Preparing to return to school
Back to school
I wanted to share some ideas to help support you with the transition and preparation for returning back to school. We’ve been at home for quite some time now and I’m sure many children are really looking forward to going back.
However, there are going to be varying degrees of excitement amongst individuals. While some will be very excited and will go back to school taking everything easily in their stride, there will be children who will find it quite challenging. They may be anxious or worried about a variety of things and they will need support to manage their feelings and emotions.
You might start to see some signs of anxiety in your child over the few days leading up to the return to school. Be mindful of watching for any unusual behaviour. Are they quieter than normal, perhaps more emotional, or having difficulty sleeping? We want to try to get them to open up about what’s bothering them. Finding out specifically what they are worried or anxious about.
Everyone has had different experiences during this time at home away from school. There’s one thing that we’ve all shared though. That is the fact that there’s been lots of changes. It is something that we all share collectively, and that can provide some comfort to your children when you talk about what’s happening at the moment.
There’s been changes for everyone, both adults and children and it is good that your child is aware of this. Some children, weren’t going to school like normal and there have been people that haven’t been able to see loved ones.
There have been separations from key people in the children’s lives like family and friends. Some may have had losses, unfortunately. There are also some whose parents weren’t able to go to work, could have lost their job or maybe became ill, and may still be suffering from Post Covid Syndrome (Long Covid).
It can be very reassuring for your child to know that it’s not just them missing school but that everybody in the country has been finding different things difficult, including you! We want children to have some coping strategies, including the importance of talking with family, friends, and teachers.
Show that you are vulnerable too while giving them strength and that you have also been finding things difficult. You could say for example, “well, you know, I miss being able to go see my mum, just as much as you miss going to see Nanny” in response to the things they say.
We want to acknowledge how they feel about what has happened, just empathise and practise acceptance, but without dwelling on the negative for too long.
Talking and Listening is the key
Talk to them and get them to open up, to see if you can alleviate any of those worries or anxieties. A huge part of our role as parents is to be listening to them. We need to listen perhaps in a way that we sometimes don’t do as parents.
It’s often our job to fix things, but sometimes we should just listen to our children and be there for them because we can’t fix everything. There are times when we need to be a sounding board. Repeat back to them what they have said to you rephrased, and they will know for sure that they have been listened to and heard.
Even if you can’t fix things, just to talk about it and have someone listen is healthy and it is good to tell children this. If we just sit back, listen, and let them tell us what’s bothering them, they can sometimes work through it themselves by just talking and letting it come out. Listening, reassurance and acceptance are healing.
Just listen and respond appropriately:
• “yeah, I feel a bit like that too.”
• “I also felt this way because I couldn’t do……”
• “I wish I could just pop to the shops like I used to.”
This will help your child to realise that you are going through it as well, you can relate to how they are feeling and they are not alone. They will know that you’re having the same feelings and having to deal with them too. Also, that they can talk to you about anything and that they’re not going to be judged.
It’s not a problem what they feel, because it’s what they feel and no matter what, it is okay. If you’re finding that your child is extra worried and they’ve got a lot of concerns they’re coming up with and they’re very anxious, then an idea is to write a list.
If they’re a younger child, you could write it for them, or they could draw pictures of the things that are concerning them. It’s good to keep this as a record to refer back to as time goes by.
As they’re drawing the pictures or writing the things down, you can acknowledge each concern and let them know that you can’t always fix things, but that maybe together you could look at how you can try to find something positive from those things that are troubling them.
Don’t try to fix difficult emotions, just acknowledge and allow them, and never try to fix anything until it has been clearly acknowledged.
There may be different worries that crop up after they return to the school that are different from the list and many of those worries already listed will hopefully have been addressed.
They may be a bit reluctant to talk about their feelings and or be unsure what to say, so if they’re not that open, you can encourage them with open-ended questions. I suggest you talk to them when you are doing a fun activity together and not just sitting down to have the chat.
You might be making something with Lego, baking in the kitchen, or whatever it is that you like to do together. During this activity, engage them in conversation with open-ended questions to try and establish anything that might be worrying them.
Start with the positive questions.
