Duane Farrell, CEO, Relate NI and Danny Sinclair, PHA
This week, with schools back, and after almost six months of upheaval, it’s no surprise that settling back in will take some time and adjustment.
It may still feel overwhelming and even daunting to our children and young people. As adults we may be feeling the same!
Think back to how suddenly this experience came upon us. Our children didn’t get to say goodbye to their teachers and friends and there were no ‘traditional’ end of term celebrations. It is understandable therefore that they may feel uncertain about what to expect at school.
There is the usual annual change in teacher and classroom, coupled with entirely new concepts such as staggered drop off and pick up times, break and lunch times. Access to familiar equipment and resources is likely to be less than what our children are used to. Different class groups may be not even encountering each other, never mind mixing.
As parents, what we have in common with our children’s schools is that we are all trying to navigate the ‘new normal’ as safely, effectively and calmly as possible.
So how can we support our children as they adjust?
Lockdown likely meant getting out of our usual routine. Children may have been going to bed later and waking up later. A good sleep routine is particularly important. There are guidelines on the amount of sleep children need, and they may be surprising.
Prepare as much as possible in advance, for example, school uniforms laid out, lunches made etc. Being organised is key!
Help your child know what to expect
Your child’s school may have sent you information on new routines and an insight into what school life will now look like. Indeed this could be adapting day by day as the school tries out new arrangements. A strong home-school partnership is beneficial for our children’s wellbeing alongside their learning.
Use the information from school to help your child know what to expect. Preparing children prevents surprises and can help them to feel a sense of safety and security.
Ask them how they are feeling
Every child will have had a different experience of lockdown, some will be excited about being back to school while some will be feeling anxious. Talk to them openly about how they feel and reassure them that it is normal to feel a mix of emotions. Be honest about some of your own worries but also include a focus on what you are looking forward to.
Ask your child about what they enjoyed about their day or what they found difficult. This can encourage them to open up and share their feelings.
Look after ourselves and each other
Looking after ourselves is so important. Try and take time for yourself. Remember that we are all human and doing the best we can. Tune into your own feelings, worries and concerns and have someone you can talk to openly. Most importantly be kind to yourself and others.
Harness the power of exercise in managing stress and anxiety. Perhaps as a family you could set goals, for example to go for a family walk, bike ride etc. once or twice a week. Physical activity releases endorphins, otherwise known as ‘happy hormones’. It can also offer children a better outlook on life by building confidence and increasing self-esteem and cognitive skills.
Most importantly, remember this is a new phase for us all, including our schools. We are all learning as we go along, and there may be more change and adjustment along the way. Maintain a focus on the positives when you can and reach out for support, including from your child’s school, when you need it.
Further information and support
Information on Family Support Services in Northern Ireland
PHA/NCB article - Family Time During COVID-19
PHA/Relate article on Relationships, household conflict and helpful strategies
Parentline are available to support parents – freephone 0808 8020 400