Going back to school after such a long time away, especially in these strange times, is something that a lot of parents and children have been looking forward to. There are always a few anxieties when returning to school after a period away, for example after the summer holidays. Yet this time things are very different, no one has been on holiday making great memories to share with friends.

Families have been at home in circumstances never before experienced by anyone, so returning to school is a double-edged sword. There is a need for some normality and the knowledge that we are in fact entering a new kind of normal.

Your child craves routine and structure yet they are about to go into school where they will have to discover a completely new way of learning and interacting with their peers. Even for parents the school run will be very different due to social distancing.

Equally as a parent you are longing to be able to return to work if you can, or work from home without interruptions. Yet there is so much more at stake now and that thought is very anxiety inducing. Will your child be safe at school, what are the long-term implications of forcing children to social distance from their peers, how do you manage your child’s worries when you have so many of your own?

Here are a few tips that will help ease some of those anxieties for both you and your child/ren.

  • First of all, keep talking about it.  This doesn’t need to be big conversations but casually mentioning school helps your child to see that school is still there and that they will be returning. Talk about school in a positive way, remind your child how well they did before the schools closed, talk about a positive achievement and remind them how they felt at the time.
  • Have a conversation with the school or find out via the school newsletter what the new school day will look like. Try to give your child as much information as you can – will they be in mixed classes or will it be a small group of their current class? There are so many questions that your child may have and it’s important that you find out what they are and see if you can address as many of them as possible.
  • Be mindful not to make any promises that you are unable to keep, for example if your child asks if they will become ill, as hard as this is you cannot say no. Maybe point out that there are always bugs and viruses in school but if everyone follows social distancing and washes their hands when appropriate, the risk can be reduced.
  • It’s so important to acknowledge your child’s feelings; it really won’t help telling them to get on with it, or that they are being silly by feeling anxious about going to school. Have a chat about things that make them feel happy; it may be worth creating a keyring or small notebook full of favourite things that they can place in a school bag and have to look at any time they feel worried or anxious whilst at school. Be mindful for signs of anxiety such as stomach ache or feeling lethargic and unmotivated. If you notice your child displaying these behaviours, try some relaxation techniques like deep breathing. Remember that a child will not be able to learn if they are in fight flight mode caused by high anxieties and stress.
  • Try to keep things positive, as a positive mindset is so powerful. Talk about the good things at school and how they are taking the first small steps to getting back to the life that we all once enjoyed. There is a lot of unhelpful talk in the media at the moment debating whether it is safe for schools to open.  If you are happy for your child to return to school then maybe consider turning off the TV when such conversations are taking place.

Remember no one enjoys feeling anxious and all behaviour is a form of communication.

About the author:  As well as having a BA (Hons) in Special Educational Needs Cheryl (Chezzy) Kennedy has over 10 years’ experience of working with autistic individuals across a mixture of settings,  this includes experience of using a variety of interventions to help get the best results based on an individual’s needs. Chezzy is a massive advocate for positive wellbeing with interests in Meditation, Mindfulness, Relax Kids, Story massage and has developed her own wellbeing programme called Confident Kids®.  She is a parent to three autistic teenagers and is herself diagnosed as autistic and dyslexic. Recently Chezzy has been regularly featured on BBC Three Counties Radio giving expert advice on how to manage wellbeing during lockdown.