5 Tips for Supporting Children Returning to School
The School Holidays are coming to an end, in what has so far been an exceptionally unusual year. After the disruption of last term and holidays spent with social distancing and travel restrictions many children may be excited to return to school and days spent with peers. At the same time, there may also be apprehension about what the school day will look like and how it will feel to be socialising in a large group again.
The anxiety about returning to school may be high for both parents and children. When anxious, we find tolerating uncertainty difficulty, it creates extra stress and adds to the worry. And with much about returning to school this year being uncertain, we can expect increased levels of stress for everyone.
We know that some parents are already expressing their concerns and asking for tips on how to manage. There are some great resources available for parents and I have selected the following four because I think people will find them helpful and reassuring as they endeavour to see their children into this new school year. When a child also experiences distress around food and eating there will be very specific challenges and opportunities for the school return. Children who were out of school before the lockdown may feel like now is a good time to re-join their peers. Everyone will be returning after a period away and this shared experience might make it more comfortable for these children to return. For others, the idea of returning to a full school week and the expectations for social eating may be overwhelming.
For all parents, children and young people the 4 resources reviewed on managing in uncertain times may be helpful.
Preparing your child for the return to school infographic from Trauma-Informed Schools (TIS) advocates remaining curious, really listening to your child’s experience and supporting them to have conversations about it with you.
Supporting children to return to school after lockdown from Nipinthebud.org explains strategies for parents in more detail. I like that it lists modelling calmness to children, even when we might not feel it ourselves.
FACE-COVID is an animation from Dr Russ Harris author of ‘The Happiness Trap’ on thriving in these uncertain times. The approach may help us develop the calm containment children need.
Managing Uncertainty in Children and Young People from the British Psychological Society (BPS) is a longer read, perhaps one for a sit down with a cup of tea.
However, for those with distress around eating I end with our own ‘5 Tips for Supporting Children with Eating in School’ from the team here at Schoen Clinic Chelsea. Anyone can contact the Schoen Clinic Chelsea for an initial consultation if looking for further help on how to support your child with an eating disorder or eating distress.
5 Tips for Supporting Children with Eating in School
- Compassion and Flexibility - Every child and every school is different. Children who have difficulties eating at school will vary in the level and shape of the support they need. They may need to eat at different times or leave school for appointments and this will temporarily interrupt the usual school routines. If schools and families can be flexible and compassionate in accommodating the well-being needs of students to eat well and be healthy, they will be supporting that child to achieve to the best of their ability in the longer term. Making a priority of both physical and emotional well-being and education.
- Eating Arrangements – Planning is everything! Where can a child who is struggling to eat, manage best? Who is best placed to be with them? What level of supportive supervision do they need? For one child having the same predictable packed lunch, each day with the company of friends is the best support for them. For another child, they may need to eat with a parent in a private space such as a side room or car. For another, they may need a teacher to help them plate up an appropriate lunch and check that they have been able to eat it. Or perhaps a parent on a video call with them during lunch is enough support.
- Stress Spikes and Calming Moments – Can you predict when a child will feel most stressed and what they need to calm and soothe them when this happens? Perhaps a child can manage in the school day but needs an hour alone once home to decompress and rest. Another child may struggle most after eating and need distractions and activities to regulate this, timetabling their meals so they go straight into a class may help them. For another child, the opposite may be true.
- Staying on Track – There will always be the expectation and hope that your child will be able to eat with peers with no additional help in the future. How will you know that the support in place is working? How will you know if a child needs more or less support or a change in plan? Who will you need to talk to about this?
- Collaboration and Communication – Communicate and collaborate with your child, the school and anyone else that is there to help in formulating the best plan for your child. Make sure you stay connected with the school and talking with them about your child’s needs. Review plans with anyone involved and change them when needed.