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Returning to school after Lockdown

With the new academic year about to begin many of us are probably going into a mild panic. 

With some children being away from education and childcare settings since the middle of March, there are many mixed emotions about going back to school and everything that comes with it. 

For me, my little one is beginning pre-school, and I’ve had many many thoughts about how this experience for him is so different from what it would have been this time last year. There have been limited opportunities for him to engage with his new setting, he’s not been able to attend any settling sessions or visits, and the staff have been unable to prepare and share information with parents until the last minute.  

And on top of all this, we have the added worries of “what is the risk of my child getting ill” as we send them into settings where they will be in close contact with many other children and cared for by other adults where we will never really know if they are washing their hands properly or not. 

So with all this in mind, I wanted to share a few of my top tips for helping your child settle into school, nursery, or even if they are returning to a childminder or grandparent on a regular basis. There is still lots we can do to prepare them, and us, for the big changes that lie ahead. 

1. Talk 

Just like adults, children need to know what’s happening in the future. It helps them to prepare themselves and get ready for what’s ahead.

Begin by talking about the return to school and explain what’s going to be happening. You may still not have all the answers about the ins and outs of things once they get to school (as in how things will be due to current COVID regulations), but it’s still important to start to talk about it all.  It’s ok to say to your child “I’m not sure of the answer to that, shall we write a list of all the things we’re not sure about and then we can try to find out the answer”. This can help with reducing your child’s worries and stop you feeling that you have to know all the answers, you really don’t!  Talk about the morning routine and how you will get to school, talk about getting up earlier and having to get ready in a uniform, putting school shoes on, talk about getting a bag ready with everything you need.  You’ll be surprised at how your child may have forgotten about all of these things they used to do naturally each day. 6 months break from something is a long time in a child’s life, so they are probably going to need lots of reminding and support. Try to offer compassion and guidance rather than demands and judgment. Yes, they do know how to do these things, but it’s going to be hard for all of us to get back into the swing of things. 

2. Practice 

A really great way of helping children to prepare for an upcoming event is to physically practice.

Get them to wear their uniform and school shoes for a day or two before the first day of school, get the lunch boxes ready, and eat together with other children somewhere if you can. Practice getting up at the time you will need to, get ready, and walk to school a couple of times.  By doing these things, in a playful manner, it helps our brains to start making connections and showing our bodies what it needs to do. It will help children who are not so great at listening and need to learn by doing.  It will also help to flag up potential flaws in our plans or things we’ve forgotten. We can get to grips with how long it will take us to do the school run, how long it takes to get up and get dressed and for everyone to leave the house by a particular time. Remember, us adults are likely to be out of practice too, so this is also helpful for us. And hopefully, when it comes to the first day of school, we are prepared and feel ready.   You can explain to your children that in many professions you have to put a lot of work into the practice of something before it can work well. Footballers, athletes, actors, even YouTubers, all have to practice and edit their actions before they have the ideal situation. Our brains need repetition to help them to operate well. 

3. Routines 

Having a plan and basic routines help our brains to feel ready and calm. If we know what’s expected of us it’s easier to carry out a task instead of feeling thrown in the deep end every day.  If you can devise a bedtime routine and morning routine within your household, this should be enough to help everyone to function well at these times of the day which are often heightened in emotions.  We need good bedtime routines, otherwise, we wake up tired and our day starts out on the back foot. So try to shift your bedtimes gradually to get ready. Think about what you can have prepared the night before for too. This not only helps with reducing the number of things you need to get done before leaving the house, but it also helps the brain to prepare and know what’s coming next. This will hopefully reduce feelings of anxiety and panic, and over time will become a natural and normal routine for everyone in the house.  If you’re a visual person, write a list or have a routine stuck up on the wall. This is great for children too as it helps them to see where they are now and what’s coming next. It’s really difficult for children to hold lots of tasks in their minds which are not tangible. By drawing it up and putting it on the wall it can help with managing task load and breaking things down.  For young children, you can use pictures or photographs to help illustrate your words so that they can begin to take responsibility for their routines too.  If everyone in the family is aware and takes responsibility, then the pressure is shared. Model to your children about how to do this and try not to hold all the information to yourself and end up nagging.  You can say something like “right, we are all up and dressed, can you see what’s next on the chart for us to do? Ok, let’s all have breakfast then we can see what needs to be done after that”. And remember - be playful and try to keep things fun and relaxed. 

4. Share emotions 

Beginning a new school year is a really important milestone, show your excitement and joy! Moving up a year group or starting school is a big deal. Try to put yourself into your child’s shoes and feel the experience from their eyes.  There are likely to be a lot of mixed emotions for everyone, talk about them, and normalise their feelings. Let your child know that all feelings are ok and that talking about them all is a good idea to help us process them.  Try to encourage your child to notice how different emotions feel in their body, e.g. how does your body feel when you’re nervous, do you have a funny wiggle in your tummy? This helps a child to notice that how we feel can often have a physical implication on our bodies, and for them to know that it’s a feeling that will pass. So when the feeling is uncomfortable, they can know it’s just them feeling a bit nervous and that it will go away once they are not feeling nervous anymore. This may sound like an odd thing to do, but children need to be taught this it’s not something we just know how to do. 

5. Self-care 

Above all, please please look after yourself!

The past 6 months have been hard on parents, and we are still holding so much of our children’s emotions and uncertainty for what lies ahead. We have to be able to take care of our own wellbeing to ensure that we can be there for our children to help their wellbeing.  Know the little things that help you to feel refreshed and recharged. This will be different for all of us, but try to make a promise to yourself to allow time for little moments of self-care.  It might be planning time alone to go for a walk or run, to watch a TV show or movie, or to have a long hot shower or bath. Know what helps you feel recharged and plan to do it at least a couple of times a week.  Build good habits for yourself, get enough sleep, drink lots of water, and eat well. If you can, be mindful and reflect on your day noticing things that have gone well. We need to nourish our bodies and minds. They are the only ones we have, let’s look after them. 

I hope you find some, or all of these tips useful. Please comment and share with others. Together we can support another and help each other through these life changing moments.

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