Open ended questions:
• “What are you looking forward to?”
• “What do you think will be ok or easy to manage?”
• “What do you think you might find difficult?”
You can encourage answers by suggesting some ideas of what they may be looking forward to with positivity and enthusiasm.
• “All those friends that you’re going to see.”
• “Things starting to get back to normal in our lives with you at school every weekday again”.
Be available for them
Aim to reassure them that you are available for them to come to you and talk at any time they need to. You’re just listening and not necessarily going to try to fix it. This is why you should talk about how you feel as well, for example, “I feel sad about that too.” or “yeah, this isn’t a great time for everyone and things can be difficult at the moment”.
You are basically just acknowledging that this is happening and acknowledging that whatever they are feeling is ok. After acknowledging the ‘yucky things’ you can turn to the positive of looking at what you can control or look forward to.
Think about how it might be in the near future when things can keep getting a bit more back to normal. Imagine looking back at this time in the past from the future when the Coronavirus isn’t causing so much change.
We also need to let the children know why changes are happening because if we don’t let them know the reason, there can be fear attached to that and they can feel powerless. Therefore, we need to talk about Coronavirus so that they can understand and feel safe.
I’m sure you have already touched on the subject in your family, but we can address it in a way that is similar to other situations that they’ve experienced in school and then they can relate to it. Even though this is a very new thing for all of us, and none of us have experienced this before.
We can relate it to chickenpox, or a tummy bug in their class, where they will be aware that several children have suffered from that. It gets passed from one to the other because it’s contagious. Then the children infected have had to stay away from the school for up to two or three days until they were clear of that virus so that they didn’t infect the other children.
We can talk about Coronavirus essentially in the same way. It is a virus that is more easily transmittable than those other viruses’ that I just mentioned, but it is similar in that we just want to be able to keep everybody safe from catching it.
As it’s such a new virus, they’re still finding out about it and learning. So, we want to make sure that we do everything we can to stay safe and avoid lots of people catching it.
Relaying it to your child in this way doesn’t make it such a big thing for them and a little less like the big new unknown. Now they can relate more to the situation using existing coping strategies they already have.
They should know that if someone catches it in their class, the whole class will spend time off school just be sure no one has caught it so that it can’t be passed it on accidentally to anyone new.
Obviously, with younger children, you’re going to keep explanations on a basic level, but you’re still going to be explaining to them that this is the way it needs to be at the moment so we can all stay safe.
Reminding them that school is a place where they can continue to be safe until things go back to normal.
You must always answer questions honestly, always telling them the truth, or you may lose their trust. You can explain just enough detail in a recognisable framework that is going to help them to understand.
Explaining that it is similar to a chickenpox virus but it is infecting more people, and people are getting more ill from it, you are being honest, but you are not going into many details.
You’re letting them know gently that this is the reality of the world that they live in at the moment. It then all becomes less uncertain for them because now they understand why everything is happening.
If your child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it’s absolutely fine to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question”, or “I don’t know that either”. Be comfortable being vulnerable in front of your child and share with them that you are going through the same thing and that you just don’t have all the answers.
There is a really good book that’s been illustrated by Axel Schaefer called ‘A book for children, Coronavirus’. It’s a child’s guide to Coronavirus, and it is a child-friendly way of explaining the virus. There is a version free on the internet as a pdf or it can be purchased from a book shop like Amazon.
What to expect when you return to school.
We also need to talk to the children about what they’re going to expect when they go back to school. A good way to open that dialogue is to ask them what they remember about routines and talk about what the school was like. Some children have already been back once or twice after a lockdown, so in some ways, it could be easier when they return this time.
Start on the positive spin by talking about what’s going to be the same. When we start with these positives before we go into the expectations of what’s going to be different, they have the familiarity first and that’s safe for them.
Once they begin to open up about routines and how they remember them, you can continue the talk about what will be the same. Let them know that there’s going to be lots of things just like they remember which will stay as they were.
• The people are going to be the same, the building, uniform, lunch, break times will still happen.
• You will see your friends, and there’s going to be lots of things in the classroom that are the same.
• Then you can begin to point out that there might be some things in the classroom that are different or might be missing.
