Starting a new school year can be a worrying time for any child, let alone after the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic over the last 18 months.
While the prospect of going to school in September will be exciting for many pupils, some might feel anxious. That’s perfectly normal. Lots of children will feel the same way.
As we approach their return to school, it’s a good idea to try to create a supportive environment, with structure, routine, and familiarity in the lead up to their first day.
Start to talk to your child about the daily routine that they were once so familiar with. It doesn’t have to start as a conversation about worries, but these might arise as you talk. These discussions are often good to have while you are doing something else, like playing with Lego, drawing, cooking or travelling in the car rather than sitting face-to-face as that can feel quite intense.
Talking about the things your child is looking forward to is another way of exploring any worries they may have. The Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Time for Us’ pack to help manage those worries.
You could go through some of the changes they may expect at school and think about ways they can re-establish their connections with friends and teachers.
Reassure children about the safety measures in place to keep them safe and remind them that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow and giving everyone extra space.
Above all, it’s really important to focus on the positives. Asking what they enjoy about school and what they’re looking forward to is a good way to start.
Here are a few things you can do to make their return to school as comfortable and as safe as possible:
Friendships and school. Your child may have remained in contact with school friends either in person or on line over the holiday, but for some their social circle may have shrunk a little, and returning to school may feel a little daunting. So encourage positive talk about school. Ask them what they are looking forward to, and if they’re worried, encourage an approach like ‘if this happens, you could…’
Talking to your child about how they are feeling about going back to school and try not to make assumptions. Ask them if they are worried about anything, but also if they’re feeling positive. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal.
Reassuring your child. Returning to school will present some changes, so talk about ways that they can stay safe at school, such as washing their hands. Reassure them that the school will put measures in place to keep them safe. If you are feeling anxious, try not to pass anxiety on to your child.
Thinking ahead. As well as reflecting on what has happened, it’s also important for children to have an sense of excitement and positivity about the future.
Try not to leave shopping for uniform or stationary to the last minute if possible. Know what they need and whether you have it, (and whether it still fits!). Being ready for day one will add to that sense of calm!
Think about how your child will get to school. Can they walk or cycle, or do they need transport.
Help your child return to their normal sleep routine in the weeks before school starts again. The Mental Health Foundation has a useful ‘How To’ guide on improving sleep on their website.
Give your child your full focus when they return from their first day back. Don’t ask too many questions, but be attentive and positive. They’ll probably be tired, so plan a relaxing evening.
Seeking support if you need it. Starting school again at any time is always a challenge, let alone after the disruption of the last 18 months. But if your child experiences difficulties while they’re at school, please contact your child’s school to make them aware, so that you can work together to support your child. If you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, speak to the school and your GP.
Not putting pressure on yourself. It might take a little while for children to get used to the change, and that’s normal. There’ll be ups and downs. Try your best to support, reassure and comfort them, without putting pressure on yourself to make it better.