Preparing your child to go back to school after the Coronavirus lockdown
Back to school after lockdown
For some parents the end of this half term and Monday June 1st signals a very unusual return to school for your children. The lockdown has meant that in the UK our children have not been at school since March 20th. That break is a lot longer than a normal summer holiday and even if you have been doing lessons with your children at home during that time, the chances are some children will not have wanted to do them much at all, and for other parents it may have been impossible to juggle their own work with lessons and who got which bit of technology to use.
Why do we need to prepare our children?
When children go back to school after a long summer holiday there is already good reason to prepare them for the new term. With going back after lockdown, it will be imperative. As all parents know, school will in no way look or feel the same as it did before lockdown. For a start, there will only be 3 or 4 year groups in primary school to start with. Most schools will have staggered drop off and collection times, break times, lunch times and bubbles that children must stay in as much as possible in the classroom and the playground. There will have been equipment removed from classrooms and, for example, instead of young children changing their reading book every day they will have a whole pile of reading books on their desk for the week. Additionally there will be parents who will not send their children back to school. (I respect everyone’s individual decision to do what is right for their children and family in this area). Regardless of what you decide, other parents will choose differently which means your child might be at school without some of their friends, or they might be at home while all their friends are at school and not understand why. Both of these eventualities need to be handled sensitively to ensure that our children’s mental health and emotional well being is kept as strong as possible.
Dealing with children’s emotions
One thing we know about how children have behaved during lockdown is that many have regressed in age. Teenagers are sometimes acting more like 10-year olds and children who could do things for themselves have often become clingy and needy. Many children have shown volatile or withdrawn behaviour. Whether they have communicated their feelings to you or not at this time it is their emotions that are causing these behaviours. If you can pinpoint the emotions with your child, they will be much more open with you and you will be connecting with them in a way that supports their well being and self-esteem. The chances are that their behaviour will also begin to improve because they feel understood. 2 months into lockdown I was chatting with my own son (aged 8) at bedtime (we have a special routine of questions that I ask him which we call ‘bedtime special time’ which help keep the channels of communication open between us) and he said to me, ‘Mummy I’ve got this feeling that I can’t describe but it’s been bothering me for a while’. When I speculated that ‘it may be a worrying feeling, maybe a feeling that we don’t know what’s going to happen but also a feeling that everything has changed and feels different and we don’t know when it’s going to end’ he visibly relaxed and gave me a huge hug and said ‘How did you know that was what I was feeling?’ I could have kicked myself for not musing about whether this was bothering him before then, knowing what a sensitive child he is but I was still glad it was out in the open. We talked about it some more and then he happily went to sleep. I cannot tell you what a marked change in behaviour and attitude I saw from that day onwards during lockdown. From winding his little sister up and not wanting to do his work, he suddenly felt like he was understood and just got on with things like he normally does.
Why am I telling you this? Because I am not going to make the same mistake again. I am going to make sure that when it is time for the children to go back to school, whether I am sending mine back or keeping them at home (and I know many parents are still struggling to make this decision and it has to be an individual one) that I talk to my son (8) and daughter (3) properly so they are prepared for what the next step is.
How to prepare your child for the next stage of school or home school
The skill I teach in my positive parenting classes that can be used for preparing your children for things is called a chat through. It can be used for simple things like asking your child to take their dirty shoes off at the front door to more complex situations such as going back to school after lockdown (this is the scenario I am going to use for the sake of this article but you can apply the same technique if you are keeping your child at home when school opens for them). This is not just a chat, as many parents assume, but follows a very well thought through process that gets your children to do most of the talking so that they can feel more in charge and you can tell that they understand what needs to be done.)
- To start a ‘*chat through*’ off you need to engage your child’s co-operation by describing something positive they have done. It may be that they have been very diligent with their home schooling; it may be that they have been so creative with their craft or so helpful with the chores or so independent while you worked.
