Returning to school post Covid 19.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the continued levels of restrictions in place across NSW, is an unprecedented situation that continues to affect our lives.
It will be hard to gauge the full impact the situation is having on children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing until we emerge from it.
Pupils’ experiences of the pandemic will be very varied. Some, despite restrictions, will feel safe and mostly enjoy their time. For others, it will be challenging or even traumatic.
Schools and teachers are used to supporting their pupils through challenges that they face in life – the current situation will amplify those situations many times over.
Start talking Your child might have worries about the virus, restrictions in place or their education and school. It’s important to acknowledge that this is a difficult time. It’s important to give them the message that returning to school is a big thing and you understand that. Talk to them in a way that is sensitive to their needs – you will know your child best. Don’t intrude or impose yourself on them, but gently open the conversation and let them know you’re there for them if they want to talk.
Talk to your child about how they are feeling about going back to school and try not to make assumptions.
Ask them if they are worried or feel scared about anything, but also if they are excited about or looking forward to something. No matter how your child feels, let them know that it is completely normal to feel a mixture of emotions and that everyone will be in the same boat.
Sleep routine Sleep is very important for your child’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their development. Try and help your child build a healthy sleep routine which they can maintain whether attending school in person or not.
During lockdown it is understandable that your family’s routine may have changed. Children are likely to have been waking up later or going to bed later. To help them get ready for school, try to gradually get them back into their usual morning and bedtime routines as they get closer to their return date.
Coping strategies Coping strategies are what you use when feeling stressed, such as speaking with friends or family, doing regular exercise, or using breathing techniques. If you feel comfortable, you could share your own worries and feelings about the current situation and coping strategies you are using to manage these feelings. Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel anxious about going back to school – try sharing an example of a time you’ve felt anxious about going into a new situation. Encourage them to focus on the present and avoid thinking too far ahead. Thinking too far ahead can feel overwhelming. Focus on what is in their control (hand washing, wearing masks, getting prepared for returning such as packing their bag) rather than what they can’t control (what might happen with the pandemic in several months time).
Make yourself available as much as possible Children may want to come and “debrief” but maybe not when you expect. Create space for talking in different ways, such as going on a walk together or baking together – there may be less pressure in these circumstances than when sitting face-to-face. Check in with them periodically. Don’t assume they’re ok because they seem it. Ask the young person how things are going, even when they are back at school. Ask them questions like: what have they enjoyed about being back? Any worries or challenges?
Look at the positives It might be helpful to talk with your child about the things they have enjoyed during the pandemic and what they may be looking forward to, like their favourite shop reopening, seeing friends in the park or getting ice cream from their favourite café.
It is important to help children develop hope and a sense of excitement for the future. At a time like this, it can be hard to feel positive, but identifying the things that they can look fora=ward to will help them to realise that the current situation wont last forever and their feelings will change.
Often there are emotional reasons for school refusal, including difficulties with worry and anxiety.
Due to the worldwide pandemic, many have experienced months of school closures. Students have been at home and away from any educational setting for some time and they may fid it challenging to return to face to face learning in the school environment.
Possible worries about returning to school post covid restrictions:
Contracting the virus, passing it onto loved ones or even dying.
Worry around loss and bereavement
Health based concerns regarding returning to school when the virus is still very much centre stage in the media.
Concern about changing friendship groups due to isolation.
Worries about the need for more social interaction at school.
A preference for the slower paced lockdown lifestyle
A fear of reduced control of their day.
Fear of academic abilities/ or being behind peers
Decreased motivation and mood after reduced physical activity
Fear of being away from loved ones during the day
Missing their pets.
Worries and Anxiety relating to all of the above.
Have a plan in place
Having a plan can help empower and give a sense of control and reassurance about returning to school.
If you are concerned about your child's transition back to school or possible refusal then contact your school.
Speak with your GP and seek a referral for specialist intervention if required.
Establish a person your child can speak with during the school day if they are not coping.
Have a calm down kit of favourite things.
Establish some self care and relaxation strategies.
Develop strategies with your child's school for a successful return to school.
* talking to a trusted adult at school
* break time with a buddy
* utilising their calm down kit.
* quiet space or withdrawal opportunity.
Allow extra time to establish a routine, start putting the routine in place 2 weeks prior to the return date.
Aim for a calm household to help you and your child stay regulated.
We have all needed and used buckets of resilience over the past 18 months. We have managed adversity and bounced back from the difficult life events that COVID has presented to us. With your children returning to face-to-face school over the next 2 weeks, they need to continue to sustain their resilience with their ever-changing schooling.
When a child overcomes a challenge, they develop a sense of achievement. This success helps children to build confidence in their own strengths and prepares them to face future bigger challenges.
The types of challenges vary for all of us and for your child that could mean anything from homework, making and keeping friends, moving to a new house, parent separation or death of a loved one. Resilience can help the child bounce back from each of these life events. It also allows them to persevere and ‘have another go’ when things don’t work out the way they expected.
Resilience is a skill that can be learned by any individual, at any age and does not rely on a child’s ability or personality.
The most important factor in resilience is for a child to have a network of caring and supporting relationships.
These relationships may include parents, teachers, sports coaches, family or friends. It’s important that this network includes a trusted adult, within or outside of the family, who can provide reassurance, encourage the child to keep persevering, and identify the child’s strengths that could help overcome the challenge.
Having a realistic plan and achievable steps to be able to carry out the plan is also essential to building resilience.
Once a child learns how to plan effectively, they can start using this new planning skill when making new friends, battling through a hard video game level, managing conflict and exams.
The child’s level of confidence in their strengths and abilities also plays a role in the development of resilience. If they lack confidence, they may attempt to avoid the situation completely. A confidence building strategy is helping diffuse how big or scary the problem looks while encouraging a plan to tackle the problem in smaller steps.
Have good communication and problem-solving skills.
It’s easy to assume that resilient children don’t need to ask for help, but a significant part of what makes them resilient is that they know when they do need help and then how to go about it successfully.
Encourage good self-regulation skills to manage strong emotions and impulses.
It is much easier to teach these emotion regulation skills when the child is calm and not in the frustrating situation. Once the child has learnt this skill you can then encourage them to apply it to the situation.
Giving them responsibilities.
Household chores can be a fantastic way to promote self-esteem, independence, pride in work, confidence in abilities, and a sense of belonging and importance to the family.
Facilitate community involvement.
Increase opportunities to practice resilience skills across many areas such as sport, scouts and brownies, music, dance, volunteering and fundraising efforts.
Research suggests that mindfulness not only improves resilience in children and it can reduce parent stress.
Promote goal setting.
If the challenge is too big, encourage your child to develop a plan. Start with goal setting for highly motivated tasks, like making a chocolate cake or how to get past a tricky level on their computer game, and then transfer the skills learnt to less motivating tasks like practicing for a speech or confronting a range of tricky situations.
Modelling your strategies.
Allow your kids to see your day-to-day struggles and what you do to overcome them. For example, you might let them see you practice what you will say to someone in the car or mirror, deep breathing, write a to-do list or action plan, or practice self-care to bounce back from a hard day. Modelling normalises that everyone experiences challenges and your child is more likely to feel comfortable to use similar strategies. Identify characters in your child’s favourite books, tv shows or movies that also model resilience.
Further information on building your child’s resilience can be from:
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