Returning to School Post Lockdown
The COVID-19 pandemic brought sudden changes to all our lives. Whilst many adults found themselves working from home or perhaps lost their jobs, meanwhile many schools were closed and children found themselves isolated at home, unable to see friends and loved ones. Such radical change to routine has been very unsettling for many children.
As lockdown restrictions gradually ease and some schools re-open, supporting our children through the coming weeks and months will be vital to their long-term well-being.
How Might Children Feel About Returning to School?
Most children have mixed feelings about school, but whether your child loves or hates school they are likely to be worried by any form of change.
When your children do return to school it will likely look very different from before. They may only attend two or three days of the week, find that they're in a smaller class, have a different teacher, or are unable to sit next to their classmates. Play equipment areas may also be off-limits, and keeping social distancing is likely to be tough, especially for the youngest children.
Equally some children may have remained at school in recent months, such as the children of key workers. They may have adjusted to enjoy a quieter and less busy classroom environment and may also find the coming weeks and months will be an upheaval. Children may also experience more significant worries about returning to school if a family member has been ill or died due to COVID-19.
So whether you're a parent, grandparent, teacher, or friend, what can you do to prepare children returning to school post-lockdown?
Talk About What Your Children Should Expect
Change is often tough. However preparing for a change you know is coming can make dealing with it far easier.
Talk to your children about what they should expect. Most importantly you should take time to explain why things will be a certain way. Helping children to understand the reasons for the change can play a huge role in breaking down their emotional barriers and help them to cope more effectively.
Remove as many potential surprises as you can and your children will feel far more reassured about returning to school. As the nature of school re-openings will vary from place to palce, you should receive a wealth of information from the school and local authorities to assist you with this.
Get Back into a Routine
Many of us may have let our children adopt a looser routine during the lockdown. Bedtime times may have gotten later. Eating patterns may have changed. The urgency to be dressed on time – or at all – may have fallen by the wayside.
All those things are okay. We haven't been living in regular times and you shouldn’t punish yourself, or your children, for taking a more relaxed approach.
It’s therefore essential that as you re-adjust, you do so gradually. If you know when your children will be returning to school you can start to adjust bedtimes and reacquaint them with being out of bed and dressed earlier in the morning. Involve your children in the preparation; get them to help with washing their uniform or ensuring their school bag is ready.
Remember the changes you may need to make too. Do you need to adjust the weekly shopping to consider school snacks and packed lunches? Will you need to adapt your working pattern to collect your children from school? If you need to be at work, who can safely get your children home if social distancing with non-household members is still necessary?
If your children aren't returning to school on a full schedule their teacher will likely give them activities to do on their days off. Try not to treat this as homework but ensure your children engage with it appropriately, and factor this into you’re their new routine.
It’s vital that preparing to go back to school isn't only a one-way stream of information. Ensure that you're available to listen should they have queries and be open to hear their views without offering judgement.
Like adults, children will often just need to get something off their chest. Others will need reassurance more than guidance.
If you have more than one child, each may experience different feelings about going back to school so listen to them on a one-on-one basis. This will prevent them from picking up anxieties from each other or potentially making the situation more difficult.
Encourage Your Children to Talk
It can be tough for children to talk about their experiences and emotions. Often the reason for this is not that a child has nothing to say, but that no-one has asked them the right question.
Look to ask your children open questions to prompt a conversation. Good questions to ask include:
- What are you looking forward to about going back to school?
- Which friends and teachers are you excited to see?
- What things about going back to school do you think you will find easy? What do you think will be difficult?
Be sure to continue the conversation once your child has returned to school too. Avoid asking closed questions that they can simply respond to with a yes or no; focus on asking what was good, what was bad, who they interacted with, and what they're looking forward to tomorrow or the next day they're due at school.
Keep Children Motivated
When your children do return to school, plan in fun and rewarding activities to help keep them motivated. These can form part of your new routine, such as allowing them to play videogames or eat their favourite snack when they get home from school.
If your children were doing more of these ‘fun’ things during the lockdown, this could also help reduce the sense of change they'll be feeling. You can then use this as an additional means of reassuring your children by focusing on what has remained consistent in recent weeks.
With this in mind, try to maintain family activities that you may have set up during lockdown. If you play a board game together for an hour each evening or take a walk outside, keep doing these. The end of lockdown doesn’t mean you have to return to all your old habits, so be sure to maintain some of the positive changes you may have introduced to your life!
Preparing Your Children to Return to School Post-Lockdown
Returning to school post lockdown will be a big step for most children and it may be a stressful time for both you and them.
It’s important to recognise that it will take time to adjust as we all discover what our ‘new normal’ looks like. But by taking the time to plan ahead, maintaining some consistencies in their routine and keeping an open dialogue, we can help ease the transition for all of us.