Currently in England, students in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 have been invited back to the classroom, and in secondary schools pupils who are in Year 10 and 12 (pre exam students) are due to make their return this week.
Parents, teachers and students alike have mixed views on the return to school - some are welcoming the return with open arms whilst others are approaching with caution. The main concerns for returning to school are around student safety - parents don’t feel comfortable in allowing their pupils to return so soon in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. This was reflected in the first week of reopenings with only 25% of those pupils invited back to school actually showing up.
However, this number is expected to rise over time as families begin to adjust to the most recent version of ‘normal’. However, one thing’s for certain with those pupils returning to school - whether it’s this week, next week or in the new academic year - children and their parents are going to be experiencing a range of emotions including back to school anxiety and separation anxiety.
It is completely normal for some children to get general back to school anxiety after the summer holidays, let alone after having almost three months away from school because of the pandemic. So regardless of how long you’ve been away from school or when you go back, we’ve outlined so tips to manage these anxieties parents and their children:
Realise it’s normal
First of all, it’s important to accept that these feelings of worry or anxiety that you or your child are feeling are completely normal. This is quite possibly the longest, prolonged period of time families have spent together so it’s bound to be emotional when this time comes to an end.
With this in mind, try not to beat yourself up if the thought of your child returning to school sparks feelings of anxiety, you are not alone in this.
Don’t impose your anxieties onto your children
It’s important to manage your own anxieties around the return to school, as well as any associated concerns, away from your children. If you’re outwardly stressed in front of them, the same concerns may manifest themselves within your children too.
Instead, try and rationalise what you’re anxious about. For example, are you concerned about your child not being safe at school or not washing their hands enough? Instead of vocalising this to your child and worrying about the germs that may be spreading in the classroom, try and remind them of the importance of washing their hands.
You can wash your hands with them so they know how long they should be washing their hands for and the correct way to do so. And for extra peace of mind, pack some hand sanitiser in their backpack so they’re never without!
It’s important that you try and process your worries with yourself, your partner, a family member or the school. Together you can strategise a solution which you can speak to your child about.
Listen to your child’s worries
Just as it’s normal to have some worries, it’s completely rational that your children will have their own concerns about going back to school and the nature of these may vary too. For example, your children may be concerned about the virus, the prospect of a new teacher, not knowing what classroom they will be in or if they're going to be in a class with their friends.
All these are very real concerns and as a parent, it’s extremely important that you listen to these worries and don’t brush them off. Let your child know that their concerns are heard and together you can come up with a solution to help ease their anxieties so that when they do return to school they feel prepared.
Don’t ask leading questions
There are other ways parents can pass their own personal concerns onto their child, and one of these is by asking your child leading questions on things you’re concerned about.
For example, if you’re worried about your child returning to school and not having any friends in their class, don’t ask them: ‘Are you worried you might not have any friends in your new class?’.
They may not have thought of this as a concern until prompted to think about it. Instead, ask them ‘Are you excited about your new class, have you been told who’s in it with you?’ This doesn’t paint the situation as a concern but also gives your child the opportunity to express concerns if they have any.
Familiarise your child with the classroom
A usual antidote to help ease the return to school anxiety for children who are worried about their new surroundings is to take them to the school ahead of their first day so they have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the school corridors.
This isn’t possible with the current circumstances, but many schools are uploading videos of the school so students get a virtual tour instead. This method has been used mainly by secondary schools to help make the transition less daunting for those Year 6 pupils who will be starting Year 7 in September.
If your school hasn’t shared any images or videos yet, get in touch and ask them if they’d be willing to share some pictures on social media to help your child and other children prepare for their new school experience in line with social distancing measures and make the return to school a little less scary.
Ask for advice
If the thought of returning to school is especially worrying for your child or for yourself, don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s school and ask them for support.
Schools will fully understand the qualms you may have about returning, and rest assured they’ll have extra pastoral support in place as they’ll be expecting heightened anxiety from students as well as some having to deal with grief and bereavement.
Talk to the school about the measures they’ve put in place and what they will be doing differently to adapt to this situation, they’ll be more than happy to talk to you about any concerns you have and walk you through how everything will play out.