While some sense of normality has returned to our lives, families are still facing uncertainty day to day. This is especially true for our children. The year has thrown a lot of new challenges at them. They’ve had to manage concerns or anxieties about the COVID-19 situation, adapt to a whole new way of learning, cope with social distancing from friends and extended family, and are now needing to navigate the transition back to school, preschool or their early childhood setting.
Though it certainly had its challenges, many parents have reported that the time at home provided an opportunity for the family to reconnect, and gave their children a chance to slow things down, take a break from extracurricular activities and benefit from one-to-one support.
Supporting children with the return to school or preschool and the eventual transition back to life after lockdown, without restrictions, is so important. The longer days, changed routine and structure of school are likely to impact some children more than others, causing stress and anxiety.
The ongoing changes can also take a toll on parents, so it’s vital for you to recognise and acknowledge your own feelings to ensure the mental health and wellbeing of the entire family can be supported.
Here are some tips for keeping your children’s mental health in check, as well as your own.
While the COVID-19 situation has dramatically improved, it’s natural for children to still have worries or feel uneasy about resuming some of the activities they can now go back to, particularly school.
While the constant changes make sticking to a routine pretty tricky, it’s still so important to maintain some consistency at home. Here are some simple things you can try:
After being at home, the transition back to school or preschool will be difficult for many children. If your child has any particular worries or anxieties about being back at school, let their teacher or educator know so that they’re aware and can support them if needed. If there were any specific strategies that helped your child during home learning, ask whether similar supports could work in the classroom.
Even if your child is excited about returning to school or preschool and other activities, the significant change may make it difficult for them to control their feelings and behaviour, requiring some support from you to help them manage.
The return to long, structured days can cause those dreaded ‘meltdowns’ that may have gone away while at home. To manage these:
If you child is particularly sensitive or has sensory needs, you could create a box of their favourite activities or calming items that they can access when they feel overwhelmed. I could also be a good idea to have a couple of small items for them to take to school, in case they need some time out. If your child is at preschool, they may have a range of suitable toys or activities to help with sensory overload or encourage self-regulation.
Parents also need to make time to regulate emotions – take time out for yourself, allow moments to sit and breathe, and make sure you get some exercise. You may like to incorporate family relaxation sessions into your weekly schedule, eg. Yoga, meditation or a walk outside. It’s the simple things that can often make the biggest difference, particularly if you take the time to enjoy them regularly.
It can be beneficial to have family check-ins each week, to discuss your situation as a family and validate feelings. During check-ins:
On the way to school, or at the end of each day (when everyone has had a chance to unwind), discuss what your children are excited about or what concerns they may have so they feel prepared for the day
And don’t forget to continue to organise phone or video calls with family members you can’t see in person, particularly grandparents
If you’ve noticed changes in your child’s behaviour over the last few months, they might still be adjusting to all the changes in their life. However, if their mental health starts impacting on their daily functioning, eg. not eating or sleeping, complaining of feeling unwell, not wanting to go to school or not engaging in activities they once loved, then it is best to reach out for additional support from a psychologist.
Teachers will be working hard to support students who may have fallen behind while learning remotely. If you developed any concerns about your child’s ability to learn or their progress while supporting them with schoolwork at home, speak to their teacher.
Consistent learning struggles could signify a broader issue, that may benefit from being supported by a formal diagnostic assessment or with specialist tutoring sessions.
Parents should also seek professional help if your own mental health and wellbeing has been impacted by the disruptions in your home or work life, or if you feel like you’re struggling to effectively support your child/ren to cope at home, or back at school.