The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown are unprecedented, none of us has been through this experience before so we don’t know what the full impact will be. It is important to remember that every young person will have had different experiences of lockdown – for some it will have been fun and safe where new things were tried and enjoyed, but for others, it will have been challenging. One common theme, however, is that all young people have experienced a period of enormous change and uncertainty with the sudden and unexpected closure of schools with little opportunity to say goodbye to friends and teachers and very little time to adapt to a new way of life.
As a parent or carer, your role may have accelerated during this time as the only source of mental health wellbeing support for the young people in your life. This role will continue, as many young people will need reassurance and support as they prepare to return to school, where many may experience heightened levels of fear and anxiety in already uncertain times.
Here we look at some of the challenges young people may have faced during lockdown, how these experiences might impact on their return to school and how you can best support this transition.
Some of the challenges young people may have experienced to their wellbeing because of coronavirus and lockdown may include:
- A sense of loss: this includes missing out on lots of things they’ve taken for granted such as seeing friends and family, playing sports, following familiar routines such as studying and end of school year activities.
- Fear and anxiety: Uncertainty has been prevalent in all aspects of life and there may be fear that schools may close again if there is another lockdown, when school does re-open what will it look like, what will the new rules be and general fear about keeping healthy and maintaining hygiene.
- Friendships: many young people will have missed interaction with their friends and self-worth and development they attain from being part of a peer group, while some may have managed this remotely, others will have struggled.
- Family experiences: some young people will have struggled with the challenges of being at home whether that’s dealing with conflict or an increased role as a carer for other family members. Some may have had a different experience and having spent a significant period with a supportive parent or carer they will be fearful of leaving.
- Illness and bereavement: there may have been traumatic events that happened including illness or the death of family member and loved ones.
- Self-care: Sleep patterns may have been disrupted as routines changed and there may have been a loss of exercise and activities. Normal routines may have completely gone.
These experiences may have an impact on a young person’s return to school in the following ways:
- Adapting to the new normal: certain aspects of school will be different and the idea of this will be challenging. There will be a constant fear of catching the virus, there may be new levels of bullying around those being accused of spreading it. Class sizes will be smaller, there may be new teachers, and these will all be happening under new social distancing restrictions.
- Transition: the social aspects of school will change, and many young people will have to manage new routines and expectations. Those who are in key transition pathways may be feeling worried that they are falling behind in work and fearful that schools could have to close again. This could have an impact on concentration and engagement.
- Re-engaging with friends: there will be new rules and boundaries in school that will be new and unfamiliar, and this will be felt mostly in areas where most young people had ‘down-time’. Some friendships will need an element of rebuilding and some of them will have changed, this could be a challenging experience.
How can you support the return to school?
It’s important to remember that young people are often more resilient than we give them credit for. Lockdown may also have had a positive impact on their wellbeing, and they may have enjoyed the extended time with their family. Some may have felt less pressure about academic success and exams and others may have developed new resilience-building skills and coping strategies.
However, for many young people going back to school may be an added source of anxiety in already difficult times. Managing this transition back to school may, in fact, be the biggest challenge for many young people. Here are some tips to support you when preparing the young people in your life for the return to school:
- Talk and listen to how they are feeling. Normalize and validate that its not surprising that they are feeling worried during these times and returning to school. Express how you are feeling also. Try to balance normalising of worries with thinking of ways to support them to move forward. For some young people, it’s easier for them to write things down or use creative methods to express themselves.
- Increase feelings of security by preparing them for the return to school as much as possible. This might involve looking at the school website, talking to the school, walk past the school (if possible) or get in touch with schoolmates and have them talk about how they are feeling. Provide as much information as possible about what their new routine might look like.
- Discuss the uncertainty by being open that a lot has changed, whilst also acknowledging things that have stayed the same. This will help balance out worries and focus on positive things about going back to school. It might help to think about what things they can control and use this to help them understand the things that are out of their control.
- Gradually start to expose them to things that are causing fear and anxiety in a way that makes them feel secure. At the moment this is best done by discussing these anxieties and fears. For example, young people have been told to stay at home, socially distance from each other and to wash their hands. In the next few weeks, they are going to be told to go back to school, this will lead to confusion and uncertainty. Talk to them about this and reassure them that the school will have all the measures in place to keep them safe. Perhaps encouraging time in familiar spaces that are starting to reopen such as going to a shopping centre, the cinema, a restaurant etc. This will help instil an experience of returning to familiar spaces under the new restrictions and guidance.
- Introduce a routine in the weeks leading up to returning to school. Sleep patterns will have changed during lockdown and it’s important they are put back into place. Encourage them to get some exercise also.
- Model coping strategies you use and will continue to use. This is a unique position where you might find yourself returning to the office at the same time they are returning to school. Discuss that, be open about your worries and feelings about returning to work and how you are managing those feelings.
- Look after yourself the coronavirus pandemic has put enormous strain on parents, carers and families. No one has been unaffected. Taking time to look after ourselves and each other is so important.
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