5 Conversations You Need To Have With Your Child Before They Head Back To School After Lockdown 3.0

As it's announced schools in England will return on March 8, and Scottish and Welsh pupils start a phased return, Dr Linda Papadopoulos shares her expert tips to help ease your child back to school.

Back to school tips

by Louise Burke |
Updated on

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It’s the moment every homeschooling parent bordering on a burnout is waiting for… On March 8 children will (hopefully) return to school in England - in Wales and Scotland, a phased return starts today. This morning, Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said schools in England would open for all pupils on March 8.

It will mark the end of a - let’s be honest - a sh*tstorm of an era which has seen us muddling working from home with remote learning timetables, endless requests for snacks and an unsuccessful side hustle as a small person’s IT support during a failed Google classroom registration. Hallelujah.

But while the return date is filling us with heady excitement, how are our kids going to deal with making the move back into RL learning and socialising again in the classroom after a whole year away from pre-pandemic normality?

New research by NHS Digital (2020) suggests one in six school aged children now has a mental health problem, compared to one in nine, three years ago. Sadly, this doesn’t feel hugely surprising considering the chaotic disruption families have experienced this past year.

Top psychologist and mum Dr Linda Papadopoulos, ambassador for Internet Matters, who help families explore the digital world safely, says we must pay careful attention preparing our children going back to school, especially if they’re feeling anxious or distressed.

She talks us through the five conversations you should try with your child. But first, she suggests finding your quiet time. ‘Some people use ‘sideways listening’ technique during a walk or in the car, so your child doesn’t feel pressured talking face to face,’ says Dr Linda. ‘I always found bedtime was best to talk calmly with my daughter.’ Read on for Dr Linda’s advice…

Put their emotions in check

‘Conversation around returning back to school could be a little awkward for some, but remember, kids can often be more resilient than us,’ says Dr Linda. ‘You want to emotionally inoculate them with a few coping strategies, but keep it fun and exciting. In the days leading up to their return date, start implanting positive, curious thoughts in their heads such as, ‘I wonder what game will you play with your friend Sam?’ or ‘Why not take your Lego in for show and tell for the class?’. It’s the same as what we’d do if we were going on a date or to a dinner party - you’d read the news, or check trends on social media, so you can offer a funny story.

‘Put a positive spin on things. We shouldn’t be telling them it’s going to be difficult or too much of a change. Anxiety and excitement physiologically manifest themselves similarly. If you reframe the activities into something exciting, it helps to rename the butterfly feeling into a fun feeling.

‘And if you have your own anxiety, be aware of that before start your conversation as you don’t want to pass your worries on to them.’

Reintroduce routine into family life

‘Human beings generally are creatures of habit, and kids are no exception. We all know if you want them in bed on time, then a bath, milk, and story routine helps them sleep much better.’

Dr Linda adds, ‘Unfortunately the return to school disrupts any routine you’ve created yet again. The challenge is to make it as less taxing as possible for them. Our brains don’t deal well with cognitive shifts easily. For example, you’re more likely to have a heart attack on a Monday morning than any other time of the week which can often be put down to how emotionally taxing shifts can be. It’s similar for children’s brains, though obviously less dramatic. We have to ease them gently into new ideas.

‘It may be an idea to start weaning your child off their screen time the week before school starts. The shift from learning on screen to the classroom will happen naturally, but playdates, gaming, entertainment will need readdressing. Just like if you were ready to leave the playground, you’d give your child a 10 minute warning, you do the same with screen time. Try ‘When you’re back at school, you’ll be doing two days of gaming, not all week’. And keep reminding them. It’s called habituation - gently reinforcing a new idea until it feels normal.

‘There’s no need to go to the extreme of suggesting a practise school run but you could try fun things like laying out clothes the night before or planning lunchboxes together in the days before their return.’

Help your child ‘invest’ in their future selves

‘Young kids have a very different sense of time. There’s no point talking to them in weeks, or days. Use ‘sleeps’ instead. But only do this in the days leading up to the event. In that time, remind them what they missed about school - their friends, their teacher, break time in the playground or snacks at pick up time. This way, you’re putting aspirational thoughts about school in their conscience.

‘To help them ‘invest’ in their future, when you’re chatting about life in lockdown and homeschooling, make a connection about what they have been doing and how it will benefit them when they’re in the classroom. For example, ‘You couldn’t spell your name when you were last in school, now you can you’ll be able to write it on all your new work…’ and so on.

Give them a confidence boost

‘Kids often fear change. The only way to help get them through it is by supporting them and making them feel confident and capable. Drop in examples of how they’ve coped with change in the past to give them a boost. For example, “When you started your Zoom classes, you were shy at unmuting. Then you became much more confident”.

‘One of the best traits you can have as a human is adaptability. So if you can help nurture that early on, they’ll reap the benefits as they get older,’ says Dr Linda.

Don’t drown them with reassurance

‘As a parent, you’re always going to want to protect your child. But just be careful not to overprotect. You want them to be self sufficient. You don’t want to ‘spoon feed’ them solutions because they’ll never learn to work things out for themselves.

‘I think it’s healthy to make your child feel a little uncomfortable every now and then. If they’re struggling to work it out, you can support them to find a solution rather than providing one.

‘You must realise that kids are very good at catastrophising. As a parent, we should try and normalise anxieties; they happen to everyone and remember, feelings are not facts. Talk it through - what’s the worst that could happen? Usually it’s not that bad! Strip it back and you can help take the worry out of the anxiety.’

Dr Linda’s last piece of advice…

‘If you’re worried about how your child is settling back into school, speak to teachers. It's a joint effort. Talk about any changes in behaviour you might be seeing like disturbed sleep, a sore tummy, withdrawn in social situations. Are they seeing similar changes in the classroom? As wonderful and as resilient as kids are, let's be honest, it's been a very tough year.’

For more expert advice from Dr Linda Papadopoulos and tools on how to keep your child safe online visit Internetmatters.org.

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