As children sharpen their pencils and don their backpacks in preparation for the new school year, experts are urging parents to recognise their children’s worries in order to make the transition back to school as smooth as possible.
From looking after their own mental health to normalising and validating children’s feelings, experts from online counselling service Mable Therapy are highlighting some of the most common issues expected to face children and young people and offering top tips for parents to help tackle the return to school.
After a stressful 18-months of changing rules and a changing world, it’s normal for children to be experiencing a breadth of conflicting emotions like excitement, jitters and even loss which may manifest itself as anxiety.
Parents can respond positively by giving children the space to talk while they listen, and offering reassurance and validation when they do so, rather than dismissing their feelings as silly or unjustified. Taking children for a long walk or drive can also encourage these conversations to naturally occur.
Specialist child and adolescent counsellor and head of counselling at Mable Therapy, Helen Spiers, said: “It can be tempting to try to dismiss worries but all we’re doing is closing our child down. What we want them to know is that they’re not on their own, it’s really normal to feel that way and to know you’re taking them seriously, so saying things like ‘I’m really sorry you’re feeling this way, what do you need from me that would be helpful?’ can help.”
Keeping questions open can give parents the opportunity to actively listen to how their children are feeling.
Helen Spiers added: “The last year has been tough for us all, but particularly for those children who are naturally predisposed to social anxiety.
“The idea of going back into a busy school now and being forced to interact all day can cause overwhelming feelings of anxiety. Pair this with health anxiety and the message from trusted adults, politicians and the media which is that the world is a scary place, Covid kills and the only way to protect ourselves is to stay at home.
“One way we can counter this in our children is by developing a strong routine. You want to get your children back into their old routine as quickly as possible, so heading to bed on time and reading their familiar bedtime stories, waking up on time etc.
“A practical idea for the last week of the holidays is to retrace the journey to school so your children are familiarised with school again. If they are anxious, they are probably feeling a bit out of control, so try to give control back by saying things like: shall we get your uniform ready, what do you want in your lunchbox or shall we call your friend to plan where you will meet in the playground?”
After a survey by the Princes Trust* revealed that over half of children had reported their mental health worsened over lockdown, parents are also being encouraged to take stock of their own mental health and anxieties.
Helen Spiers concluded: “Children pick up on how we are feeling, so checking in on your own anxieties is a really important place to start as a parent. It’s likely that the more relaxed you are about the kids returning to school, the more relaxed they will be.”
Being prepared for the first day of school can help children to feel safe and ready for what lies ahead of them. Ease the back-to-school wobble by having everything ready the night before so the first day can be a calm and positive morning, and have a selection of strategies your child can use if they do start to worry, including having a trusted adult at school who they can speak to.