Day-to-day lives have been disrupted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which can bring on many new feelings for children.
Returning to school is exciting for many students, but this year there is fear and uncertainty.
The United Nations International Children’s Fund says it’s important for parents and caregivers to help children understand these complicated emotions they may feel as they prepare to go back to the classroom.
If my child is afraid to go back to school, how can I help them feel better?
Starting a new school can be exciting and stressful, but when you throw a pandemic in the mix, those feelings of excitement may be suppressed by fear and anxiety. You can make your child feel at ease by having an open conversation, discussing what they are worried about and reassure them it’s OK and natural to feel this way.
If children have been learning at home for months, returning to school may make them feel nervous. It’s important to be honest with them about what they should expect upon their return. Some schools are requiring students to wear masks. They are also being encouraged to practice social distancing, so you can encourage your child to think about other ways they can play with their friends and keep that bond.
Reassure them there are safety measures in place to keep them and teachers healthy. Remind children they can prevent spreading germs by washing their hands with soap and water, and coughing or sneezing into their elbow.
There are positives you can remind of them, too. They will once again be able to see their friends and teachers while learning new things.
My child’s school recommends students wear masks, but that makes my child feel more nervous. How can I be reassuring it will be OK?
You can start by approaching this conversation with empathy, the United Nations International Children’s Fund says. Tell your child you understand they feel nervous about the virus, and openly talk about their emotions and worries. While they may get frustrated playing or running with a mask on, let them know it’s important to follow the recommended measures because it takes care of the vulnerable members of the community.
How can I encourage my child to follow precautions at school?
You can start by encouraging them to wash their hands regularly. But washing hands doesn’t have to be boring – sing along with their favorite song or do a dance together. Make sure to teach them that even though germs are invisible, they could still be there.
You can also show children how to cover a cough or a sneeze with their elbow, and ask them to tell you if they start to feel like they have a fever, cough or are having difficulty breathing.
How can I make my child feel more connected to the classroom and their friends?
Depending on how your school district is handling reopening, reassure your child that schools will open again fully when it’s safe for everyone. It is possible schools will have to close again, so it’s important to prepare your child in case it does happen. Let them know learning doesn’t have to happen only at school, but can also happen at home. They can even keep in touch with their friends online in the meantime.
How can I gently check in to see how my child is coping?
Stay calm and be proactive in your conversations with children when it comes to checking in with them. Their emotions will change often, so you need to show them that that’s OK.
Children can express themselves in a safe and supportive environment through creative activities, like playing or drawing. This helps children find a positive way to express feelings, like fear, sadness or anger.
Children also pick up on how adults are feeling or acting, so it’s key for adults to manage their own emotions well and stay calm. Listen, speak kindly and be reassuring.
What should I look out for as my child heads back to the classroom?
Keep an eye out for signs of stress and anxiety. The pandemic can impact your child’s mental health, so be sure to demonstrate that it’s OK to feel like this. UNICEF says “when in doubt, empathy and support are the way to go.”
My child is concerned about bullying upon returning to school. How do I handle this?
The virus can attack anyone, regardless of looks, the language they speak, etc., so it’s vital to let kids know that. Make sure they know they are not alone and can always talk to you or a trusted adult. The more you talk about bullying, the more they will become comfortable talking about it with you. Check in with your children daily and ask them about their day. Some children don’t express themselves verbally, so be on the lookout for changes in their behavior.
Remind children that school should be a safe place, and bullying is always wrong. Spreading kindness and support to one another is important.
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