Written: September 2020
We wrote this article just before schools in England opened in September, 2020. The article explores a range of issues that will still be useful to your family as you continue to support your child through the pandemic.
Your child may have got out of a routine for school during the lockdown and may face some challenges in getting back into one.
For example, you may have found that your child had, or has trouble with sleep or you may find that a lack of structure or routine caused a change in their behaviour.
They might seem worried, upset, nervous or fidgety, which is normal given the levels of uncertainty they have had to deal with. In this article, we will set out some of the ways you can address some of these worries moving forward to help your child cope with some of the stressors in their lives.
Many families have told us that their children have felt anxious about making the transition back into school life for a variety of reasons.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, uncertainty or worry. These feelings can impact upon the way we think, the way we behave and affect our bodies too. Sometimes it can be difficult to know if anxiety is impacting upon our behaviour or emotions. However, we may notice some of the following:
We know that having these types of feelings can be really uncomfortable and can often mean that it's hard to concentrate or relax. It can also impact on relationships with others, including with family, friends and wider networks.
If your child is feeling anxious about school, there could be a variety of reasons as to why:
- They may feel that school is unsafe. This may be because they are worried about the risk of coronavirus, regardless of the safety protocols at the school for example. To find out more about this, please click here.
- They may feel that they lack close relationships with friends or teachers at the school, or that they may have broken down since lockdown
- They may be concerned about bullying or online harassment
- They may be concerned about racism which they might have experienced either in school or online
These worries and anxieties could affect sleep or behaviour and in turn affect their school life. You can read more about grounding techniques to help your child deal with worry and anxiety here.
Tips for keeping a healthy routine for school
Encourage your child to have a similar set of activities that they do each morning after they wake up. This is important because routines can help to provide a sense of stability and something for us to anchor onto. Feelings like anxiety can often make a person feel like they are not in control and therefore some form of a routine can create comfort and stability. You can help with this by talking to your child about the importance of a routine. It may even help to give examples of the ways you or other adults, like celebrities or influencers use routines in their days to help explain how this can help to create stability. Remember to remind your child that it’s okay if it doesn’t always work out, and that there’s always tomorrow to try again.
Encourage your child to get dressed out of their pyjamas each day by modelling this yourself. It might also help to choose clothes with them the day before and lay these out ready for them to put on. Changing out of clothes they slept in can help your child feel ready for the day. We know that there’s days we don’t want to do this, and that’s okay too, but let your child know that it’s an anomaly to acknowledge its not a part of your every day schedule.
Have some sort of a plan
Try to plan activities where you can. This can either be for later that afternoon or even better for tomorrow or the rest of the week. Having something to look forward to can help to lift our mood and give some structure to each day. But it’s okay if it doesn’t work out as there are often reasons why our plans don’t happen as we want them to. Remember, lazy days also count as a plan!
Look for activities
Look for activities that your child/children would be interested in doing as a whole family. For example, you can look here or visit the website of your local council for listings of activities taking place in the local area at a social distance that are free to attend.
Organise family time activities. This could involve games or other activities you can organise and do together, whether it's at the dinner table, on the bedroom floor or while you're taking a walk to the shops. They don’t have to require lots of effort to set up, cost lots of money or need technology. See some examples here.
Encourage your child to use time in the evening to relax and connect with others. This might be talking with the people in the home and spending time together or might mean making contact with friends or family using the phone or the internet if that’s an option. If your child feels comfortable to do this it may also mean visiting other people at a safe distance of 2m whilst wearing a mask. Whatever form of connecting with others your family is comfortable with and able to do, conversations like these will help your child to feel calm and ready for sleep. It may also help to burn off any extra energy they are storing.
If your child is in the habit of going to sleep quite late then this may be impacting on them going to school. You may be finding that they are struggling to settle into a sleep routine for school. It can help to discuss bedtimes with your child by allowing for a realistic and gradual change. You could try to settle on a cut-off time of midnight for them getting into bed and then try to work this time backwards slowly. For example, if they tend to stay up very late then encourage them to go to bed 30 minutes earlier. If they usually get into bed at midnight but fall asleep at 1am, then encourage them to get into bed at 11.30 and fall asleep by 12.30. Then the next day, or a few days later, you could encourage them to go to bed another 30 minutes earlier. Keep doing this over a few days and weeks until they are falling asleep at a time that fits with a routine for school. If you are finding that anxiety is meaning you or your child struggles to sleep then there are also things that will help. See guidance for self-care with anxiety from the charity Mind here.
If you feel you need further support then Barnardo’s are here to help. Call our See, Hear, Respond number on 0800 157 7015 or self-refer into the service using this link.