May 27, 2020
By Dr Kathy Weston
For the parents of some children, this week, it’s decision time. Parents are mulling over the implications of sending their child back to school and, all over the internet, debates are raging about the risks associated with any decision.
My view, which may well be a minority one, is that children, where possible, should absolutely return to school. I have a son in Year 6 and it took me about 60 seconds to fill in the school form stating my ‘intent to return’. Contrary to what you might think, this isn’t because I am fed up of having been cooped up with my boys for the last 60 days, or because I think the quality of his home learning experience has been poor. Primarily, I am sending him back to teach him that I am unafraid.
In my book, the virus isn’t going anywhere and will soon become part of a seasonal menu of ailments that continuously threaten our health. I see little qualitative difference in the spectrum of risks that accompany a return to school in June as opposed to September. In fact, I need him to get used to the new normal as soon as possible. I am anticipating long-term mask-wearing, socially-distanced play, new classroom formats and intermittent remote learning at home, for the foreseeable future.
Being resilient means quickly recognising what you can control and what you can’t. I trust the school and teaching staff to do their best for my child during the school day and, as a family, we will do what we can to mitigate risk at home. Simple as that.
More than the virus, I fear my child not seeing or interacting with his peers. For me, the risks to his mental health far outweigh health risks to him or our family. A victory for the virus would mean that he’s afraid. The sooner we can get our children used to a different way of life and learning at school, the better.
In my view, a gentle and short introduction to new norms is advisable, ahead of the autumn term. On a practical level, children will need practice in learning how to interact in ways that minimise risk, but still feel fun.
On that first day back to school in June, I will remain calm, excited for him to see his friends and full of open questions for him to mull over. I wonder what the new classroom format will be? I wonder which small bubble groups of friends you will be put with? Which teachers are you most excited to see?
We will have thought of lots of socially distanced games to suggest to his friends and have an answer ready for the inevitable question: What has lockdown been like for you and your family?
Every family will have different feelings about children returning to school and individual circumstances vary considerably, but I would advise, when you do make a decision, make it confidently.
Children of all year groups will transition into new environments in September and the preparation for that begins now. Any (visible) parental unease or anxiety won’t help. Children of all ages need to be supported through any transition. Do this by listening gently to any fears or worries that they do have. Remember to coach, rather than to soothe them when you are doing the listening. Can they come up with practical suggestions that could alleviate their worries? Transition can be anxiety-inducing because of the possibility of new challenges, friendships and environments.
Focus on the familiar first: what things will stay the same in September? If they are moving to a new school setting, perhaps some children from their old school will be moving with them? Also, relish change within family life. See it as ‘friend’ rather than ‘foe’. Change almost always enables personal growth.
This year, in particular, normal transition processes are frustrated by many unknowns. By concentrating on providing our children with security, stability and consistent calm over the coming months, we invest in their future resilience and ability to thrive.
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