Helping students navigate their emotions as they return to school
As students across the state pack their bags in preparation to return to full time schooling, they will face a wide-range of varying emotions; anything from excitement and happiness to apprehension and fear. It’s important parents take the time to sit down and talk with their children about how they may be feeling and help them navigate the transition.
How younger may students feel
Younger students who were once eager to get to school each day may regress and be anxious about leaving their parents. For some students it will be like starting their first weeks of school all over again and parents will need to navigate those emotions and respond to them like they did when they first started, including reminding them of how exciting it is, that they will be picked up at the end of the day and that their teacher and friends are looking forward to seeing them.
How older students may feel
For older children they may have become quite frightened about socialising. We have just spent three months telling them that they can’t be with their friends and assisting them to communicate online – how do they really know it is safe now? Parents must continue to talk to them about ensuring they are still cautious and then they will know that you have thought the decision through.
Some children have really done well with home schooling. They have completed assigned tasks with fewer distractions and are less tired than they are when the over-stimulating school environment is thrown into the mix. They may be apprehensive about having to return to the pace of life of the normal school day. Expect them to be anxious – in older children you may experience this anxiety as either anger or withdrawal.
There may be some anxiety around what the peer groups will look like when they go back to school. Perhaps things have been going on without them being included – FOMO is something that is rife in adolescents but has been dampened down by knowing that no one is actually doing anything. Going back to school may reignite these old fears.
It's also important to remember that we have been carefully and consistently telling our children that it is not safe to be close to other people. They will need an explanation about how school is now safe, when it hasn’t been for so long. They will likely hear cases over coming weeks, in which schools have to be closed because someone is found to have COVID. Parents will need to ensure they are being age-appropriately transparent about why it is ok to be at school and why it wasn’t before.
Top tips for parents to help the children transition back to school -
Open communication - Talk about your own fears with your partner or significant other, so that you understand your own anxiety and manage it – so as not to make the kids anxious. Be firm – “we follow the advice of the experts and they have told us it is safe, so we will follow their advice”
Routine - Make sure proper meal times and bedtimes resume, so they are well equipped to manage the strains of the day
Reassurance - Remind them that the world is still different but it is safe to be kids and to be with their friends (using precautions)
Listen to their fears - Listen to them and their concerns and take the time to respond to them, as you would assist with any anxiety
Help them reconnect - Assist them in reconnecting with old friends, so that they feel comfortable again in the classroom
If students are feeling anxious it’s important parents take the time to validate their anxiety and share that they are not alone, help them find correct information about the virus so they are informed (if age appropriate) and support their friendships and help them reconnect by organising playdates or age-appropriate social activities. Additionally, it’s important parents also ensure children are having some down time in the afternoon and ensure fun family time continues at home.
What about anxiety in parents?
I have spoken to many very anxious parents. They have finally got into a rhythm at home and feel that they have been able to keep their children safe. It seems that during this time, the primitive parenting instinct has taken hold and parents have become very protective. The anxiety about school return seems to be carried more by the parents than the children, who overall are craving the contact with their friends, the predictability of their routines, their own space away from home, where they can rule the playground or hang out with their friends.
Sensitive children will, of course, pick up on their parents’ anxiety – so it’s important that parents recognise their own anxiety and what it may look like, so that they don’t (inadvertently) end up fuelling their children’s fears and worries.
For parents who are concerned about how their kids are coping with the transition and are wanting to seek professional advice please contact Clinical Psychologist Amanda Gordon from Armchair Psychology in the Eastern Suburbs; for further information or to set up an appointment visit www.armchairpsychology.com.au or call 02 9362 3490.
Amanda Gordon, Director of Armchair Psychology, is experienced in helping people deal with the full range of life crises, including managing relationships, coping with grief and loss, dealing with stress from a particular crisis, and managing change. She works with individuals, couples and families, helping them enrich their lifestyle and their effectiveness in the world. She is an endorsed specialist Health and Clinical Psychologist, and a member of each of those specialist Colleges of the Australian Psychological Society.
She was Director of Communications of the peak professional body, the Australian Psychological Society from 2001, thence Vice President, and she was elected President in 2004 and 2006 for two consecutive two year terms. During her term she worked for social justice, and counts amongst her greatest achievement the establishment of a bursary Foundation for Indigenous Psychology students, and supporting indigenous psychologists in establishing the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association.
In addition to her 25 years+ clinical practice, Amanda is also a sought-after media spokesperson.