Children and teenagers are going back to school on the 8th March. You’ve probably heard the phrase “We’re all in the same storm but not in the same boat” and this will really be reflected when schools go back. We have all had a huge range of experiences of covid-19 and lockdowns this last year. From kids’ points of views, going back to school may mean they’re feeling one of more of these:
Anxious about the changes
Ready and eager to be back
Fear of being behind in their work
Dreading doing P.E. again if they've not done much activity
Excited to see their friends and being able to play or hang out again
Afraid they won’t have any friends or that certain friendships have dissolved
Embarrassed if they’ve put on weight or started getting spots so they look different
Pressure to be “on form” / go back to normal without a fuss
Worried about getting the virus or about vulnerable family members
Distrusting the process and expecting to be back in lockdown again
Resenting adults because of all the restrictions, limitations and expectations
Demoralized at the loss of hope for their future
Scared or sad to leave their home or family
Depressed from a lonely, isolated, difficult lockdown
Out of control as there’ll be flexibility and more being told what to do
Happy because it also means they can do other things soon like sport
Jealous or angry that other kids have had a better lockdown
Relieved to be getting away from a disruptive home life
Overwhelmed - by everything
Even if a child isn't feeling any unwanted emotions, they'll be surrounded by lots of children who will be.
I know my children will be absolutely overwhelmed and exhausted when they go back to school. Getting used to the change, routine, morning rush, navigating socially, coping emotionally, stimulation from being among so many people, even the amount of noise that will be a huge increase. In our house, overwhelm and tiredness translates to grumpiness and attitude (which I now called rudeness as my 7 year old didn't like me using the word 'attitude' - this simple change made a big difference, so just talking when all is calm about language and what you can do differently can help).
This is where recognising the emotions behind the behaviour can be really useful. Behaviour is a signal or expression that has come from thoughts and feelings. It’s totally natural to try to modify a child’s behaviour. However, if instead we try to solve the issue, then the behaviour normally subsides. As an emotional coach, I try to get to the root of any presenting problems, as changing an outward behaviour is great but it’s usually short term or another unwanted behaviour replaces it. Guiding someone to find their own solutions that work for them is key.
What Can Help?
1. Prepare. From practical things like making sure kids have school shoes that fit and practising the morning routine, to talking through any emotions kids may be having and what might help to ease any of the unwanted feelings - as well as celebrating the wanted feelings of course!
2. Patience and Understanding. Listening to when they want to talk but also noticing what they’re not saying. Being there for kids is the most important thing, letting them know you’re there when they want to talk. If they do start to talk to you, try not to judge, interrupt, dismiss or patronise. I’d also say only give advice if they ask for it.
3. Talking together about after school activities, giving as much choice and control as possible. Kids may want to go to a park, listen to music, run around, read by themselves, play sport, watch TV, play computer games, they may not even want to talk. Respect the fact they may be feeling any of the emotions listed above.
4. Flexibility. I’m going to try really hard to do most of my work, housework and chores in school hours so I’m able to be flexible after school. I appreciate this is tough for a lot of people, but being flexible day to day may be needed as emotions may be heightened and kids may need something different from you one day to the next.
5. Build resilience and confidence by encouraging their efforts and highlighting their personality traits rather than focusing on their achievements. Admire their strength, energy, kindness, humour – who they are rather than what grades they get.
6. Lower expectations. Too many people dismiss the impact this last year has had on children, claiming they are super adaptable will "bounce back". Yes they are resilient but we can’t expect them to adapt to going back to school in the way we want. We want our children to be happy and do well, but it’s easy to be over controlling in their behaviour.
This pandemic has had a devastating impact on children and teenagers, so I’d say keep on listening, learning and loving.