The ongoing pandemic has left many of us with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, especially regarding the future. Making changes from the lockdown life that we have grown familiar with can seem incredibly overwhelming. In particular, parents and carers may find that their child needs some extra support to prepare for their return to school. If you notice that your child becomes irritable when you mention school, or is disengaging with their schoolwork or school friends, you may want to take a look at the below suggested solutions, as recommended by Child and Adolescent Pyschiatrist, Dr Hayley van Zwanenberg.
- Talk frequently about school
Sharing fun memories and positive experiences about school, teachers and friends can help your child reignite their enthusiasm about returning to the classroom. You might want to recall a school trip that you remember your child particularly enjoying, to remind them a classmate or teacher who they specifically liked or to find a piece of artwork or writing that they did at school, which they are proud of.
- Video call their teacher
If your child is having remote lessons where they are able to see their teacher, make sure that they are attending. You may also want to contact their class teacher directly, to arrange a short informal video call where the parents/carers, the teacher and the student have the opportunity to interact positively and see the return to school as an exciting event to look forward to.
- Video call their friends
In addition, you might want to try and arrange a video call with your child’s classmates. Perhaps you could ask each parent/carer and child involved on the call to think of a one or two general knowledge type questions (with the answers) and arrange a fun quiz. Other games such as scavenger hunts, spot the difference (via screenshare), hangman or charades also work well. Again, the most important factor is that your child has a positive experience with their classmates, which creates excitement and enthusiasm about returning to school.
If your child experienced anxiety about school before the pandemic, it is likely that these negative feelings will have intensified significantly during lockdown. School based anxiety can take a number of forms, from physical symptoms such as tummy aches to emotional indicators, such as tears or tantrums. Although these children may seem to be coping well during lockdown, this may be because they are facing limited exposure to the cause of their anxiety – school. One of the main ways to break down school-based anxiety is to familiarise children with school in manageable quantities, so their eventual return to school isn’t hugely overwhelming.
- Pass school on a walk / drive
Walking or driving past school frequently is a great way to reduce school-based anxiety, in addition to providing an opportunity to start a conversation about how your child is feeling. Although your child may be hesitant to open up, try to reassure them that you are here to help, that every concern is valid (you may want to research and explain the science behind anxiety, in an age-appropriate way) and that your aim is to find a solution together.
Try to bear in mind that the back-to-school transition may be a substantial adjustment for your child, so remember to celebrate the small successes, try to approach the topic with positivity and seek the help of educational professionals (such as teachers and GPs) if you need.