Academic Articles

Schools re-open: Learning to co-exist with COVID-19

Jun 03, 2020 | By Lauren Martin
Schools re-open: Learning to co-exist with COVID-19

“Schools can’t remain closed because of anxious parents.”

“Why is it safe for our children to go back to schools but too risky for prisoners to remain in prison?”

There has been rife debate as parent’s grapple with schools re-opening and children being phased back – and rightly so. Every parent wants to do what they believe is in the best interest of their child. As the economy reopens and parents return to work full-time, parents are faced with some tough choices around reintegrating children back into schools.

Parents are appearing to carry the heaviest load. They are struggling with feelings of being overburdened and overwhelmed in needing to keep their children safe in uncertain and unpredictable times – often without many choices available”, says Laken Folster, Counselling Psychologist and SACAP Educator

Those households with the means, support and resources can homeschool or return their children back to school in the new year but for the vast majority of households, these options are not viable. So how do these parents, with no other choice, cope with their own fears and anxiety as they start sending their children back to school?

Similarly, while some children may be looking forward to going back to school, seeing familiar people and going back to a normal routine there are many children who do not feel the same and may struggle with the return to school. How do parent’s support these children with the transition?

“Preparing children to go back to school (and preparing yourself as a parent to let them go) is a multileveled task and parents should make sure that they assist their children both practically, academically, and emotionally to ease back into school life”, says Esmarie Cilliers, Registered Counsellor and SACAP Educator.

How can parents empower themselves?

Laken Folster, Counselling Psychologist, shares how parents can empower themselves:

  • Don’t burden your children with your adult fears: Our daily lives have been disrupted, and the world is not as we left it. This is not only true for adults but for children also. Dealing with your own fears and anxieties is one of the most powerful tools to help your children feel secure. Parents need to learn how to deal with their own emotions and model this behaviour, teaching the family to be resilient.
  • Focus on what you can control: It’s natural to feel the need for safety, certainty, predictability, and control when we face a crisis, the unknown, or a sudden change. However, during such times we often spend time and energy on things around us which we have no control over. If we shift our focus to what we can control we will notice meaningful and lasting changes in our mental health and wellbeing.
  • Keep it in perspective and notice the good: Consider what information sources you are using to make your decisions and balance these sources with also uplifting perspectives. This helps you take a holistic view from the polarised picture being displayed in media.
  • Be informed: Make sure that you are informed of all the arrangements and processes that your child’s school has in place. Cooperate with the school and ask questions to make sure that all your concerns are addressed.

How can parents prepare their children for school re-opening?

Esmarie Cilliers, Registered Counsellor, shares how parents can prepare children for school:

Emotional preparation

  • Ask Questions: Listen to your child and talk to them about their concerns or anxieties. Asking questions rather than offering advice or solutions about a problem or issue can help children come up with their own solutions. In this way they will feel empowered to deal with the situation.
  • Relevant Examples: Tell them about times in your own life that you were unsure about something and how it turned out to be okay. 
  • Normalising: Share with them how you will be protecting yourself against the virus when returning to work and be open and listen to their ideas around protecting yourself.  Help them to understand that this is a “new normal” for our lives for a while.
  • Be Proactive: Be prepared that children may experience some separation anxiety. Preempt this by coming up with a plan together on how they can feel more secure. For younger kids this could mean taking a soft toy to school and for older children the ability to contact you should they need to. Tell the school if your child is feeling anxious.

Practical Preparation

  • Be Informed: Find some developmentally appropriate videos or information about what COVID-19 is. Help your child to be informed and remember to be patient with all the questions.
  • Set Expectations: See if you can get as much information as possible from the school and share this with your child so that they know exactly what to expect.  Discuss this with your child and be open to any strange questions they might have.
  • School Hygiene protocol: Make sure your children know about all the hygiene regulations so that they feel they have some control.  This can be done in a creative way such as pretending to teach teddy to go back to school or maybe writing a story book together.

Academic preparation

  • New Routine: Help your child make the adjustment back to their school routine. Make sure that they are used to going to bed and waking up at their normal times.
  • Reignite a Passion for Learning: Remind them that learning is fun and talk about what they still want to learn, their favourite subjects or perhaps find a book on something that they are interested in.
  • Encouragement: Provide positive feedback on the work that they have done during lockdown and catch-up on anything that they feel unsure about.

Written by: Lauren Martin, Counselling Psychologist and Head of Teaching and Learning (Pretoria Campus)

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