Summer holidays are almost up, lockdown is easing up in most areas and schools are gearing to have children back in classrooms. But it won’t be the same. Other than the hyper hygiene that is practiced at every moment in life at the current minute (excessive hand washing and limited touching when it comes to children) schools will likely have in place the following procedures to keep children safe and healthy:
- staggered start and finish times
- classes or whole year groups learning in “protective bubbles” to minimise the number of contacts they have during a school day
- the avoidance of assemblies or collective worship with more than one group
- no unecessary sharing
- non-contact physical education, with “scrupulous attention” to cleaning and hygiene.
There will be some parents who read this and find great relief in the new school format and others who cringe at the counter intuitiveness of children not being allowed to play sport, offer their friend a pencil, share lunch or embrace school traditions like class assemblies and school plays. Similarly, there will be children who cannot wait to go back and see their friends in spite of the adjusted school vibe and others who are dreading it. Some children will find it difficult to leave the home and faces that have become a solid constant over the last six months.
There are a couple of things that families will need to deal with before school starts. The first is what ‘new school’ will be like, and the second is the emotional angst that children might experience at the thought (and then the reality) of being separated from their parents and siblings. In both regards, communication is critical. Parents can prepare their children by explaining what school will be like, answering their questions and allowing them to time to process their new environment, which might only ‘hit home’ when they actually get into the classroom in September.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Hayley Zwanenberg offers some great advice for children feeling the pinch of separation anxiety in the run up to school. Here are her top five tips top helping parents make the adjustment with their children are:
1.Remind them of fun school memories
Talk to your child about all the times that they had fun at school before lockdown and the summer holidays. Reminding them of happy memories and how well they coped without you will help to reaffirm that they can do it, and that school is enjoyable and something to look forward to rather than worry about.
To ease any anxiety, you may also want to meet with people, such as the teachers who will look after your child when the summer holiday ceases, so that your child can refresh their memory of how they do feel safe and comfortable around that adult too. They could even do this over a digital platform to enable some positive interaction if it can’t be done face-to-face.
2.Let them know you’ll be safe
Your child may be worried about your health and exposure to the coronavirus when they think about leaving you to go back to school.
Talk about the things you will be doing when they go back to school, and how you will enjoy them, so that your child knows you will be safe and happy when away from them.
3.Spend time away from your child for brief periods of time
An abrupt change to the child’s environment is a risk factor for separation anxiety disorder. Suffering from anxiety can affect a child in numerous ways including their classroom behaviour, academic performance and social interactions.
Before they go back to school, start separating from your child for brief periods, leaving them with one parent or an older sibling if appropriate while you pop out.
You may want to start by leaving them for half an hour or so and gradually building up to the length of a school day. This will help your child to get used to being without their parent, and recognising that nothing will go wrong if there is a little bit of separation.
4.Encourage them to spend time with friends
During lockdown, social distancing will have meant some friendships will have deteriorated because children have been unable to see each other.
While adhering to government guidelines, allowing children to meet up with old friends can be very helpful. Encourage your child back into the outside world again as much possible within the rules. You may want to suggest meeting with their friends at a park or in a garden and encouraging them to run around at a distance from you and other parents. This will help them to get used to not always having parents in close proximity.
5.Teach them breathing techniques
For children who still suffer from anxiety at the idea of separation, teach them how to calm themselves when they are feeling nervous, by looking at breathing techniques online. If a child can learn to calmly breathe when anxious, they soon learn that they can manage their anxiety themselves, and bring it down quite easily.
Kids Matter is a programme that engages with families and young children before crisis point – it strengthens families by giving mums and dads the tools to be competent, confident parents or caregivers. To get involved, as a volunteer or by financially supporting our programme, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.