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'I'm a former school principal. Here are 10 ways to help your child settle back into school.'

As families prepare to get ready to return to school following lockdowns and remote learning, there are a few valuable preparations that families can make to ease a child back into school. 

Let’s not underestimate that settling back into a school environment can bring some unsettling feelings for a child who has had the comfort and security of home for so long.

As a former school principal and counsellor, here's my advice for making the transition more settling for the whole family. 

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1. Family chats about coming out of the lockdown.

Gather as a family and talk about what it will be like going back to school after such a long time. Let your child talk about their fears and anxious thoughts, which will generally be all about re-establishing friends, feeling safe, and getting back their feeling of confidence in learning. Don’t be surprised or challenged by what they have to say, as it is their time to talk freely about their worries.

2. Reassure your child that school is a safe place.

Reassure them that they will be in safe hands and that their health will be a big consideration with the school. Some children may be anxious about leaving the safety of home given the pandemic discussions that are around. It may have been a lockdown, but for a child, the home created a safe haven. Give your child accurate information about the pandemic, but make it age appropriate. This is important, as unsettling gossip at school can destabilise a child.

3. Plan your way out of lockdown.

Design a plan which may involve you taking them to school, talking to the teacher, or whatever makes them feel that you are still present in their lives away from home. This will make the transition a more secure one and will build trust in your child in resuming school.

4. Change can bring feelings of grief.

Never underestimate that your child will experience some grief in letting you go. The concentrated time they have spent with you has been for them a time of getting to know their parents more deeply and feeling comforted by your reassuring presence. Therefore, when school resumes, consider still spending dedicated quality time with them, as going cold turkey will be very unsettling, especially for younger children.

5. Make home a consistent and safe place.

Re-establishing themselves in a school setting will take time as routines and school patterns are slowly re-established or created. Keep home life consistent so that your child feels secure in the boundaries and familiar environment they know and enjoy. Their home has been a comfort zone for quite some time.

6. Check in with your child regularly.

Check in with them regularly about how they are coping back at school. It will be natural that they will have ups and downs, not the least of which will be friendships. They may wish to tell you all is well as not to upset you. However, be open to conversation and not too probing in questions.

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For instance, you could ask: 'Sometimes starting school after a long break can be difficult. I wonder how you are going with it?'

7. Never underestimate the effect of change.

Going back to school is an immense change. Don’t underestimate its impact on your child. Therefore, adapt or moderate the family lifestyle to accommodate how your child is coping. This may mean some compromises or simply ensuring that quality time with family is maintained.

8. Affirm your child’s efforts in being a change agent.

Affirm your child’s efforts in returning to school. This is quite a challenge for them on many levels. Your appreciation gives them some reassurance that they are doing their best under difficult circumstances and it is valued.

An example would be, 'I am so proud that after a long time you can settle back into school. That is a big step after such a long break.'

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9. Less talk about the things that bring us down.

Keep negative chatter about the state of the pandemic down and talk about the positive aspects as we move forward. This is important to ensure that your children are not building negative thoughts, now that they are in the eyes and ears of a school community. Negative gossip can build anxiety.

10. Don’t underestimate the fatigue from such a change experience.

You may find your child may feel some fatigue - both mental and physical - in going back to school. This can be from all the new pressures and expectations placed on them which were not the case in the home environment. Plenty of rest at home and a gentle reintroduction into routines and sport outside the home is the best way forward.

It is all about frequent checking in with their progress into the new framework of our post lockdown world. 

A mother of three and a grandmother of five, Gail Smith was a teacher at three schools – and principal at three other primary schools. Since retirement, she has published a blog that can be found at www.theprimaryyears.com. You can order her new book, The Primary Years: A Principals Perspective on Raising Happy Kids, here.

Feature Image: Getty.

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