Back to school after lockdown – 5 Free tips to help ease the process
Everyone is experiencing a mix of emotions when it comes to going back to school. Everyone has different opinions, worries and things to look forward to. Some may be feeling excited, and the first day back isn’t coming soon enough. However, for a lot of people, their stomach is knotting with butterflies, fear and anxiety.
It is ok to feel stressed and anxious about returning. Below are five tips to help ease the process and possibly help clear your or your child’s mind.
Structure. It is an important thing to prioritise during these uncertain times. When the world around you is constantly changing, evolving or uncertain, and this worries you, the best thing you can do is structure your days with a daily routine that works for you.
To interpret this into going back to school, you can set up a practical chart of getting ready. It could include what needs to be done each day for school. For example:
- Get up
- Clean teeth
- Eat breakfast
- Get dressed
Back-to-school routine (parents’ guide)
If you are a parent with a child going back to school, a daily routine like the one above may help. It would be best to consider what support your child needs from you to get ready (packing school lunches) and what they can do independently (dressing themselves). You can establish these together.
The first week back to school can cause disruption from being in ‘holiday mode’, so don’t forget the healthy habits around sleep, exercise and diet.
If you have a young child aged 5-13, they need around 9-11 hours of sleep. Having consistent bed and wake-up times help to achieve this. The National Sleep Foundation suggests that starting two weeks before the first day of school can help set sleep routine habits. But a week beforehand will help your child on their way, too.
In some ways, parents go back to school with their children. Remember to look after your physical and mental health as well as your child’s. Consider adjusting your own schedule, as this may help smooth the transition. It may be challenging to do this with work arrangements, so if you are unable to do so in the mornings, you can still arrange the evenings so you can give as much time as your child needs, especially during the first week.
Talk about it.
Most children and young people are dealing with some level of stress or anxiety about school. One of the best things you can do is voice your concerns. For some, this is easier said than done, but the outcome is worth it. Perhaps speak to a teacher you trust about what is worrying you? Or a friend who may relate? Try talking to your parents, carers or an adult you trust. This way, you aren’t keeping your emotions bottled up, and maybe, the person can do something to help reduce your worries or solve the issue. By talking about it, things can change for the better, or at least a weight has been lifted because you aren’t carrying it alone anymore.
Talking about it (parents’ guide)
You can offer your support by normalising experiences of worry and nerves. Reassure your child that their feelings are common, and they will likely overcome them once they have settled. Fears and courage can exist together.
Depending on your child’s age, here are some things you can try:
- Young child/ Nursery years – Perhaps write a social story about going to nursery and the routine ahead.
- Primary years – Try setting up a buddy system. This is where a peer or older child meets yours at the school gate, and they go in together. (Many primary school children fear being left out, and this may help them feel included and braver starting the school day)
- Secondary school years – Establish healthy routines as a family. Try to support each other around technology, sleep and school work. Reassure them that you are there to support and listen to them
Sense of belonging.
A sense of belonging at school can affect students academic success and their well-being. If you don’t feel a sense of belonging in school, that’s ok. You can always create one elsewhere. For example, now things are re-opening, join a club or a sports team. See if your community youth centre is open or meet up with your friends.
If you are an introvert and the idea of joining a new club of people you don’t know scares you, there are other possibilities and options available. This could be joining a virtual book club and reading or writing in your spare time. Embrace the activities you enjoy and make that your belonging.
Sense of belonging (parent’s guide)
Parents can facilitate a positive attitude about school by setting an encouraging tone when talking about it. You can show an interest in school life and work and try to make yourself available to support your child both academically and socially.
Homework and schoolwork are often some of the greatest drivers of stress in children and young people. When a parent is more engaged in their child’s schoolwork, it allows them to be better able to support their child through it.
Signs of stress.
Some people are unsure of how they are feeling. It can be common to feel like you should be feeling a certain way because people around you are. Everyone is different and deals with events and changes differently, too. If you are unsure if you feel stressed or just telling yourself you should be, here is a list of common signs you really are stressed. Remember, everyone, deals with stress differently; these are just the common signs to look out for.
- Headaches and stomach aches
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficult to concentrate
- Change in social habits and behaviour
- Negative self-talk
- Increased worry
- Frequent Illness
If you experience these signs for about half a term or longer, speak to a trusted adult or friend or seek a professional, for example, your doctor or a therapist.
Signs of stress (parents’ guide)
Research suggests that parents can miss stress or anxiety in their young children more often than not. If you are unsure if your child is struggling with the stress of returning to school, for older children, read the list above, and for younger children, here are some signs to look out for.
- More clingy than usual or very withdrawn
- May appear restless and flighty
- Showing an increased desire to avoid activities (could be through negotiations, deal-making or procrastination)
- Tries to get out of school (particularly with younger children, could be faking an illness)
- Possibly retreats to thumb sucking, baby language or increased attachment to favourite soft toys (Mainly with younger children nursery-primary school ages)
If these behaviours continue for about half a term, talk to their teachers or school staff about what is happening. Together you can work on a suitable strategy of support. This is because there may be something more going on than the usual school nerves, like bullying.
If you are unsure of something that is bothering you and needs answers, don’t be afraid to ask them. Often schools provide transition information and Frequently Asked Questions that students may have about the next term. If your school hasn’t, it may be worth contacting them to see if they can share any resources or confirm any questions you still have.
Encourage questions (parents’ guide)
Encourage questions your child may have about the next term. You may not know all the answers, and that’s ok, but make them feel like they can ask you anyway.
Most importantly, let your child know that nothing is off-limits to talk about. It may be helpful to set up times to chat throughout the school term.
Remember that this is an uncertain time for everyone, and be mindful of those around you and their thoughts and feelings.
Written by Lois Kennedy