COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work, educate, communicate and socialise. The changes have been swift and profound – disrupting our way of life as we know it and causing a significant amount of stress and anxiety for many people. Throughout lockdown, we have been told to stay home, to maintain social distancing, to refrain from seeing family and friends and have been asked to stick to strict hygiene measures.
While recent weeks have given us a glimpse of a returning sense of normality, families still face uncertainty every day, much of which centres around the start of the new school year after a significant period of distance learning.
Going back to school will bring about a mixture of excitement and worry to children, let alone us as parents. Experiencing stress and anxiety about the upcoming change is completely normal – do not worry, you are not alone.
Thankfully, there are numerous steps we can take to support our children and ourselves to successfully manage this change so Annabel Lynch, a British mum, Therapist and Life Coach shares her advice on doing so:
- Increase your child’s sense of safety
- Re-establish routines early
- Build a sense of hope
- Build a sense of calm
- Support social connectedness
- Take care of yourself
Increase Your Child’s Sense of Safety
Prepare your child
Inform your child of changes to usual school processes, such as the layout of classrooms, structure of play times and changes to classmates. Provide your child with as much information as you can before they return to school, so they don’t have any unexpected surprises. Remember to do this in a calm and upbeat manner, so as not to cause any additional worry and ensure the information you share is age appropriate.
Reassure your child
Reassuring your child that their teachers and the school have implemented measures to ensure their safety will help to build up their sense of safety. You can also talk to them about extra safety measures they can take themselves, such as washing their hands before and after meal-time and play time.
Build their confidence
Increase your child’s confidence in their ability to take care of themselves by reminding them how resilient and adaptable they have been during lockdown and how confident you are that they can successfully manage the transition back to school. It can also be helpful to visit the school prior to starting, even if it’s a simple drive by to re-familiarize your child with going back to school.
Build their sense of self-efficacy
Self efficacy is the belief that you are capable of performing a task or managing a situation. Working with your child to boost their self-efficacy will help them to be resilient and adaptable in managing the transition back to school. Some ways you can do this include allowing them to help take care of themselves and family members (such as by helping around the house or checking in with other family members) and involving them in problem solving for any issues they are experiencing.
Routines provide children with a sense of safety and stability and while it’s normal for family routines to change over the summer break, it’s important to re-establish school routines in ample time before school re-starts. The National Sleep Foundation suggests starting to set sleep routine habits two weeks before the first day of school and using this time to adjust bedtimes gradually. If this isn’t manageable, a week before will still be helpful. Early re-establishment of other routines for meal-times, play time and learning time will also support children in the transition back to school.
Promote a Sense of Calm
When we become stressed, our bodies respond by activating our stress response system (our fight, flight, freeze response). For children, they are often unaware of these processes or don’t have the tools they need to help them regulate themselves back into a space of calm. It is important to support your child in processing their emotions and with regulating their stress response (a process known as self-regulation, or self-soothing).
Talk to your child about their feelings
Asking your child questions about how they are feeling, are they nervous or scared but also what they are looking forward to can be helpful. Remember to validate feelings and reassure them that they are not alone, other children will be feeling the same way.
Help your child to engage in self-regulation activities
Support your child in learning and using self-regulation strategies (also called coping skills or self-soothing). These will vary per child but can include exercise, sleep, deep breathing, mindfulness and listening to music.
Build a Sense of Hope
Having a sense of hope and excitement for the future will support your child in being resilient and help them manage the transition back to school. Spend some time with your child reminding them of the positive things about going back to school and have conversations with them about what they are looking forward to. You can also use incentives to support the return to school such as organizing play dates (in person or on-line) with friends during the first week of school.
Some children may have been able to keep in touch with friends and family throughout lockdown via social media, whereas others may have experienced limited contact with their peers. Social connectedness is an important factor for children’s well-being as they return to school. Try to support your child in re-connecting with their teachers, school and classmates. Even if you still want to refrain from in-person play dates or social events, you can encourage your child to re-connect online with old friends or old classmates prior to school re-starting.
Take Care of Yourself
In order to provide your child with the care and support they need to help them manage the transition back to school, it is vitally important to engage in your own self-care. This includes taking time for yourself to do things that restore you such as exercise, meditation, rest and relaxation, eating well, making sure you get enough sleep and maintaining social connectedness. This also includes taking steps to manage your own stress and anxiety (which can be contagious to children) through seeking additional support if you need it.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to seek additional support for your child if you notice ongoing symptoms of stress or emotional or behavioural concerns.
About Annabel Lynch
Annabel Lynch is a therapist and life coach based in Dubai, who helps her clients to address a range of concerns and with making positive change and transformation in their lives. Annabel will work with you to address your current issues with a compassionate and holistic approach. During sessions you will learn a range of tools to support you in healing as well as practical strategies to help you make positive change and transformation. You can get a 25% discount on individual coaching and therapy sessions until 30th September by quoting British Mums. Bookings can be made directly via email@example.com or by calling 056 495 2252.