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Returning to school: 7 tips to help secondary students cope

Students walking to school

Image: Prostock-Studio/stock.adobe.com

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Next week, students in Scotland will return to school, with those in Northern Ireland, England and Wales following soon after. But this will not be school as they know it.

After months of lockdown, suddenly pupils will be dealing with new school rules, routines, classrooms, classmates, teachers and, in some cases, even new schools.

For many, these changes will inevitably create anxiety, especially given the ongoing threat of COVID-19 and new school social distancing and hygiene measures. More so again if they, or another family member, has been shielding until recently.

To make their transition easier, here are seven things to consider if your child is returning – or preparing to return – to the classroom.

1. Talk to them about how they feel

It is important to encourage your child to discuss their feelings about returning to school. This may require a difficult conversation about the pandemic, especially in light of the debate around the safety of schools reopening and fears of further lockdowns.

If they feel anxious or worried, help them understand this is perfectly normal, and that you and their teachers are there to support them. Although difficult, try not to share with them any anxiety you may have.

Also bear in mind your child may be returning to a pre-existing issue from before lockdown – for example, a bullying or relationship issue.

Equally, they may be anxious about coping with school work after such a long time out of the classroom. Reassure them that teachers understand the difficulties and they can expect plenty of revision and support, particularly in the first few weeks.

2. Make sure they understand the rules

Your school will have been in touch to explain the various new procedures in place – such as year group ‘bubbles’ and hand-washing routines. If you haven’t received this information, or are unsure what the rules are, you should contact the school office.

It will help if your child knows what to expect and can prepare themselves for some big changes to the school day. They potentially need to adjust to the idea of a different timetable, restricted movements and the loss of certain activities. This can be unsettling for children who often find familiar routines reassuring.

You should remind them of the importance of following the social distancing and hygiene rules and, importantly, why they are in place.

3. Pack right, pack light

Your school will have been in touch to let you know what your child should and (more likely) shouldn’t bring in – such as stationery, bags, PE kits, water bottles and lunch.

Make sure they know what to pack and any new rules around sharing equipment or using water fountains, for example. Although neither students nor staff are recommended to attend school in PPE (ie, facemasks), they will need to wear a mask on the way to school if they travel by public or school transport. Check they understand the guidelines for handling it once in school.

4. And make sure you know the rules too

If you drive them to school, you’ll need to know where and when to drop them off and pick them up, as well as what parts of the school you can access.

Keep an eye out for newsletters and updates from school so you can respond quickly to any changes or developments. Try to avoid speculating about possible coronavirus infections in the school and the chance of a shutdown. But make sure your child understands the guidelines about symptoms and testing.

5. Be prepared for changes in behaviour

Given the length of the lockdown and the many changes to their school day, children of all ages are likely to find this a stressful period. There will inevitably be a period of adjustment.

A school day is long and demanding in terms of focus and behaviour. Studying and following rules are habits that will need to be relearnt.

It is a good idea to keep this in mind and allow for some negative emotions or general grumpiness when they get home.

Your instinct may be to ask about their day, but they may need to simply unwind.

6. But stay informed

Try not to worry if in the early weeks there are unusual issues surrounding friendships, behaviour or school work. But stay informed about how they are getting on – and, if you are concerned, contact the school office about speaking to the class teacher.

7. And get some rest...

Your family may have been getting used to some rather unusual hours during lockdown and that may have extended into the summer holidays.

Make sure they get into a routine before the start of term. A good night’s rest will help them cope with the return to school and the new routines they will be adapting to.

We've also compiled a list of questions and answers you might have about the return to school, including information about how social distancing will work, how the school day may be affected and more.

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