Some children may feel some excitement at seeing their friends when they get back to school, or relief at no longer having to try and do schoolwork at home and to getting back to as near normal as possible.
But however children and young people have managed being at home through lockdown, the return to school can be an anxious time in the most normal of times; throw into the mix the current situation with Covid-19 and that anxiety might go up for both you and for your child.
So, here are my top tips for helping your children and young people (and you!) manage anxiety over the next few days. I’m a counsellor, so you won’t be surprised that I say that it all starts with having an open conversation with them.
1. Make time to talk
Talk with them about whether they feel anxious about going back to school. Just let them tell you how they’re feeling, you don’t have to fix anything here, you just need to acknowledge and validate how they are feeling and reassure them that it's normal to feel anxious. This is a really good opportunity to let them know that talking about feelings is a good thing to do and that it helps keep our mental health healthy.
But remember you’re the parent, so if you need to offload how you’re feeling, talk to your friends or other grown up family members. That isn’t to say that you have to pretend to have it all sorted, but we need to avoid overwhelming our children with our feelings, especially when they’re struggling with their own, otherwise they might be left wondering who is steering the ship.
It may be that they don’t feel very anxious at the moment but let them know that they can talk to you if that changes.
It is also important that we check in regularly with our children so that we keep that communication going, so that even if they feel okay about things today, there are further opportunities to let you know if that changes for them.
And talk to them about the positives. Is there anything that they are looking forward to? Anxiety can cause us to get stuck and not be able to see that there is a future, so looking at future positives can be helpful for us to feel that this situation won’t last forever, that things change and so will this.
2. Acknowledge, acknowledge, acknowledge
It’s really important to acknowledge what our feelings are and if we practice this for ourselves, we can teach our children to do it too.
What is it? Sadness? Anxiety? Fear? When we sit and acknowledge the feeling, it can help us understand it and then it can ease and become more bearable.
I see anxiety like the young child that is demanding their parent’s attention and won’t give up until they get that attention, just as our anxiety remains and persists until we turn to it, acknowledge it, listen to it, and then soothe it.
And this needs to be done with kindness and empathy, for our children and for ourselves - speak kindly, no criticising phrases here please – no ‘pull yourself together’, or ‘I should be able to cope’, ‘stop worrying’ – all of these and the rest have no place here. Speak kindly.
3. Be honest
Talk to them about the changes the school has made, like classroom set up and face masks. Be honest and talk about how weird this might feel but also reassure them that it is just about keeping everyone safe.
This is also a good time to remind them about how they can help with this by washing their hands well and wearing their face mask when they are meant to. It’s also worth having a chat about how they will manage things if their friends are not complying with school safety rules.
4. And once they’re back
Once they are back to school, keep an eye out for any sign of stress or anxiety, Covid-19 related or otherwise, so that you can help them deal with it before it becomes overwhelming for them – go back to 1 above!
If it does become overwhelming for your child and you or they feel they are struggling, seek help from a school counsellor or approach your GP to see what services might be available, and let school know as they will hopefully be ready with support measures they can put in place to support your child.
5. And rest
Every child's experience of lockdown will be different, but one thing that is likely to effect each child is tiredness.
After such a long period off school and now having to get up early, alongside what might be quite an emotional transition and certainly one that will take up a lot of their energy as they navigate the new systems in school and their friendship groups, and everything the school day brings for them, they are likely to be feeling really tired.
Good sleep is essential, now more than ever, so it's going to be important to support them in getting the good sleep they need.
It is important to understand how tiredness might effect their mood and mental well-being. The lack of good enough and long enough sleep can be really detrimental to how we are feeling about things and whether we feel able to cope, so it means making sure our children and young people are getting some good sleep every night and talking to them about the impact of tiredness and the importance of getting good sleep.
For each child and parent, the experience of lockdown, and now the return to school, will be different, but it's important to know that the feelings we have about this period of transition, for us and for our children, might come in waves; so keep talking, keep checking in.
Be kind to yourself