Back to school: How can you help your child return to class after the COVID-19 lockdown?

Children in several European countries will this week head back into classrooms after the summer break and months of homeschooling due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Dailyrater spoke to UK-registered psychotherapist Noel McDermott to see how you can help your child with their return to school and signs you can look out for that they are struggling with the transition.

Why is school important for children?

“It is vital to get kids back into school,” McDermott said. “I can’t state enough how damaging it would be if we kept them out.”

He argues that while youngsters have so far spent a relatively short period of time outside classrooms, which would be unlikely to lead to significant psychological developmental issues, we are reaching a turning point if they do so any longer.

This opinion is shared by chief medical officers from the United Kingdom who, in a recent statement, advocated for children to return to school after the summer holidays, saying that missing out on education presented a far greater risk to students than catching the virus.

“Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from COVID-19 due solely to attending school,” the statement, published on August 22, said.

“This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school,” the top health advisors added.

As well as the formal education they provide, McDermott explained that children need the complex social structures provided in school, with education institutions “bridging the gap between home and the rest of the world”.

Without this children are at greater risk of issues concerning their personality development and achieving developmental milestones, he added.

What are signs of anxiety in a child?

Signs a child is struggling to cope or feeling anxious about their return to school won’t be difficult to spot, according to McDermott.

While these will, of course, be age-dependent, they will often manifest as what might look like bad behaviour to adults.

Tantrums, a child appearing withdrawn, or the return of behaviours that had gone away, such as thumb sucking, especially in younger children, are all signs to look out for.

How can you remedy children’s concerns?

McDermott recommends personalising your response to this kind of behaviour, which gives children permission to feel this way.

“I’m feeling afraid and when I feel afraid, I tend to get snappy,” is a good way to address this kind of subject with a child between four and 11-years-old, he said.

Rather than a normal return to school after summer, this will feel like the first day of school for students — everything will be different for them, he added.

Draw on your experience from this time and think about how they reacted in this situation, McDermott said.

Concrete action that caregivers can take includes giving children more time to do things, being understanding if they are feeling anxious and trying to include treats in the week — “the best treat for kids is time with their parents,” he added.

The psychotherapist said parents attitudes go a long way in how children are feeling and he advises to try not to “buy into fear and anxiety and transmit this to your child”.

He does, however, recommend making clear the measures they can take to protect themselves and others when back at school, including regular hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes.

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