Can you believe its been almost 6 months since your children stepped foot inside a classroom? Us either. What a half year it has been!
For some of us it was a time to relax and embrace the little joys in life. The COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent lock down, forced us to slow down. It reminded us what is so valued – family and relationships.
For others, it was a challenge to simply get through the day. Many of us continued to go into work, putting ourselves and our loved ones at risk. Relationships were strained as partners worked overtime to meet their employer’s new demand, and on the other end of the spectrum, so many people lost jobs and endured intense financial stress. All the while, our children were at home from school; learning to learn online and requiring either 24/7 supervision or constant parenting in order to make the most of their time off school.
Congratulations for making it through, no matter what your situation brought to you.
And now it is almost September. The start of a new school year, fresh beginnings, and a jump into new routines. This time, with the stress of a world pandemic still on our shoulders. It’s only normal for you, and your child, to be worried about returning to school.
Here are some tips from our child life specialists on how to support your child during their return to school after a lockdown.
- Talk to your child about how they are feeling about going back to school. This can be an open-ended question as simple as, “School will be different this year. How are you feeling about going back?” It is normal for your child to be excited, scared, worried or happy at different times throughout their return, or all at once. It’s important to validate what they are feeling (“I totally understand why you’re feeling that way”) and normalize it (“other kids/teens are probably feeling the same” or “I am feeling a worried about the new school year, too!”). Offer your support for when they feel like talking and continue to have discussions about their feelings throughout the transition.
- Talk to your child about what their new routine and school day may look like so they have as much information as possible. The more children know, the less they imagine, which helps with decreasing any stress or anxiety about situations. Talk to your child about what the timing of their day may look like and any changes in their classroom (ie. the layout, class sizes, playing with friends, recess). If you don’t know these answers, try to get in touch with your school or child’s teacher to ask questions.
- Reassure them about safety. For months we have been told to stay at home, wash our hands, and to not come into close contact with anyone. Now, children and youth are being told to go back to school in classrooms with dozens of other people. This can be confusing for them. Continue to reassure them that the precautions schools have put in place are safe. Provide them with tips on how they can be safe themselves, such as washing hands and wearing masks.
- Help to prepare them for masking. In many cities, children and youth will be required to wear masks all day while at school. Help to get them ready for this by: allowing them to decide what colours/styles of mask they wear, “practicing” wearing the mask during the day, teaching them how to properly put it on and take it off, as well as good hand hygiene. Don’t’ forget, masking all day isn’t normal for them so continue to validate how they may be feeling about it.
- Be patient with your child and yourself. Your child hasn’t had a set routine for many months now. They’ve likely been going to bed and waking up later, having meals at all hours of the day, and enjoying more freedom. Although this is totally normal, they may have a difficult time starting a new routine. Be patient with them and understand they may experience mixed emotions, as will you. It is normal to feel overwhelmed, frustrated, or annoyed. Your children will need some time to settle into a normal routine, so don’t put pressure on yourself to have things perfect right from the start.
- Seek support when you need it. You are not alone in this new transition. Reach out to friends and other parents to help validate what you are feeling. If your child is having trouble returning to school, reach out to their school to work with your child’s teachers on how to best support them.
Remember, our lives were turned upside down over the past 6 months. We couldn’t prepare ourselves for a world pandemic, but you are doing the best you can and you are not alone. We are all humans and will continue to adjust to new situations and experiences over the next many months with many emotions. Be patient with yourself and your family. You’ve got this!
If you’d like to gain more support on helping your child to return to school, e-mail a child life specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.