Transitioning back to school during COVID: How to help

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Transitioning back to school is a positive step, but after so many disruptions, some children may feel nervous about the return to physical school. Here are some tips on how to help your child cope.

Ease your child’s transition back to school by maintaining a predictable daily routine. From the time they wake up to the time they go to bed, establish routines consistent to those they can expect back at school to help facilitate a simpler adjustment period.

The current situation with the COVID-19 pandemic in Hong Kong has become more stable and students will soon be returning back to school in a few weeks. Most families may have gotten used to online learning at home. As a result, many parents and their children may encounter challenges when transitioning back to school. While schools are preparing themselves in their own ways, here are some recommendations on how parents and students themselves can prepare for the transition back to school and some guidelines regarding things to look out for once your child is back in school.

Connect with the school

As schools are preparing for their students to return, take this opportunity to get a better understanding of what your school is doing to ensure the safety of your children and what they will be doing to ease their students’ transition from online home learning to in-person learning at school.

Minimise the unknown

Many children and teenagers find transitions difficult because of unknowns and uncertainties. Try to minimise these by ensuring that your school and teachers are delineating the back to school process (displayed in a visual schedule as noted below), what is expected from students when they return to school, and what the school and parents can do to mitigate any transitioning difficulties.

Maintain a normal daily routine

Adherence to a routine can make the transition back to school during Covid much easier and less stressful. It can provide a sense of predictability and control. If you haven’t already been doing so, now is definitely a good time to start maintaining a normal daily routine that is consistent with the daily school routine. Have your child do their morning routine like a school day (e.g., wake up, brush their teeth, get dressed, have breakfast, etc.). Before bed, be sure to maintain bedtime on a school night.

See also: COVID-19 vaccines in Hong Kong:The lowdown

Countdowns to build excitement and practice run-throughs

Some children may be super excited to be back in school, some may be anxious or worried, or some may be indifferent about it. Create a countdown or mark off days on the calendar to help your child better understand and visualise when they are returning to school. Practice doing morning “run-throughs” with your child (e.g., packing bags, exact time they leave for school, etc.) so they know what to expect. You can consider using visual schedules, organisers, and checklists to outline everything and to help your child manage themselves better.

Explain social distancing

During this stressful time, both children and their parents have been distancing themselves from social interactions and may have not seen their family and/or friends for an extended period of time. When children are back in school, they are probably more than excited to be able to hang out with their friends. However, children may not always fully understand why they may not be allowed to be physically close with their friends. Explain why social distancing is still important and continue to follow the health guidelines regarding wearing masks, no physical contact, and washing your hands.

Transitioning back to school during Covid
Provide your child with age-appropriate information about the ongoing COVID-19 situation. Discuss possible fears and scenarios with them, providing emotional support and solutions when possible.

Play dates

If possible and safe, arrange playdates with other children before school starts to help ease your child back to school. Research studies have shown that the ability to interact with peers during their transition back to school can have a positive impact on their academic and emotional adjustment.

Manage social media and dispel rumours

Most people are more than excited to be able to return to school. At this time, it is important to manage social media and ensure that you are receiving accurate information regarding the current situation, schools, and things that may or may not be open. Do not share information that is not credible.

Find more on navigating social media use during Covid here.

Continue to encourage and maintain healthy hygiene habits

There are many sources of information that outline good hygiene habits for the current situation, including washing hands, wearing masks when ill, avoiding crowds, and so on. Washing hands thoroughly has been shown to be an important defense, and it would be helpful to have children count to 20 or sing the ABC’s while washing hands with soap. Making it more enticing for them may help them complete this properly, for instance counting in things they find interesting such as batman, “one batman, two batman, three batman, and so on”.

Monitor changes in your child’s behaviour

Once your child is back in school, it is important to monitor their behaviour and functioning to see how they are coping with the transition back to school. Although distress and worry, in addition to other issues, may last for a reasonably long duration of time and can be entirely appropriate following a traumatic event, seek immediate help from your family doctor or from a mental health professional if they are interfering with you or your child’s ability to function or succeed.

Transitioning back to school during Covid
Speak positively so that your child can be more confident about returning to school during Covid. Listen and provide support when you can, and always be aware of your own emotions so that you don’t transmit your anxiety to your child.

Model managing your own emotions

Everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently and over various things. In an age-appropriate manner, it may be helpful to acknowledge your stress and explain how you are struggling and trying to manage in a healthy way. This helps normalise the stress levels and will help your child to manage the situation in a more positive way. Know when to seek help for you and/ or your child(ren).

Be mindful of your conversations

Children are often very perceptive of mood but also conversations. It is important that you are mindful of the things you are saying about the current situation and what messages you may be directly or indirectly sending to your children. The things you say can positive and/or negatively impact your child’s thoughts, especially regarding transitions back to school.

Be a good listener

Try to be understanding about how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to them. Do not lecture and let kids know it is okay to share with you how they are feeling at any time.

Validate what they are feeling

It is important to reflect and acknowledge your child’s thoughts and emotions, and that it is ok to not be ok. Try not to negate their feelings with responses like, “oh, don’t be worried”. This may cause them to feel embarrassed or criticised. It is better to confirm and reflect what you are hearing: “Yes, I can see that you are worried”. Pay attention in particular to any separation anxiety from younger children as they have been at home with a well-known adult for a long duration of time.

Reassure your children that they are safe

All children, from toddlers to teens, look to adults for comfort and support. It is important to reassure them that they are safe despite what they may be seeing or hearing. Ensure them that returning to school is safe as the school is doing everything they can to maintain good hygiene and safety.

Constant questions

Realise that questions may persist as it is quite common for children when they are processing events. Let them know you are available to talk at any time and let their questions guide you. This will allow you to have a better understanding of what your child may or may not already know about going back to school. Children need to digest information on their own timetable, and questions might come out of nowhere.

Maintain a healthy diet. A balanced diet, enough sleep and adequate amounts of exercise all contribute towards building a robust immune system.

Information provided by The Child Development Team,

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