Helping our youngsters transition back to school

Over the past few months, we have been grateful for local counselling experts, Theresa Hughes and Julie York, sharing some ideas and advice on various ways to cope with pressures caused by the pandemic and lockdown. Their latest advice is about helping our youngsters transition back to school.

Children missing out on their education pose much bigger risks to them than catching COVID-19. So how can we best support our children as they transition back to school? Think ‘TREES!’

TALK Give factual, age appropriate information. Allow children to ask questions and be honest with your responses, without increasing any potential anxiety.

REASSURE You may not know all the answers to questions posed – no-one does! It’s ok to say ‘yes, some people do get very sick with the virus, and most people get better.’ Reassure them that you’re there for them. Children take their cues from how they see the adults around them deal with anxiety.

EXPLAIN How things will be different and that these practices help to keep everyone safe: wearing facemasks, social distancing in the class and playground, lots and lots of hand washing, being in ‘bubbles.’ Familiarise yourself with your school’s approach, so that you can help them to prepare.

ESTABLISH Children have had months away from the routine of school and being at home with parents. It takes a while to re-establish routines, but routines help children feel safe and secure. Set bedtimes and wake up times, breakfast and getting ready for school. Try to ensure you say goodbye in the morning, particularly if you don’t do the drop off. Don’t worry about the academic side of things initially, concentrate on helping them feel safe, secure, and supported.

SEPARATION Most children are resilient and will adjust quickly to the routine of being back to school, seeing their friends and teachers and having fun. However, be mindful that some may suffer from separation anxiety. Schools are aware of this and are planning a gentle transition back. If you feel your child needs additional support, speak to their teacher.

If your family has experienced severe illness or bereavement as a result of COVID – extra reassurance and explanation is likely to be needed. For these children, and for children who are highly anxious, additional preparation measures might be helpful, such as social stories to set out what things will look like at school. Your children might also welcome more time with you at the end of the school day to talk about how they’re feeling. Hopefully, their return to school will be a positive experience!

Theresa is an accredited Counsellor/Psychotherapist based at Havering Therapy Centre, Hornchurch  .

Julie is a Systemic Family Therapy Practitioner specialising in supporting young people and their families, based in Upminster –  .

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