Prepare yourself schools are back. But only for some years.
The last few weeks during my sessions and workshops the topic of schools re-opening has been raised numerous times. It is noticeably clear it is causing parents and some children great anxiety.
I am fortunate I do not have school aged children (mine are now 28 and 30 years) as this decision whether to return your children to school is a hard choice.
Some parents do not have the choice, as pressure by their employers or finances are forcing them to return to work.
As schools across England prepare for a phased re-opening from 1 June, I am hoping some of my suggestions, resources, and ideas I include in my school readiness sessions will be of use.
These may be particularly useful in alleviating children’s and parent's anxieties.
My motto is “sometimes small changes can make a big difference”.
Parents and child’s anxiety
Managing anxiety around the virus will be tricky. We have, for the last 10 weeks told our children they need to “stay home” to “Stay safe”, now we are telling them they can go to school.
According to a Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) survey, when children normally start reception about a quarter of parents (27%) said that they were about as anxious as their child, and nearly half of them (48%) said that they were more anxious than their child about starting school. Due to anxieties and worries expressed to me and on social media I feel this number will be a lot higher on starting back during Covid19.
New research from PACEY reveals that only four out of ten parents will be sending their children back next week.
48% said they are either not planning on sending their child back to a childcare setting or have yet to decide, meaning thousands of childcare providers could potentially open to significantly reduced numbers of children.
Children pick up on their parents’ feelings very easily, so it is important that parents try to avoid letting their child know how anxious they feel. Children look to their parents for reassurance, so we need to try and communicate that we have confidence in them.
There are some great resources available to help start discussions with your children about returning to school.
Download the back to school after coronavirus story from ELSA support website for free.
ELSA support has excellent well-being resources for all ages.
Anxiety can affect children in many ways and some of these can be physical or emotional
-Complaining of stomach-ache
-Eczema flair ups
-Unable to settle at bedtime
-May start to wet the bed
-Regress in other toileting skills
-Regress in other areas and skills
They are just reacting to what is happening around them. They are using their downstairs brain, their "limbic system".
This is responsible for emotional responses, loss of control, acting before thinking, the fight/flight or freeze response.
They are not in charge of their emotions and this makes it impossible for them to use their upstairs brain. This is responsible for controlling their emotions, making decisions, planning, empathy, controlling thoughts and processing.
If you can put in your mind that they are not being “naughty” or “misbehaving” they are reacting to the very unusual situation.
Physical contact – new ways to teach children.
Social distancing might look fine on paper, but it is going to be extremely hard for little ones. They will have a natural urge to hug their friends especially after not seeing them for weeks.
Any new rules will need to be pitched to them.
My suggestions are:
- If parents can find out from their child’s own school (they will all differ) what measures have been put in place.
If the teacher can share a picture of the classroom set up, markings etc and email it to all. This can be shared with your child so they can familiarise themselves with their new surroundings. It can also open discussions and alleviate some of their anxieties.
-Start to teach your child new non- physical ways to connect with their friends.
Thumbs up , smiles or hugging themselves.
You could teach them a hand massage they could do on themselves if they feel worried. Hands are extremely sensitive and great for self- soothing.
The story massage programme has lots to choose from
Here is a video of a lovely one called “ One by one” - click here
Or this fun story you can do before they return to school with massage strokes on their backs.
Massage is perfect for supporting children with their emotions and it is important for children to talk about their feelings, but sometimes it is difficult to get them to open up. Touch can allow them to get some of their thoughts out and this can be useful to help their mood.
Often the more we question our children the more unresponsive they become.
Before the age of twelve children are more tactile, they use feeling more than sight or hearing for information about the world. Therefore, a warm touch can often trigger an outpouring of feeling or thoughts more than any verbal communication.
Fun Ideas to prepare your children.
When visiting parks now take photos of mum, dad, siblings, swings, slides, ducks etc and talk about them when you get home. Make a book (collection of photos or pictures) about the places you visited. Or activities you did at home.
Try a mix of photographs and sentences.
Then make a book about school. Who will be there? What it will look like. What they will do.
Explain to them what it will look like. If you know you cannot drop off at the door, “Prepare them”.
Ask them what they are most excited about. Talk about what will be different. It will look strange to what they remember from before. “Prepare them”.
Ask them how they feel about starting school again. Always accept their feelings, whatever they say.
Do not say “Don’t be silly”. The fear or anxiety they feel is very real to them. Acknowledge it.
Use books/apps on emotions and feelings to help them make sense of their emotions.
Two of my favourite books are
“The Huge bag of worries”
and “The colour monster”
This can help build your child’s confidence about starting back at school.
Start to mark off the days on a calendar this will prepare them. Some children are reassured if they have a visual timetable of what comes next.
Start to get back into a routine with earlier bedtimes (most routines have changed since lock down) or the shock to their system will be huge.
The importance of hand washing is going to continue, and they might find it hard to remember at school with distractions.
Any play activities while you are at home that explain the hand washing techniques will help.
Share my video with your children about the 5 important areas to wash.
I have covered the most common areas missed by children,
Thumbs, in-between fingers, fingernails, palms, and backs.
Also teach them the coughing and sneezing etiquette.
If a tissue is not immediately available, children should
catch coughs or sneezes in their elbow rather than use their hands.
Teachers are amazing.
I have met and worked with some amazing teachers and I know if they return to work, they will prepare for this new way of social distancing. Just like when new children arrive in reception class or after a school holiday, they spend weeks preparing.
I am a member of PACEY and I have read some of the measures childcare professionals are putting in place.
- Staggering drop-offs and pickups to avoid groups of parents arriving at once.
- Reminding families that only symptom-free parents/
carers can drop off or pick up children
- Making sure hygiene starts at the doorstep
- Keeping an eye out for symptoms in all children and staff
- Judging when social distancing is appropriate
- Keeping small groups separate
- Explaining social distancing through games and activities
- Maintaining social distancing for staff as well
- New posters showing classroom rules.
Teachers live and breathe risk assessments and procedures every day. They are now working their way through the government’s 51-page dossier.
More information can be found here Government advice for reopening schools and other educational settings in England.
Expect slip ups it is only natural; children will find it hard.
If we can introduce new rules and change in a positive way our children will find it easier to adapt to this strange way of returning to learning.
Once your child does return to school be prepared for some meltdowns when they return home.
You are their safe space so they will release their emotions.
They will also be tired as they will be processing their “new normal” and trying to make sense of it.
If you need any support with helping your child adjust and with any challenges you encounter just pop me a message and will be happy to discuss.