what they maybe haven’t enjoyed and things that you can improve on next week. This will make them feel supported and that their feelings and opinions are valid.
Your child may take a few weeks to adjust back to school life, so observe their behaviour and talk to them regularly throughout this transition back to normal life. If you have any concerns about what your child is doing or saying, perhaps they are having more problems sleeping than normal, not interacting with their friends as much, have changed their eating habits or are isolating themselves. If this is the case and these behaviours are happening over a prolonged period of time it is best to speak to your local GP or someone at the school for advice.
Focuson what they can control
At this time it’s easy to get carried away and think far into the future about our return to normal life, however this can actually sometimes be more stressful and overwhelming than exciting, especially if your child is prone to anxiety and worry. Focus on the present, what they are doing that day and what they can control such as getting their school bag ready, deciding what they will have for lunch, washing their hands regularly and wearing a mask if they are old enough.
If we look too far into the future we could also be let down if restrictions do not ease as we had hoped, so it is best to focus on our day or week ahead and how we can continue to keep ourselves and our children’s physical and mental health safe and healthy.