After lockdown: worries about returning to school

Here are some thoughts on how to manage a child’s worries and concerns about returning to school after being in lockdown. It may be helpful for you if you are:

  • A parent or guardian of a child with mark, scar or condition affecting their appearance (visible difference)
  • An education professional or youth worker

What are the challenges?

During the unusual period of enforced national lockdown, many children would have missed their school friends, teachers and the daily routine that school offers.

However, some children, and in particular those with a visible difference, may have found lockdown less stressful than attending school. They may have felt safe and cocooned in the family home, away from public scrutiny, comments, questions, stares, even teasing and bullying.

As schools open, some children may be concerned they are behind with their studies. They may feel their social skills have taken a dip or their confidence levels have dropped. During lockdown, some may have felt shy or withdrawn and reluctant to connect with friends using the video-call apps that became so popular during lockdown, like Zoom, Teams, FaceTime, Houseparty and Skype. Our video-call factsheet may help explain why this may be a challenge for your child and suggest ways to support them. Whilst using these may feel easy for some children, others may have struggled and feel more disconnected from friends and family outside the house.

Some children may now feel very worried and anxious about school. This may feel even harder if your child felt anxious about their appearance before, or felt vulnerable, isolated or unhappy previously at school.

So, what can I do?

Here are some ideas on how to manage your child’s potential return to school.

  1. Communicate with the school. Talking to the relevant head, teachers and pastoral support workers to explain any anxieties may be helpful. This will give them a chance to prepare for the worries your child is facing, and they may be able to speak with your child to plan their return with them and offer reassurance. Even once your child is back at school, it might be helpful to keep these lines of communication open. 
  2. Name that emotion. This can be a confusing and overwhelming time, especially for younger children, and they may have trouble understanding their feelings. With your child, you could make some emoji cards or painted pebbles together, showing different emotions, such as happy, sad, confused, worried, curious, tired and so on. ‘Labelling’ feelings may make it easier for you and your child to talk about any worries and help you support them.
  3. Talk about it. Set aside time during the day to discuss feelings and worries. Let your child know it is ok to feel this way and that there are no ‘bad’ or ‘good’ feelings. It is natural to want to reassure your child, by saying things like, ‘Don’t worry.’ or, ‘It’ll be ok’. However, it may be more helpful to gently explore, asking, ‘What makes you think that might happen?’, ‘How can we prepare you if it does?’.
  4. Routine. Consider returning to more of a daily routine, with regular times for meals, getting up and going to bed. Any routine can be helpful and provide structure – even if it mostly contains play activities and downtime. If possible, aim to build in exercise by going out in the fresh air in a green space or nature each day. Limit lie-ins to the weekends.
  5. Starting to look at schoolwork. A shorter school day is sensible, with a focus on the topics your child actively enjoys and thrives in. However, it is also worth noting that lockdown has not been normal for any of us and home schooling has its limitations and challenges for both parents and children.
  6. Learning while having fun. If school work is a challenge, try activities with a learning or creative element, for example:
    • Baking, where children can practise reading, weighing and measuring
    • A wildlife ‘safari’ or scavenger hunt in the garden or nearby park
    • A fun online workout or dance competition in place of a PE session
    • Art or craft activities, like making slime, playdough, painting or drawing
    • Dressing up or putting on a play or some sort of performance
    • Writing a book about something they like, complete with their own drawings
    • Projects locally or in the home, e.g.: a book on the cats in the neighbourhood, making decorations for doors and windows, or chalk activities on the footpath.
  7. Connect with family. Keeping lines of communication open regularly with trusted family members can be helpful to remind children how to communicate. Getting grandparents or other family members outside the home involved in activities like quizzes, reading a story or virtual baking helps to make these social interactions feel fun and warm; or this can occur face to face either in a bubble or by observing social distancing rules.
  8. Re-connecting with friends and peers. A sense of connecting with friends and peers can make the re-integration feel less stressful. Some schools or youth clubs have creative and inclusive ways of keeping children connected through online meetings and others may be able to meet face to face. Some children may enjoy ‘virtual playdates’ with friends or a ‘virtual sleep over’ to watch a film together whilst eating popcorn or crisps. As opportunities to meet face to face increase, children can resume their social interactions with friend, albeit in a safe socially distant way.
  9. Calm bedtime. Your child’s sleep pattern may have been affected by lockdown and anxiety about school. Try making the run up to bedtime peaceful and relaxing, with calm activities like colouring, a jigsaw or Lego in place of electronic gadgets or television. Choosing a calm and happy bedtime story to read with your child is a good idea and night-time anxiety can be reduced by making space during the day for conversations about coronavirus or school worries. Remove all phones and electronic devices from the bedroom. The Children’s Sleep Charity have good resources for parents and children of all ages.
  10. Self-soothing techniques: can help your child feel calm and more in control of difficult situations or feelings. These may be:
    • Relaxation via breathing exercises, meditation or guided imagery, where your child can visualise somewhere calm. You might consider relaxation apps, such as Headspace (12 years+) or Calm (3 years+)
    • A positive playlist of inspiring music can be uplifting and calming
    • Grounding techniques, for example, the 5-4-3-2-1 method: ask your child to tell you 5 things they can see, 4 things they can hear, 3 they can feel, 2 they can smell and 1 big deep breath in and out! This can be repeated several times with the child until they feel calmer
    • Hand massages are easy to do and relaxing. Use a plain, non-sticky hand lotion and gently massage your child’s hands; then they can try this on you.
    • Colouring, crafts, puzzles, jigsaws, Lego or building blocks all help relaxation
    • Positivity journaling can also be valuable. Ask your child to write down or draw three positive things each night in a journal – these can be very simple things, such as a walk in the sunshine, a family meal together or a good book.

Remember, it is fine to take it gently. Returning to school, in the current changed circumstances, is likely to feel strange for many children – and parents.

You may also be interested in reading our other factsheets or visiting our COVID-19 resource hub.

How can I relax?

Read

What can I do about my anxiety?

Read

After lockdown: facing transition to a new school

Read

COVID-19: advice and support

Read

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