- Then you need to explain what is going to happen. So here you might say ‘On Monday you are going to go back to school after being at home for learning for the last few months. You will need to be in your school uniform and ready to leave the house by 8:30am for school. When you get to school things will feel a bit different because some of your friends may not be there and because we are still socially distancing you will be asked to stay in special taped off areas in the classroom and playground’. If you don’t know what arrangements your school has put in place, get in contact with them before Monday to ask, preferably get pictures of the classroom and playground layout so that you can show these to your child so she is prepared for what she will be confronted with.
(It is likely you might encounter some resistance here. Many children will be desperately excited about the prospect of going back to school and seeing their friends and teachers. For many others, the changed setting and the long time away from normality, will mean that they have some concerns and worries. The more spirited your child is the more likely it is that they will be feeling uneasy about the coming change of going back to school. The important thing, if you do encounter bad behaviour at this point or a strong emotional reaction is to be understanding of it and not tell them that ‘ you love school’ or ‘it will be great to see your friends’ or ‘ you’ve done so well in your home schooling it will be easy to settle back in’ or even to tell them off for behaving strongly. If you dismiss their feelings, they will not open up to you easily. Instead, go back to the section earlier called dealing with children’s emotions and apply it to this situation. Be calm and curious about what they might be feeling. Understand that you can’t know what they are feeling but you can ‘wonder if they are feeling worried about how different things will be’ or, say ‘maybe you are scared about going back and getting sick’. Don’t try to sugar coat things as if your children are feeling these things they will be relieved that you understand and if they aren’t feeling them they will dismiss what you say).
3. Once you have said what needs to happen ask your child what they need to do? This helps you see that they know and understand. You hope they will say, get up and go to school as usual and stay away from people in my bubble at school. If you get this answer make sure you give your child lots of praise for getting it right and showing common sense and understanding of what he needs to do even if he doesn’t feel like doing it. If you get the more likely answer of ‘I don’t know’ ask them to guess, and empathise that it is not easy to take guesses. If you get a silly answer like ‘I need to stay in bed and watch TV all day’ you can say ‘I bet that’s what you wish you could do’. You need to keep going until your child shows they understand and answers the question correctly.
4. The next two points are crucial for your child’s mental and emotional health. The first it is to ask your child what might get in the way of you getting up and dressed and off to school and staying socially distanced from people when you are at school? You want your child to include their feelings here. Help them name their feelings if they are very young but try to get them to give you the information first. If they can’t you can say, ‘I guess you might be feeling sad that you can’t stay at home with us any more as we’ve had such fun during lockdown. Or I guess you might be feeling nervous about going back after this time away and especially as things will look different when you do go back. They may also say what if I forget to keep my distance from people will I get told off? Will I get into trouble or will I get sick?
5. The second is to help them resolve these feelings by asking them what they will do to handle these obstacles and their feelings? What will make it easier for them to do what is required of them? You are asking them for their solutions and strategies – and believe me, when children start thinking about this they are amazingly creative in what they come up with. My son’s solution to getting out to drama on a Saturday morning when he was younger (and used to kick up a huge fuss about getting out of the house) was to have time in the morning to eat Coco Pops and play with Lego before we left. Done deal! In other words, be prepared to try any solution they come up with as it gives them a great boost to their self esteem and makes them more committed to follow through. If they come up with anything sensible use it – and once they have had a good go, you can also offer some of your own ideas. It can be a great idea to write all the solutions down without critiquing any of them and then when the brainstorm has finished, highlight the ones you think will work best between you.
The final thing to note is that you need to prepare your children well in advance for going back to school (or not) especially if they don’t react well to change. If your child reacts badly to the chat through don’t panic, just revisit the conversation and the solutions often before the return date knowing that the reaction will lessen every time you talk about it and then he or she should be used to the idea of what will happen by the time the dreaded event comes around. This is based on the idea of de-sensitisation.
The idea of using a *‘Chat Through*’ to help your children through this next step in their Coronavirus school journey is so important for their emotional well being and mental health. This skill can be used for all children aged 2 to 18. If you would like any more help or advice with this matter please do contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org I am always happy to chat to any parent who would like help or support at this difficult time.