GOING back to school can be challenging at the best of times, let alone during a global pandemic.
While many students will relish meeting their friends and regaining some normality, September is approaching far too quickly for others and is causing them severe anxiety. They are trying to cope with the stress of going back.
I have met many such students over the last number of weeks in my clinic.
And they are all saying the same thing: Will I be safe in school?
This is such an important question, but a very difficult one to answer because we don’t know. Nobody knows. There has been a worrying rise in the number of teenagers testing positive for Covid-19 and this is adding to their anxiety about school.
This pandemic has been such an uncertain time for all of us. It has unsettled us. It has undermined our sense of security, but it has taught us, too.
That will stand to them for life.
The Government, last week, unveiled a €375m plan to reopen schools at the end of August. The support package provides funding for additional teachers, for special needs assistants, for protective equipment, and for better sanitising practices.
All of this is positive and should ease anxieties. But some children will see this as further evidence that they are not safe and should not return to school. So the next few weeks will be important, if your child’s transition back to school is going to be free from anxiety.
A recent survey by Barnardos found that 20% of parents are very concerned about their children going back to school.
There is a palpable unease among parents. They are worried they will be putting their children in harm's way by allowing them to go back to school.
They have been out of their routine for five months. This is the longest time they have been out since they started school.
So, listen in a supportive way. If they are worried about getting Covid-19, talk to them about how the school is preparing to make them safe.
Show them the guidelines the Government has issued about ‘pods’ and how contact will be significantly reduced. Get familiar with the guidelines.
Have a calm conversation with your child about the preparations that are ongoing to ensure their safety.
Children form routines very quickly, and being isolated and staying in is not a healthy routine for a child. Get them out meeting their friends again and get them going outside.
Many children are worried about school because there might have been an issue in their peer group before Covid-19 struck.
Talk to them about their concern and get them to specify what it is.
A question I ask is: When you think about staying home, what part of school life does home get rid of? This might open up the conversation and you might hear the real concern.
Try to keep that sense of uncertainty from your children.
Talk about the school year ahead as being exciting and being an opportunity for them to flourish.
Ask them what their hopes are for the year ahead. Help them plan how to achieve them.
The year ahead is uncertain. We don’t know how things will play out, but we must help our children to be flexible and to be able to meet whatever adversity comes their way.
They have shown great resilience in living through this pandemic.
We must help them process their fears about going back into the school environment.
If we manage this correctly, then we will have given them such an important skillset, which they will need for life.