Victoria announces students return to school Term 4. How to support your Child’s return to School

While the return to school is both exciting for many children in Victoria, others may be feeling anxious or frightened. Here are some tips to help your children navigate the complicated emotions they may be facing with going back to school.

Children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, they have been learning at home for months and have probably had limited opportunities to engage socially with their peers. Be honest about this, you may have your own feelings around going back to work! It may be helpful to go through some of the changes they may expect at school, such as different pick-up and drop off routines or teachers needing to wear masks at times. If you are not sure what the return will look like and what measures are in place you can suggest that you reach out to the School and find out. Reassure children that safety measures are in place to help keep students and teachers healthy and remind children that they can also help prevent germs spreading by washing their hands with soap and coughing or sneezing into their elbow.

Remind children about the positives – they will be able to see their friends and teachers and continue learning new things, but let them know you understand that there are some things they may be feeling anxious about. Have an open conversation about how this may feel for them. ‘Naming’ the challenge can help shift some of the anxiety attached to it. Conversations such as, “I bet there are some things you are looking forward to, but there are probably some things you are not sure about” can help start a conversation. The key role you have as a parent is to just listen, you don’t need to fix anything. You can make your child feel at ease just by having an open conversation about what it is that they may be worried about and letting them know that it’s natural to feel anxious.

Anxiety is a normal response to our current world. Approach your conversations with children with empathy, saying that you understand that they may feel anxious and remind them that it is really healthy to talk about our worries and emotions. You can reassure your children that lots of adults are working hard to help keep your family safe, but emphasise that it’s important we all follow the recommended measures to take care of more vulnerable members of our community.  One of the best ways to keep children safe from COVID-19 is to simply encourage regular hand-washing. It doesn’t need to be a scary conversation. Sing along with their favourite song or do a dance together to make this fun.

Your child may be anxious about reconnecting with their friends and classmates after a lengthy separation. And returning to their learning environment. Now that we have a clear picture around the return to school in Term 4, you can help your child get ready for this return by sharing information on when and how this will happen. Now that playgrounds have reopened you can suggest that your child may like to catch up with their friends. Organising a ‘play date’ prior to resuming school with a friend is a wonderful idea and will help your child feel more connected before they return to school. Share information around the return to school, make things as clear as possible for your child.

It’s important to be calm and proactive in your conversations with children, do check in with them to see how they are doing. Their emotions will change regularly and it is important that you let them know that’s ok. As Play Therapists, we know that some children find it challenging or be unable to verbally express their concerns. Parents and caregivers can engage children in creative activities, such as playing and drawing, to help them express and communicate any negative feelings they may be experiencing in a safe and supportive environment. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult feelings such as anger, fear or sadness.

There have been some concerns raised around incidents of bullying due to misinformation about COVID-19. Remind your child that information should come from a reliable source, like a teacher or their parents. Everyone deserves to be safe and if they or anyone else is experiencing bullying it is important to tell a trusted adult.

In addition to checking in on your child’s physical health and learning when they return to school, you should also keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety. COVID-19 may be impacting your child’s mental health, and it’s important to demonstrate that it’s normal and OK to feel overwhelmed at times. Empathy and support are absolutely the way to go. It is a good idea to check in with your children daily and ask about their time at school, their activities online, and also about their feelings. You can also look for changes, such as anxious or aggressive behaviour that may indicate that something is wrong and gently remind them that you are here to support them. As children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – it is important that adults manage their own emotions well and remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, speak kindly and reassure them. Our world IS challenging to navigate, congratulate your children for the important part they have played and how resilient they have been. Remind them that you are here for them as we move into this next stage.

Christine Harkin
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