Back To School After Lockdown- how to help your kids transition

Strathcona Girls Grammar school psychologist Kerri Rhodes spoke with ABC Everyday about how parents can best help their children navigate returning to school after lockdown. Kerri says, “We should remember that the uncertainty of the past months has been unsettling, and parents and schools need to focus on helping kids feel connected and a part of classrooms and schoolyards again.”

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Woman standing with her three children in a garden
Danyane’s three kids are looking forward to reconnecting with their friends and teachers.(Supplied

soon as picnics with people outside our household were allowed, my family and I gleefully dusted off our picnic mat and in-person conversation skills.

We met some friends for an afternoon of cricket, soccer and plenty of laughter.

Afterwards, my three kids, who have always played a lot of sport and really missed hanging out with friends, were exhausted.

After months of Zoom learning and virtual playdates, there are bound to be some challenges as we return to the scheduled chaos of modern life.

“There will be multiple demands for your child to manage in the transition back to school,” says Kerri Rhodes, a school psychologist in Melbourne’s inner east.

“These include activity levels, social interactions, focus and attention, along with the high level of stimulation inherent in classroom and playground settings.”

So, as schools in NSW, Victoria and ACT start to return to classroom learning, what can we do to support our children?

Re-establish a sense of connection and familiarity

Ms Rhodes says we should remember that the uncertainty of the past months has been unsettling, and parents and schools need to focus on helping kids feel connected and a part of classrooms and schoolyards again.

“Children may wonder whether they’ll end up learning from home again, whether school will be a safe place and if their friends will still be their friends,” she says.

To help deal with this uncertainty, parents can encourage their kids to voice their worries and emotions and acknowledge them, says Stefanie Lui Ten, the head of counselling of a support platform for parents.

“Kids are all individual and unique, with very different needs,” she says.

“Some kids might be anxious about returning to school, and some might be looking forward to it, but then get to a point where they aren’t sure what to do.

Paediatric psychologist Deirdre Brandner also suggests parents focus on the things that will be the same for their children on the return to school.

“Use photos, visuals, walk past the school and ask your children what the best things are about being at school, what they’ve missed, what they can’t wait to do,” she says.

Danyane Bowring from Sydney is a mum of three children aged under 12.

She says her kids are looking forward to reconnecting with their friends and teachers.

“The home learning in lockdown environment doesn’t support all the interesting, creative and physical parts of learning,” Danyane says.

“They were missing out on collaboration, hearing ideas, and the instant feedback, which builds confidence and curiosity.”

Tips for parents before kids return to school

To help kids ahead of returning to school, Ms Brandner recommends the following:

  • Go over drop-off and pick-up routines and things like temperature checkshand sanitising and mask-wearing
  • Get into good routines now. This includes sleep routines, eating schedules and screen time
  • Introduce your child to what an air purifier might look like so they know what to expect if there’s one in their classroom
  • Use lunchboxes for sandwiches and snacks at home and encourage your kids to wear their uniform when doing online learning
  • Organise play dates and playground visits to help children adjust to being with others again and the noise and overload

Take off the pressure

Although some parents might be concerned their children have fallen behind in their education, the experts recommend taking it slow. 

“Remind your child that this return to school is not about catching up on learning,” Ms Brandner says. 

“And allow your child to go at their own pace when it comes to reconnecting with friends.”

Ms Rhodes adds: “Be patient if the transition appears to be difficult and try not to put pressure on your child to perform academically immediately”.

Extra-curricular activities can help break up academic learning and are a great way for kids to stay active and reconnect to school, Ms Rhodes says. 

But with children having to adjust to classroom learning and the social dynamics of school, Ms Brandner warns against cramming in all the activities they have missed out on.

“The last thing we want is our children becoming overwhelmed and fatigued — this can lead to an increase in meltdowns and anxiety.”

A staggered approach can help. Ms Lui Ten recommends picking one or two activities: “Ask your child if they want to do it. Evaluate after a few weeks. Don’t forget it will be exhausting for parents too!”

Danyane’s plan for her children is to ease them in.

“We’ll start back up our usual outdoor summer activities like junior cricket and beach volleyball,” she says.

“Most of these are local and not playing against other teams.” 

Parents need to manage their own anxieties

All the experts agree that parents are essential in helping their children make a smooth transition back to school. 

“Children can tune into how their mums and dads are feeling about this transition,” Ms Brandner says.

“It’s vital that parents are modelling emotions that give your child confidence about returning to school.

“If parents show they feel OK that their child is returning to school, so will the child.”

Seetha Dodd is a freelance writer and mum of three based in Sydney.