Calling anxious parents: here’s how to have a happy return to school

  • Marie Claire is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.
  • Given that most children haven't been in school for six months, going back this September will be a huge transition - for us parents too. So we asked Zoe Blaskey, the founder of Motherkind, for practical tips on helping them settle in and what you can expect from the first days back

    Given that many children won’t have been in school for six months, going back this September will be a huge transition – for us parents too. However this lockdown experience has been for you, one thing is for sure – we’re very used to being at home, perhaps with lots of screen time and little structure. So with the return to school planned for 3rd September how can we best prepare for a happy, confident and calm return?

    After being inundated with requests for help from parents completely overwhelmed by lockdown, I commissioned independent research to see just how widespread this issue was. It found 87% of parents across the UK are concerned about their children’s emotional health as a result of lockdown and a further 85% were feeling stressed about family life.  So, if you are feeling overwhelmed by this huge period of change, I promise, you are not alone.

    To help, I created The Family Reset plan with two brilliant contributors  – Dr Nneka Ikeogu (an Educational and Child psychologist) and Dr Emma Svanberg (a Clinical Psychologist) to help parents navigate with skill and ease this tricky transition.

    return to school

    Founder of Motherkind, Dr Zoe Blaskey

    1. Help children prepare emotionally for going back

    A big transition can bring up mixed feelings  – excitement, worry, nerves and happiness – perhaps all at once. The challenge is that children’s brains aren’t yet developed enough to regulate these emotions – so it’s vital that parents support their children emotionally. The most effective way of doing this is to help children notice and label feelings by acknowledging and validating – saying “I know you’re feeling worried about going back. It makes sense to me that you’d feel that way”. This will help children feel understood and they’ll be more able to manage their emotions, making it a smoother transition for everyone.

    2. Talk to your children about their worries

    The pandemic has meant a lot of fear, so it’s a good idea to talk to your children before the first day if they have any worries or concerns about going back. Contrary to popular belief, talking about their worries won’t make them worse; in fact research shows the opposite is true. By bringing any concerns out into the open, you can help your child process them. It’s important to know that fears don’t respond to rationalisation, so try to avoid ‘fixing’ the fear or convincing them there is nothing to worry about, as that can actually make the fears worse. You can help children manage their fears by using this four step process: question/observe, acknowledge, respond with facts and problem solve.

    3. Do a daily check in

    Just like us, children’s emotions fluctuate, so it’s important to keep checking in. Find a quiet moment every day to do this, ideally when it’s just the two of you. Ask them how they are feeling – and if they clam up, you could share how you feel or ask them to score how sad/happy/nervous/excited they feel on a scale of 0-10. If they are visual you could ask them what ‘colour’ they feel right now and why they chose that colour. When your child shares their inner world with you, thank them and practice not ‘fixing’ but just hearing. This practice will not only build a strong connection between you, but will also ensure you’ll notice quickly if your child starts to struggle.

    return to school

    Clinical Psychologist, Dr Emma Svanberg

    4. Prepare yourself emotionally too

    For parents and caregivers this has been an unbelievably challenging time. The return to school is likely to bring with it a range of emotions. It’s important not forget about yourself in the mad dash to prep for school. Children quickly pick up on their caregivers’ emotions (even when we think they won’t notice) so it’s a good idea to process how you are feeling too. Grab a notepad and jot down how you’re feeling – what words, thoughts and feelings come up as you prepare for the return to school? What’s on your mind? Do you need to chat to a trusted friend about how you’re feeling?

    5. Learn some simple tools to manage your own anxieties

    However your child is feeling about the return to school, you might have some anxiety about it. You may be ruminating about their friendships, academic performance, their new teacher or the new policies. A simple, yet effective tool to shift these anxieties is to write them out, then create two columns – in the first the worries you have control over, and the second those you have no control over. You might be surprised that many of your worries are ones you have no control over – such as whether your child makes new friends or likes their teachers. Worrying about things you have no control actually increases your feelings of anxiety, so focus on the ‘can control’ list and take one tiny action to move that concern in a positive direction.

    return to school

    Educational and child psychologist, Dr Nneka Ikeogu

    6. Take the time to reflect

    Hopefully back to school might mean a few extra minutes in the day to yourself. Whenever we go through a big challenge in life – we can only grow from it if we take the time to reflect. These 10 journaling questions from The Family Reset Plan will help you not only productively learn from this time and move forward with greater clarity.

    1. How has the past six months been for you?
    2. What 3 words would you use to describe it?
    3. What have you learned about yourself?
    4. What have you learned about your family and your children?
    5. Who did you make an effort to connect with during lockdown?
    6. Who did you not miss, that perhaps you used to spend time with in person?
    7. What is really important to you in your life?
    8. How did the lockdown experience help to reveal that?
    9. What do you want to change going forwards?
    10. What is one small action you take towards that change?

    Zoe Blaskey is a leading coach, the founder of Motherkind, host of the number one podcast, The Motherkind Podcast and creator of The Family Reset Plan

    The Family Reset Plan (£25) is a five-part plan that provides parents and caregivers with emotional wellbeing tools to help their family life feel calmer, happier and less stressful. It is available free to NHS workers and families facing hardship.

    Reading now

    Popular Life stories