Learning points: 5 tips for preparing children to return to school

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The important steps you can take to ensure a smooth return to school life

Nothing has disrupted our sense of routine more than this pandemic. I have had so many conversations with parents over the last number of months about how their children really struggled with this disruption.

Sleeping habits were massively impacted. I don’t think there will be a parent reading this today that hasn’t worried about their children’s sleep hygiene. Whether they worry their child isn’t getting enough sleep or is going to sleep far later than usual and waking up later, whatever the concern, I think we have all worried a little about how will our children manage another transitional period in their lives and further disruption to routine.

Now that schools are on the verge of reopening how we prepare our children for this new transition will determine if it will be conflict-free or not. We are creatures of habit and we have fallen into some bad habits because of this virus but it is crucial now that we start to change those habits so that our children will manage the routine of school life with ease.

The following are 5 important steps you can take to ensure a smooth return to school life:

  1. Watch how you talk to your children about returning to school:

First of all, our children are incredibly resilient and most of them are probably really looking forward to going back to school to meet their friends. So, for most this will not be an issue. But for some, they will have become incredibly dependent on a parent and will find that separation very difficult. So don’t project any of your own fears on the kids. When talking to them about going back to school ask them what they are looking forward to rather than what they fear about going back. It is always very important not to confirm your child’s fears.

  1. Don’t offer your child too much reassurance:

A child will look for evidence to prove they are right to worry. And if your child is a worrier your tendency as a parent might be to reassure them more and more. The problem with this is, the more you reassure your child the more you implicitly tell them they are right to be concerned and therefore they will seek more reassurance and you will then have to offer more comfort and you have got yourself caught in a very negative pattern of communication. When you notice your child is seeking reassurance, stop yourself from offering too much. Just remember the more you offer the more your child will seek it. Listen to their concern and help them problem solve it.

  1. Start the separation process slowly:

If you have noticed that your child depends on you more than they did before lockdown, they may have developed a dependency on you. I have noticed this issue in my own clinic and it is usually with mom. What I would always advise is that you teach your child how to manage without mom. So, it is important that you start to leave them during the day and then increase the time, and eventually spontaneously leave them when you notice they are managing better. You are building their resilience slowly when you do this and also building their sense of self. When they have a low sense of self, they rely on a parent more to manage their feelings. Teach them that they can manage their feelings themselves.

  1. Remind your child that they have been through this already:

Children love certainty and familiarity. This pandemic has really disrupted this so remind them that they have been through it already so they know what to expect. There will be nothing new in this return to school, it will be what they have experienced before and reintroduce them to the positives of Septembers return to school. Children can forget quite quickly and catastrophize when they feel a sense of uncertainty so reminding them about the positives of a previous experience will help them with this new experience.

  1. Connect them to their friends:

Children are very good at developing negative hypothetical scenarios in their heads. Like they might think that their friends will no longer like them. So setting up a Zoom call and getting them to reconnect before school will assuage those fears. And you might find that they have become energised about going back once they realise their friends miss them too.

The world is beginning to return to normal. Our children have managed incredibly well in a very difficult and disruptive period of their young lives. If you manage this last major transition back to school successful, you will have taught your child another invaluable lesson about resilience.

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