• Just like last time there may be furniture changes, resources, seating, for example, and all your class will be back together at last, but maybe different adults will work with you.
Talking about these possibilities will help them to expect changes and not be so affected by them when they happen.
You want your child to have the support mechanism of knowing that you’re there to listen anytime and the teachers and all of the staff in the school are also there for them when they return. It’s important to remind them to speak to their teachers if they have any worries or they’re anxious, as they normally would.
• “You’ve got people in school who care about you, just like we do at home.”
• “They are ready to listen and be there for you and it’s important that you still tell them anything you are worried about or concerns just as you did before.”
Keep talking after they return
Let your child know that talking is extremely healthy. After they return back to school it is essential to continue talking and listening. Keep asking those open-ended questions to try and get them to open up about how the day has been.
open-ended questions after being at school:
• “What was good about today?”
• “What was your favourite thing that you did today?”
• “What was challenging or difficult today?”
I would give them time and space when they first come out of school. Avoid approaching questions straight away and give them time. The message that you are sending to them is that it’s ok for them to choose when they want to talk.
If you bring it up a little later and they still don’t feel like talking, they can choose another time and that’s fine. It tells them that you are there for them, that you will always be there and you are ready to listen when they are ready on their terms. They should get a sense of safety and hopefully feel better about the things that are worrying them.
It’s also a perfect time to remind them of all those rules that they’re going back to. Children like rules and routines so that they know what is expected of them, and it makes them feel secure and safe. Children like to know where they stand and are clear on what they should and shouldn’t do.
It’s a good time to press that point, that now more than ever, we need to show kindness and be helpful and loving towards others. This can really empower your child to be able to do something to help in a situation where they may otherwise feel powerless with all the restrictions, such as not being able to go where they want to go.
They’ll be going back to the rules of being kind to everybody. This has been a tough time for everyone. Things have been so different with so much uncertainty.
That is why it is important that we share with them what to expect, what is coming, why it’s happened, and why we’re still being careful of Coronavirus.
Be mindful of your influence
Your attitude towards things as a parent is important as well. If you are very positive about the need to return to learning at school and about Coronavirus in general, this will influence how your child feels too.
Even if you do have your own anxieties or concerns, try to keep your child shielded from these as much as possible. Try if possible to promote the positivity of going back to school and learning.
Let the children know that this is where they need to be, this is what they are supposed to do. Remind them that it is normal to be going to school every day and returning home, and these recent times have just been very unusual circumstances.
Also when they return, it’s important to not have any pressure on them academically. So, although you might feel that they may have ‘gone backward a bit’ and they’re not where they need to be, or you’re concerned that they’re not going to make it to where they should be at the end of the year, just don’t worry!
You should put your trust and faith in the teachers. Try not to be too over-concerned about the academic side of things because when the children go back, they’re just going to be settling in and getting used to things again. Academics won’t be at the forefront for the children during the settling time.
Teachers always take children onwards from where they are when they come to school. They move them forward from that position. When the children return, the teachers will be settling the children back to school gently whilst checking where they are in their learning and planning to move them forward to where they want them to be.
Initially, I suspect that it will be very much about building the ethos of the class in the environment again, reminding the children of the rules, reminding them about all of the different rules regarding COVID, but alongside this, I’m sure the teachers will certainly be on it from the get-go!
Letting them know its ok
There might be new rules around COVID that could be different from the last time they were in school. In case there are, your child needs reassurance to know that if they make a mistake with new rules and they forget, that’s okay. Remind them that everybody makes mistakes and they have a lot of changes to get used to, so not to worry about getting it wrong.
Some children really don’t like doing anything wrong in school and they find it quite easy to follow the structure of usual rules and don’t like to break any of them. When there are lots of new unusual rules introduced it’s quite easy to forget the odd thing. It’s important that they know that it’s not a problem and that we all do that from time to time.
Your child may also be concerned about their friendships at school. They might be worried about whether their friends will still want to play with them. They may wonder if they will still want to be friends, or that it’s been a long time since they saw them or spoke to them, and will they even remember them. They could have all sorts of insecurities in this respect. Again, it’s good to get to the bottom of the specifics of what is worrying them.
