After months of homeschooling, many parents (us included) are relieved to be seeing their kids go back to the classroom. But for our children, the adjustment back into a different environment can be a bit tricky and lead to some worries.
That’s why we spoke to Livvy Gormally, an experienced behavioural specialist, about how parents can support their children to make the back-to-school transition as smooth as possible. Here are her top 4 tips on how to help your kids settle back into school:
1. Get things ready beforehand
Making some practical preparations can have a huge impact on how your child feels about returning to school. After such a long time off, it’s important to make sure that your kids have everything they need – from uniforms and shoes to lunchboxes and a comfy mask (if they need to wear one). Getting everything to hand early will help you avoid the 8am scramble on the first Monday back.
Firstly, check that their uniform fits properly. Kids have been used to wearing pyjamas and comfy clothes all day, so getting back into uniforms might (understandably!) feel a bit restrictive at first. Although some primary-aged children might be allowed to wear their PE kits rather than full school uniforms, most older pupils will have to follow their usual dress code once they return.
You can help them prepare for this by getting them to try things on beforehand. If some items don’t fit, you can look at ordering them online where possible – or simply explain to the school that for the first couple of weeks your child might need to come in wearing trainers, for example, until you’re able to get new school shoes that fit.
Schools are generally pretty understanding that it’s a tough time at the moment, so if your children need some leniency around dress code for the first week or so, just speak to them beforehand and explain to your child that they’re not going to get into trouble for not wearing their full uniform.
2. Plan the school run (realistically)
After so long at home, it’s important to think about how long it will actually take for everyone to get up and ready in the mornings – because it will likely take longer than you think! Making sure that all of the logistics are sorted is a good way of curbing your children’s anxiety – they’ll know that everything is sorted and will have fewer worries on the day.
This is just as important for you as it is for your kids – when you’re less time-managed in a homeschool environment it doesn’t have too much of a knock-on effect, but if your child needs to catch a school bus or you need to drop them by car those few extra minutes of delay can make all the difference.
If you’re a working parent, try to be kind to yourself and where possible give yourself a bit longer than usual to do the drop-off. If things do end up taking slightly longer or if your child is anxious, you don’t want the added pressure of running back to a 9am meeting. Although it’s not possible for everyone, trying to give yourself a bit of a cushion can help you feel less stressed or guilty about things.
3. Prepare your children emotionally
Really try to identify your child’s triggers. In the run-up to school (or any transition), you can see certain behaviours start to trickle out – perhaps they start becoming more irritable, or get a bit fussier about food. Those kinds of behaviour changes usually indicate that the child is confused and uncertain about the change in routine, and the lack of certainty is making them a bit anxious.
If you do notice your children’s anxiety start to mount, try to think about what they’re struggling with – are they being fussy about food because they don’t know what they’re going to eat when they go back? Are they getting irritable because they’re worried about how they’ll reintegrate into their friend groups?
The two most common types of anxiety that may affect your child at this time are social anxiety and separation anxiety. Social anxiety may have increased due to a lack of social contact – some children, for instance, may not know what to talk about with their friends when they go back.
You can support them through this by helping them think of conversation starters, and reminding them that they will get back into their friend groups. Sometimes these things may take time, but it’s important to remember that children are incredibly malleable and can usually readjust – and until they do, it’s okay for them to spend some time figuring out how to interact with others.
In terms of separation anxiety, it’s best to have a plan so that if your child wobbles at the drop-off point, you know what to do. Understand what exactly is allowed at your child’s school (e.g. are you allowed past the school gates, what are the rules around social distancing). This will help you to know what you and your child can and can’t do – so that you can factor that into your plan.
Using positive language is another way to support your child emotionally – recognise their concerns as valid but try to emphasise the positive aspects of their return to school. Meeting their friends, having exciting new activities and being able to get out of the house are all things that can make kids feel a bit more positive and eager to go back to school.
4. Understand that there will be knock-on effects
Think about whether you need to readjust the after-school routine as your children get used to the change. For example, understand that they might be more hungry, tired or overstimulated after going back to school, and that they may need more sleep, alone-time or an earlier supper to help them cope with the new routine.
Knowing the way that your child might react to the transition can help you manage your expectations. Remember that being tired might have an effect on your child’s ability to retain and process information, and make sure to have age-appropriate expectations and reward positive behaviours. Breaking things down into smaller, more manageable instructions, for example, can be a good way of making sure your child is able to follow their routines more easily.
Find out more
For more great information and behavioural support from Livvy, go to www.letsasklivvy.co.uk.