Back to school at last! How do we help our children adjust to the “new normal”?

It feels like the end of the longest summer holiday in world history! Many of us are feeling a sense of relief at the thought of a new start, but equal numbers are feeling quite anxious about what it will mean going forwards. Maybe you’re feeling a mix of both emotions and most children will mirror the way we’re feeling. So, what can we do to help our children cope with the imminent changes and ensure that they feel equipped to thrive rather than merely survive?

It’s a good idea to start with practical things and simple routines. Making sure that uniform, PE kit and stationery are organised helps set the scene and gives younger children especially, a sense of what’s coming up soon. Most families will have lost track of their usual routines, including bedtimes, sleep and meal times. It’s useful to re-introduce these routines at this point rather than waiting for school to start and simply hoping that they will adjust easily. Remember that the human body clock takes several nights to re- calibrate to an earlier bedtime, so start gradually working your way forward from now, otherwise there may be some difficulties for children with getting to sleep and staying asleep. If meals have become an all -day grazing affair, start to zone the day in to times when eating is allowed and gradually move towards reinstating meal times.

Our children are likely to feel unsettled and in some cases, distressed, at the thought of returning to school, although there will be some who can’t wait to get back! Accepting whatever their feelings are is key. It’s so helpful to your child if you are able to listen to them with your full attention when they talk about how they may be feeling. Be curious rather than judgemental, help them to name their emotions and validate how it feels for them. This will support them as they begin to understand what the “new normal” means for them. Making time to spend some uninterrupted one to one time to play with your child, or do an activity with your teenager will help soothe their nervous system, encourage them to relax and increase their chance of coping with change. You won’t have all the answers, but showing you are there with them, navigating the way together, will give them the head start they need.