Canberra families received the news last week that students would be returning to face to face learning sooner than anticipated. This news was met with mixed reactions. On the one hand, families are looking forward to reclaiming a sense of normalcy in their daily lives and children are keen to see their friends and teachers face to face. Many aspects of this new ‘normal’, however, remain uncertain and re-entry into the school community can be an anxiety provoking experience.
Over the last few months many families have had some difficulty meeting their basic needs. Whether it be difficulty accessing certain foods, safety gear, medications, or toilet paper, not having access to certain items may have led to children feeling unsafe and anxious.
These threats to safety have been exacerbated by worry for vulnerable family members and friends, and the disappointing cancellation of special events and enjoyable activities. When our basic physiological and safety needs are not met, our bodies try and protect us by going into ‘fight or flight’ mode, leading to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Returning to school, a place that for the last couple months has been deemed ‘not safe enough’, may heighten these emotions.
Children often have difficulty communicating how they are feeling with words in the way adults do. They often communicate through their actions and behaviour. The Anxiety Iceberg, provides a nice illustration of this. When children feel anxious, we often observe them avoiding things, talking negatively, talking more or less than normal, ignoring or defying instructions, or acting aggressively. You might also notice changes in sleep, appetite, energy or concentration. Often these are due to underlying feelings of anxiety or other uncomfortable emotions, such as sadness or grief.
Tips to help support your child transition
Validate their thoughts/feelings
When talking to your children about returning to school it is important to stay calm, listen, and validate whatever they are feeling. Talk to them about what the new normal may look like (e.g., what will be the same as before, and what will be different). Be realistic and truthful about the future (e.g., we can’t guarantee or make promises about school staying open, but what we do know is that this is what’s best right now)
Focus on the things they missed
The return to school means that there will be many more opportunities for play and connection with peers and teachers. This may be the first time children will be playing and interacting with people outside their household since before schools closed.
To facilitate socialisation, it might be suitable to arrange a walk or a bike ride with a friend to help ease your child back into these relationships. When discussing school, don’t forget to ask about the games they are playing with friends and the funny things their teachers do in class.
Discuss your concerns with your child's teacher
Teachers are aware that this is a difficult time for families and know that some children may have difficulty transitioning back to the classroom. If you child’s teacher is aware of your concerns, they will be better prepared to monitor and manage these concerns and provide updates to you when necessary. Your child’s teacher may then be able to link your child in with other supports within the school, such as games clubs or wellbeing staff, to set them up for success.
If you’re in need of support, give us a call to book an appointment. Our psychologists will be able to provide tailored support for individuals and families through this difficult time.