So, the time has come – we are heading back into the schoolyard. Is your child (or even you) feeling anxious about going back to school?
While the prospect of kids going back to school might certainly be a time of inner celebration for many parents, the truth is this will be another huge transition for our kids. As a child behaviour expert and educator with over 20 years’ experience in education, I know that the anxiety children face when going (back) to school is a very real thing.
For weeks on end we have been telling our children that we cannot go outside because of the very real dangers – and now we are telling them to trust us once again as we send them back to school, mid-way through a term and after weeks of remote-learning.
After pretty much being wild and free for the past two months, we are getting ready to be back in the educational structure and routines of attending school regularly. Albeit with a couple of epic adjustments!
But the truth is it just will not look and feel exactly as our children and families so fondly remember school from months ago.
Here are my tips on how to reduce school anxiety and support the emotional health of anxious children.
How to help your child ease back into the school routine
1. Reassure your child
For some of our younger children going back to school really will be like starting the school year all over again.
You may have kids who are super excited about returning, but I am so fairly sure that there will also be lots of kids filled with trepidation and sadness about leaving the safety of the family nest that they have grown accustomed to throughout this time.
My overarching tip is to remember that with this upheaval your children are going to need you to be their safe place and trusted adult that supports them through this big return.
Reassure your child. Be calm, be empathetic and be present.
2. Prepare your children any changes
Make sure you explain your school’s new guidelines with your kids ahead of time, and with probably daily reminders.
We are preparing for staggered drop-offs and saying goodbye to our kids at the gate rather than in the playground or at the classroom.
There will be no space for familiar chats and hugs with the other families or much playing on the playground before school commences. These are all a huge part of the value that school communities contribute to our lives that we will be missing.
Everyone will be confronted by hand sanitizer at every break and increased cleaning of schools and equipment, which is a very real reminder that this is not all over yet.
All these changes may cause some unrest and confusion for our children. Be patient. Give longer hugs in the morning and try not to rush your drop-offs.
3. Make an effort to reconnect with familiar faces
Friendships can be complicated for children. Children who have been apart for weeks may take some time to get reacquainted with each other again.
Be mindful that some kids have been attending school already and the kids learning on-site will have bonded in different ways.
Some families may be choosing to keep their kids at home longer, so those familiar faces that your child is accustomed to may be absent.
Now that we are allowed to see some people, so why not organise a run around on the local oval one afternoon after school to give your children a chance to rebuild the connections that have no doubt been lost with some of their friends. If you are up to it, I highly recommend a play date or two to establish those bonds.
4. Recognise that everyone will have differing opinions, thoughts, ideas and experiences
All children will bring back to school their own family’s values thoughts and opinion around this current situation. Goodness knows, there have been plenty!
Some families have chosen to shelter their kids from the news, whilst others have probably watched every press conference with their kids present. Your children may come home from school hearing things that you may not have shared with them.
Whilst your child may have been positively sheltered at home being supported by you, for some kids being at home may have been quite traumatic. This will undoubtedly play out in their behaviour in the classroom.
It’s important to share with your children before they start school that everyone will have had a different experience of the situation. It’s important to acknowledge and respect another person’s opinions, thoughts and ideas.
5. Expect your child’s behaviour to regress
This is not a given – but there may be more tantrums, angry outburst, tiredness, and complaints from your kids as a result of going back to school.
Children might need support with getting dressed and organised. They may have trouble sleeping or complain of feeling sick. There may be increased clinginess and separation anxiety. You may even encounter a reluctance to attend to school or outright school refusal (again, or for the first time).
Try to be patient and have a genuine understanding of how challenging this has all been for our kids. Listen with empathy, but do not try to problem-solve or offer solutions for our kids.
A big part of children learning resilience is being able to overcome their fears and challenges, whilst being supported by an empathetic and emotionally present parent.
6. Do a drive by
Plan a walk or drive by this weekend to your school to allow your kids to see their school again. We rode past our school often throughout isolation and we would all sing out at the top of our lungs “Hello School – we miss you!”
7. Create a countdown chart
Give your kids the opportunity to cross off the days as they count down to their return. Having something visual and tangible is helpful for kids to understand what is coming.
8. Be positive and calm
If we speak positively about the return to school, it is more likely our kids will feel the same way. Children feed so closely off our energy and attitude.
Talk about all the things your family have missed about being at school.
Be mindful of the way you speak about our educators and school management; they are all doing their best and have been under extreme pressure too.
9. Be kind
In a world where you can be anything, be kind. Kindness goes a long way.
Teach it, expect it, and model it.
Whilst we are certainly not through the woods, I am personally excited for our kids. Their school communities and educators are such a huge and important part of their life. In families lives.
More than that, it shows that we are slowly moving forward. I won’t say back to normality, because I for one am incredibly thrilled that the one positive thing to come out of these months is the fact that many people will be revaluating and opting for a much slower-paced and less scheduled family life.
Now that really is something to be excited about!
Hailed as ‘The Child Charmer’ Chrissie Davies brings a heart centred approach to all her services. Chaos to Calm consultancy exists to empower parents to create a whole new generation of emotionally healthy families. She believes that understanding the causes of challenging behaviour is the first step to making lasting change. Working with Chrissie allows parents to view their child’s behaviour through a different lens. Chrissie understands the power of connection and communication and knows that with the right support families can confidently calm the chaos.
Chrissie is also a mama of two young children so has genuine empathy and understanding about the challenges that many families face.
You can also enrol in Calm Connected KIDS, Chrissie’s four-week self-paced online course for parents who want to raise kids who thrive from the inside out. During the course, Chrissie shares all of her knowledge centred around the importance of using emotional engagement and positive communication to teach children about to behave positively.
For more resources for going back to school have a look at:
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