If you do find that friendship is a problem or that they’re concerned about it, you can structure help to reassure them. You could contact the parents of one or two of your child’s friends and talk about having a zoom meeting or face time between the children before school starts. That way the children can have a little chat, share with each other about things they’ve been doing or talk about what they’re excited to do when they go back to school.
Just touching base with a friend might stop your child from feeling as anxious about returning. When they go in for that first day back they’re going to know that they are going to see that friend they spoke with the other day and that could really help them to feel safe.
Even if they’re not that anxious about their friends, I think it is still a lovely idea. If you can do that with one or a few friends, it’s really nice reassuring thing for any child regardless.
Routines and boundaries
It is helpful for you to get your home routines iron clad and consistent shortly before going to school. It’s good practise for the children to get used to getting up early for school and practise getting ready within a time deadline. Allow them to get back into many routines of having, for example, your evening meal times at the exact time each day, keeping things very structured.
• we have our meal,
• this next thing happens
• then we’ve got ……,
• then bath,
• then book
• then we go to bed.
Keeping your home routines really clear and structured is going to make them feel safe.
They’re going to know that it’s always safe at home, they will know what to expect, what is coming next, and what’s going to happen. If they feel safe at home, then it doesn’t matter what’s happening outside the house, no matter how scary or worrying, they know that they’re safe at home. Hopefully, by remembering the rules and routines, they will easily get this same sense of safety in school soon after they are back.
The same goes for boundaries. Your rules and boundaries need to be crystal clear. Be consistent and ridged about screen time, bedtimes, and all the normal rules you have structured because this consistency and expectation will also make them feel safe.
The school will be doing the same and so your child will then begin to see that it’s safe in school as well and that this is going to be okay. The predictability and clear schedule are going to really help your child.
Tell them why it’s so important to be healthy, sleep well and get good rest, so they are strong enough to handle things that might feel a challenge. A good night’s sleep helps us to cope better at times when we feel a bit emotional or a little bit worried about things. Remind them to also look after themselves and others by being helpful and kind.
Prepare, and get everything ready:
• Gather any work they may have done at home in case their teacher would like to see it,
• Make sure that the uniform fits and is ready,
• P.E. kit,
• water bottle,
• bags ready,
• Encourage the children to be part of this preparation and remind yourselves of the routines you may be out of the habit of doing.
• Check regularly for emails from school about the logistics of changes in your school to be sure you’re not missing anything which may be last minute.
• Remind your child about any specifics, such as, using different entrances to other classes or following in a different route to their classrooms, and one-way systems for social distancing.
• Talk to them about those things that they will need to expect again so that it’s not a surprise. Many will be specific to your school.
• Make the arrangements to pay for your child’s milk or school dinners.
• Ask the school questions about anything you are not sure about.
• Make sure that you talk to their teacher and, or the school if there is particular worry or anxiety that comes up for your child.
• Also, share with them any changes that may have happened at home or in your family so that they can help with supporting them when they’re in school.
Home & School
Let your child know that you are still in conversation with the teachers and the school. What they saw before the lockdown was us going to the gates, everyone’s got masks on, and no one’s talking.
They’re not seeing us interact with the staff as we would’ve before, but they need to know that it is still happening, that we are talking, and that this is a partnership.
Be sure to let your child know we are very much working together with the school to make this the best possible situation for them because we all care. We are talking with their teachers, by email, messaging, and phone.
Finally, enjoy reminiscing about the time you’ve spent together at home and with the home learning. A lot of children have really enjoyed this time and a lot of parents have as well. It’s been a very precious time for some people and a lot of happy family memories in amongst all the difficulties.
I just wanted to cover some things that could be helpful for you, before going back to school. I really hope these will help you to have those engagements with your child and to be ready and prepared. Preparing them so that they are more confident and happier about returning.
We want to alleviate their worries as much as we can, prepare them as much as possible and reinforce that …
Home is safe!
School is safe!
I really do hope that some of the things I’ve shared with you today will be helpful for you. I wish you the best of luck with the transitions, and I hope your children will be more confidently looking forward to returning back to school.