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Returning to school this September: how to help your family prepare for the 'new normal'


September and the reopening of schools will be welcomed by many parents and children – the long awaited reunion with friends and a return to routine. However, we all know that this will not be a return to school life as we once knew it and for many families and individuals, this time will present a number of challenges and strong feelings.

Below are some useful tips for preparing yourself as a family and helping your child to adjust to the return to school:

Don’t pretend that it’s a return to normality – Schools and teachers will have prepared new systems, rules and routines for keeping children safe. Talk to your child about the new measures and invite them to ask questions. Guidelines are changing rapidly and your child won’t want to be bombarded with information. Keep it simple and age appropriate.

Be aware of your own anxiety/stress levels – Children will observe and copy what they see, so if you are feeling anxious, make it a priority to look after your own mental health and explore coping strategies that work for you. Modelling how you manage your own feelings will teach your child how to cope too. It can help to talk about self care and calming techniques as a family – identify what works for each family member and see if there are some you can do together (e.g. taking the dog for a walk) and others in quiet solitude.

Keep your expectations low! - Most children and young people have not been in regular school for almost 6 months; they will need time to adjust and to build up their stamina for a whole day and week of learning. Don’t expect them to be the learner they were at the start of the pandemic and remind them not to put too much pressure on themselves, especially if they are working towards assessments and examinations.

Be prepared for meltdowns, tantrums, backchat, the works. - Your child will be exhausted, over stimulated and in need of an outlet for their mixed emotions, whatever their age. As a parent, it is helpful to consider what your child’s triggers are (is it getting dressed in the morning, or doing homework after school?) and make a plan for how you will manage these calmly. By being prepared and ready, we are more likely to handle their strong emotions more confidently and not be triggered ourselves.

Validate your child’s feelings –This will be a huge transition for most children and young people, so show them empathy and give praise for small daily steps. When they are showing aggression or defiance, aim to validate the feeling underneath. Most children and young people are still learning how to manage strong feelings appropriately; by validating the feeling we help them not only to name and understand what it is but think about how it makes them feel and behave. From here we can help them to develop more appropriate strategies.

Keep a routine and be consistent with boundaries. As mentioned in previous videos, children feel safe with boundaries and routine. During this time of change, try to keep your life at home consistent and remind them of your basic expectations.

Communicate with your child’s teacher and keep them informed on how they are coping at home. If your child is struggling to get into school or is finding homework difficult, let their teacher know. Communication is vital when it comes to early intervention strategies for behavioural or emotional issues.

Talk as a family – Share your experiences of the school and work day, reflect on what went well, what has been hard and what you are grateful for. These simple but meaningful conversations encourage your child (and you!) to develop self reflection and gratitude, which are key for positive mental health. Talking daily reminds your child that you are always ready to listen.

REST – As tempting as it is to resume all other activities, be aware of how much your child is doing and you are doing as a family. Your child will need to recharge physically and mentally, and so will you. Take the opportunity to rest as much as possible, without stimulation or distraction. This doesn’t have to mean doing nothing. It might involve a walk outside, uninterrupted play or reading together. Make quality sleep a priority too.

When should I be worried? This is a common concern for parents and whilst it is entirely normal for children to struggle over the coming months, it is worth considering the signs that might indicate that something else is at play. You can do this by observing changes in their behaviour in terms of frequency, intensity, duration and how it is affecting their (and your) ability to function. Pay attention, trust your instincts and always speak to your GP and your school if you are worried.

For more information and guidance, have a look at the following organisations –





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