Time and patience will be vital factors in getting back to school for children and parents alike, according to Australian Psychological Society president and psychologist Tamara Cavenett.
Preparation will be vital to help children adapt to the change and, while some children might adjust quickly, for others, it will be more like the first day of school all over again.
"A lot of children are likely to really struggle heading back into school," Cavenett said. "It isn't as simple as flicking the switch back on, and everything goes back to normal."
To assist with the transition, start by implementing a routine at least two weeks before returning to school and allowing extra time to get ready in the morning for the first week.
An important aspect of this routine is sleep and mealtimes. Getting the body clock back into routine means children won't have to deal with being tired along with the change.
"The day before, get your child to pack their bag and get their uniform out. This helps prime their mind," Cavenett said.
Preparing mentally is helpful for all children, especially those who might be more anxious about the return. Talk through the day and ask about any worries they might have.
"It closes the gap between what they think is going to happen and what will happen," Cavenett said. "If a child is anxious, it's helpful to think things through as it gives them a real visual.
"Changes to what is normal causes anxiety. It's worth the parent getting down on their level and finding out why they're worried by talking kindly in an age-appropriate way."
Once you know what's worrying them, you can talk about it and help them prepare. The way parents approach the return to school is also vital to how children will respond.
"Parents can be modelling and have positive messaging that it's a good thing to go back to school," senior lecturer in Educational Psychology at University of Melbourne Chelsea Hyde said.
"If parents are worried, then kids are going to pick up on that. Try to have a positive perspective and focus on what children can look forward to."
Communication after the return is also vital with your child and other parents, teachers, and the school.
If you're concerned about your child's behaviour after returning to school, talk to other parents and teachers to see if that is typical of what others are experiencing, as it could be a normal response.
However, suppose any behaviours are significantly distressing, and children aren't doing things they normally would for an extended period then it might be time to contact a psychologist for guidance - either a session for the parent to learn supportive skills or the child to learn coping skills.
Some children might struggle to talk about emotions and report physical symptoms like tummy aches, headaches, or nausea, but these might represent something psychological in nature.
"Get them ruled out by a doctor if you're concerned and talk about emotions by saying things like 'I wonder if it's this'. This open exploration can help name what it is they're worried about," Cavenett said.
It's also important to realise this transition could also be difficult for parents.
"Children are important, and not to diminish that, but parents should know this might be hard for you," Cavenett said. "Be aware it's going to be a process and a transition."
Go to psychology.org.au and search for the 'Helping children transition back to school in the COVID-19 era' information sheet for additional information.
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