Preparing for return to school

As more young people return to school over the next few weeks after months away there is bound to be a range of emotions.

For some the return to school is cause for celebration; reuniting with friends, a return to structure and no more zoom calls. For others, the lockdown provided respite from challenges of school; bullying, feelings of isolation and not fitting in, or anxiety in relation to learning in the classroom. Students may be facing the return to school with feelings of dread or anxiety that they haven’t experienced in the past few months.

Regardless of how young people are feeling about it, the return to school will mean a significant change in routine. A period of adjustment will be required.

As a parent, there are a few key things that you can do to help with the transition.

Don’t minimise the concern. It can be really easy to invalidate a young person’s feelings, when we are trying to offer reassurance. Comments like ‘don’t worry, you’ll be fine’ can be interpreted as ‘if I worry there’s something wrong with me’ or ‘I shouldn’t talk about my worry’.

Instead allow space to talk about the concerns that your young person may have without judging or trying to offer a solution. Let them know that you are listening, you understand, and if they need it, you are here to help.

Talk about sleep. Many of us have experienced a change in our sleep/ wake routine through working from home. Your teenager is unlikely to want to hear a suggestion of going to bed a little earlier in prep for getting up earlier for school. However, talk to them about the fact that they are likely to be tired in the first few weeks back. Encourage them to eat breakfast and pack a healthy lunch so they have energy to sustain them through the day.

Try to discourage napping when they come in from school. Even though your son or daughter may feel like it, it can impact on sleep at night. If they absolutely have to have a nap after school, try to do it as early as possible and stick to 15-20 minutes maximum. This is to avoid getting into the deeper stage of sleep, when it will be harder to wake and they will likely feel groggy and unmotivated.

Preparation. For the past few months organising schoolbags/PE kit/ art folders hasn’t been an issue. There hasn’t been the last minute dash to make lunch or find shoes. For some those organisation and planning skills may be a bit rusty. Try to support your teenager to check they have what they need the night before. Make sure uniforms still fit and they know where all their equipment is.

Reflecting on the experience. For many the return to school is welcome, but there may be things about the lockdown that will be missed. Perhaps as a family you could reflect whether there is any part of the lockdown experience that has been positive?

  • Has the slower pace and lack of rushing around brought benefits?
  • Is there any activity that you would like to keep?
  • What have you learnt about each other?
  • What strengths have you discovered?

Even if you are popping corks and jumping for joy as the schools go back, think about what it took to get through the last few months and know that you have that strength for any challenges that lie ahead.