As pupils prepare to return to the classroom on March 8, Thrive has put together a list of easy-to-follow, practical suggestions to help parents and children to get ready for face-to-face learning.
While some children may be feeling excited at the prospect of seeing friends and teaching staff again, others may be feeling anxious about returning to a busy school environment, seeing less of their parents or the perceived pressure to catch up on missed lessons.
Thrive, a provider of training and tools which support children’s mental health and wellbeing, has put together the following suggestions to help parents and their children to prepare:
1)To be able to support children and young people’s social and emotional development, the most important strategy for parents is to take care of your own wellbeing first, so that you have the mental and emotional resources to support children who are displaying anxious or fearful feelings. Getting plenty of sleep, eating well, exercising, and talking about your own feelings will help your children to experience an environment of emotional safety.
2) Now is the time to start re-establishing the structure and routine of the school day. Try to make sure that children are going to bed at their usual time and eating meals at a specified time. Make sure children try on their uniform so that they remember how it feels to wear it – and to check nothing has been lost or outgrown.
3) Talk to children about the school day and go through their timetable with them so that they know what to expect next week. Anxiety or fear often comes from not feeling prepared so anything you can do to help them feel ready will help.
4) Do the school run before Monday so that children feel sure of where they are going, especially those who may have started a new school in September. Read the information sent out by school about how they are managing social distancing – does your child need to go into school by a different gate? Are there different arrangements for lunchtime?
5) Make sure that children know what’s happening and the reasons behind it. Covid-19 restrictions are changing all the time and this can feel confusing, so children need to understand that there is a reason for all the changes. The key to talking about this to children and young people is for you to be calm and open. If you are displaying fears and anxieties about the return to school, you could unintentionally transfer this feeling to your children.
6) Make sure you celebrate the positives each day. Make a conscious effort to focus on things that have gone well, praise children for their achievements and talk openly about what made that thing work well. Meal times are a great opportunity to sit together as a family to talk about the day, so don’t forget to focus on what has gone well, as well as providing reassurance for any worries.
7) Think about putting time aside each day to practise calming and soothing activities. Things like breathing exercises and mindfulness techniques can be really helpful in dealing with anxiety as they help to settle stress chemicals in our systems. Making this a daily, shared practice will also help to strengthen the relationship and connection between you and your child.
8) Children may be feeling a range of emotions at the prospect of going back to school. Some may be looking forward to it while others may have fears and some may not be able to verbalise how they are feeling. Make time to talk to children and really listen to what they say. Try not to discount any fears or anxieties children may have by saying things like ‘don’t be silly’ or ‘that won’t happen’. Instead, try to open up a conversation to give children the chance to explore their emotions by saying things like ‘tell me more about that’ or ‘I wonder what that feels like’.
9) If a child has experienced a big life event such as a bereavement or family breakdown, they may be feeling anxious about how they can tell their friends about this. Talking with children and helping them to put words to their own story will help them to feel reassured and prepared for this.
10) Remember that some children will have enjoyed spending more time at home. They may fear that they will lose this as life starts to return to ‘normal’. Try to maintain any new family activities that you may have started during lockdown such as walks or trips to the beach.
“The full re-opening of schools is going to be a huge adjustment for children, parents and teachers. Going back to school may bring up a range of different emotions for children but there are some simple things that parents and carers can do that will help children to validate and process these feelings so that they feel ready to return to school and re-engage with learning,” said Rose Webb, Thrive’s South West Relationship Manager (pictured above).
Last year, Thrive launched a free Parent Toolkit as part of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, enabling parents and carers of children aged 4 to 11 to access practical guidance and information to help them support their children’s mental health and wellbeing. Log onto thriveapproach.com/who-we-work-with/parents-carers/ to find out more. Thrive has also released resources for different age groups featuring activities which promote connection between parents and carers and children. See thriveapproach.com/resources/