Going back to school can be an anxious time for children under ordinary circumstances, but this year the Covid-19 protection measures may make for an even more unfamiliar environment. That’s in addition to the general anxiety that we have all been feeling due to the health crisis. So what can you do to reassure children about the protection measures when going back to school this year?
It’s ok to be anxious
Perhaps the first thing to remind children is that it’s perfectly ok to feel a little anxious about going back to, or starting a new school, especially as there will be processes in place that are a bit different to the way they remember them. Talk to them honestly about their feelings and about taking time to adjust. Also reassure them that other children will feel exactly the same way as them. In those widely referenced words - ‘we’re all in this together’.
Explain some of the changes that will be in place
You will probably have been contacted by the school by now in order to explain what measures are in place to help make your child’s school Covid secure. If you would like clarity on the measures and processes, try emailing or speaking to the school. Then discuss the measures with your child so that they can better understand what to expect. We all feel better when we have a sense of what’s going on, and it will help them to be able to observe the rules more effectively as well.
Discuss why the changes have been made
When you’re explaining the Covid secure measures at school, and in general, explain to your child why they’ve been put in place. Talk about the positive impact of the measures - helping to keep everyone including their teachers, friends, family and themselves, safe and healthy whilst still being able to see one another.
Get used to protective clothing before school starts
Depending on the age of your child, they will probably have started wearing a face mask at times. They may also have become experts in the art of social distancing. However, we all know that as tricky as it can be for adults to remember to abide by all the rules, it’s even harder for children, especially when they’re excited to see their friends again. To help them remember what to do, practice wearing a face mask, social distancing, coughing or sneezing into their elbow and washing their hands regularly at home. Again, knowing what to do and having a sense of control over their situation will help to ease nerves and anxiety.
Whether it’s telling you if they have a fever or are finding it hard to breathe, or discussing their worries, encouraging children to talk has arguably never been more important. Remind them that these specific symptoms are especially important to communicate to a parent or teacher, while talking about the things they’re worried about or frightened of will help you to be able to address any issues with them as well.
Positive ways to handle the mental health impact of Covid-19
The mental health impact of Covid-19 is being discussed far and wide, and we will likely not see the full impact for some time. All the different stages, from lockdown to the return from lockdown, have had their individual and collective challenges that we all need to be aware of. Talking to children about how they feel, and developing an ongoing dialogue, is an important part of being able to manage their mental health and any concerns that arise. However, it’s not the only way. Sometimes children find it easier to express themselves more creatively. For example, games or drawing can be a fun way to externalise what’s on their mind. Sometimes that in itself is enough to ease the pressure they may be feeling, but it’s also a good way of keeping you informed in a gentle way.