Here are some top tips for parents and carers on how to talk to and reassure your child about their return to school, especially if they are shown more behaviours than normal.
Remember if you have any worries or concerns get in touch with your child's school or Early Childhood Centre (ECC).
Help and advice on supporting worries children might have about school:
Keep it simple and honest
Your child's school or nursery will make you and your child aware of changes to the normal routines.
Please take time to talk to your child, show them any videos or pictures from school or nursery. Some possible changes might be:
- changes to entry to school and drop off and pick up
- additional handwashing and hygiene routines
- adults being physically distanced
- staggered breaks and lunchtimes
- changes to where they eat snack and how they get their lunch
Children may have lots of questions, or no questions at all about their return to school. They may want to know things like:
- Will I be able to play with my friends?
- Will teachers help me if I am stuck?
Accept your child's feelings and make space to talk
Children cope best when they feel safe, seen, soothed and secure.
We can do that by:
- simply listening
- helping them to label their feelings
- supporting them in asking the questions they need to ask
- accepting and noticing whatever it is they are experiencing
Connect and redirect
How to connect with their feelings and helpfully redirect them.
Children and teenagers might be very easily tired, more irritable and act out through their behaviour when they go back to school or nursery.
A really effective way of managing this is to connect with their feelings and then redirect the behaviour and set the limit.
We might not like the behaviour, but we can accept the feeling behind it, not the behaviour itself.
It's okay to be tired after a long day at school, it's been ages since you've been at school for so long. I get that you are tired and annoyed, but it's not okay to hit your brother. That hurts him and it hurts my feelings.
It's okay to be annoyed about getting ready in the morning. We need to get out of the house earlier now, but it's not okay to speak to me like that. That's rude.
I get that you are done with being sociable after a busy day at school, I'm tired too now. But you can go and have some quiet time to watch TV instead of shouting at your sister. That hurts her feelings. She's only wee, she doesn't know you've had enough of everyone.
I know you are sad about leaving Mum. It's okay to have a wee cry, it's a big change. Here let's have a hug and I will be back for you at the end of the day. Your teachers will keep you safe. I always come back. I love you.
Name it to tame it
Sometimes as parents we are tempted to try and fix the worries of our children by trying to reduce the impact of their feelings. That might feel like we are dismissing their feelings and denying there is something to feel worried or anxious about.
This might sound like:
Don't cry, you'll be fine. You're perfectly healthy now. Just make sure to wash your hands and you'll be fine. You won't need to miss school. Now let's talk about something less depressing.
In that scenario, the child may not feel truly seen and heard. His perception is his reality and he's scared.
If we name it to tame it, we name what we think the child is feeling or worried about, which can reduce their big feelings a lot. That can then feel more like: I'm here, I'm listening. We'll get through this together.
So saying something like:
I can see you're worried about this. I know you worry about falling behind. Do you remember when you were sick before? What happened then when you went back to school?
You spoke to the school. My teacher spoke to me on my own and helped me with a plan of how to finish the work I missed. And she emailed you too. And you helped me.
Remember if you have any worries or concerns get in touch with your child's school or ECC.
Safe, seen soothed
Help your child feel safe, seen and soothed:
Let them know that the adults around them will keep them safe. Accept their feelings and worries so they feel safe.
This could sound like:
- Everything is going to be ok, no matter what the problem, we'll find a way to work it out
- Your teachers will keep you safe
- If you are worried you can talk to…
- Give that worry to me to look after for you. I'll talk to Mr X…
Tune into their mental state by being present. Respond to what we see in a timely and effective manner.
This could look and sound like:
- Clear facial expressions, big smiles on leaving and arriving
- Remembering stories, feelings, things they have told you about school or nursery
- I love you and I know you can do this. I can see you look a bit worried
- I can't wait to hear about your day later
- It so lovely to see you! I've missed you. You look a bit sad, want to talk?
- I wonder if you've been really grumpy the last few days because something is bothering you? I wonder if it's…
When a child is distressed on the inside that negative experience can be shifted by an adult who tunes in and listens. They won't feel alone.
This could look and sound like:
- Feeling understood
- I am so proud of you, you were a bit worried about that, but you did it!
- I can see that you are feeling a wee bit worried, that's ok, almost everybody will be feeling a wee bit like that at the moment
- So you're telling me you hate having to sit on your own on the bus? That's hard, I would hate that too. It's so frustrating that that's the way it has to be just now.