Child Anxious About Returning To School Blue Uniform Credit Shutterstock/Ann In The UK
Mental Health

Understanding Your Child’s Anxiety About Returning To School After Lockdown

Big changes can trigger big feelings

Child Anxious About Returning To School Blue Uniform Credit Shutterstock/Ann In The UK

Many students returning to school after lockdown are feeling anxious after several months away from the classroom. 

Research* reveals that 32% of children aged six to 11 were nervous about returning to school and one in ten admitted to being scared. 

Dr Julie Smith, a Clinical Psychologist, spoke to BFBS Radio presenter Amy Casey about the anxiety kids are feeling now they are back at school.

Dr Smith explained how the research revealed that roughly half of the children were excited to see their friends again but more than a third of those children were feeling anxious. She said: 

“Specifically, because of the social distancing rules. They’re worried about getting rules wrong. What if I forget to wash my hands? Will I get told off? 

“Children are worried about catching the virus and bringing it home to their families and carrying a sense of responsibility.” 

Child Hand Washing School COVID 19 Coronavirus Prevention Credit JumpStory
Credit: JumpStory

That responsibility might be weighing on the shoulders of children at a time when they are already anxious about normal back to school concerns like whether they will make friends or understand what they are being taught. 

More than a third (37%) of children do not like social distancing and really miss hugging their friends. Nearly half of older children are anxious about managing to keep a safe distance from friends when they return. 

A result which might please teachers is that more children said they missed them than going to clubs and sport. 

Older Children School Uniform Walking Credit Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images
Credit: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

How To Help Your Child Cope With Anxiety 

Dr Smith has some simple tips to help your child manage their anxiety during this tumultuous time. It has been so long since children have been in education and doing something that feels brand new could cause anxiety. 

  1. Dedicate ten minutes every day to spend some quality time with your child. Ask open questions, such as “what do you think about … ” and “how do you feel about … ” to encourage them to talk about their emotions. 

  1. If your child does say they are anxious, let them know they have your full attention and do not try to correct them. This will help your child know they are safe to tell you anything and that their feelings matter to you. 

  1. Reassure your child that how they are feeling is perfectly normal and that sometimes grown-ups feel exactly the same way. Big changes can trigger big feelings. 

  1. Remind them that new experiences are often scary at first but that eventually, when they are back into a familiar routine, the anxiety should calm down. 

  1. Let them know that their only job is to follow the rules the teacher says. Let the grown-ups deal with the virus. 

  1. School mornings can be rushed and stressful for parents and children. For a child who is worried about school, this can increase their anxiety so make sure you are prepared. 

Children School Uniform Playing Running Credit Shutterstock/Matva
Credit: Shutterstock/Matva

What's It Like From The School's Perspective?

BFBS Radio presenter Richard Hatch spoke to Paul Kilbride, Headteacher at Old Swinford Hospital School, a state boarding school of 600 pupils. The school also has a number of forces children that attend. 

Paul has found that the main anxieties his pupils are expressing are to do with being behind in their education or whether they would get in trouble if they had not completed their work over lockdown. The headmaster has made it clear to his students that they will not be in trouble. About the children’s back to school anxiety he said: 

“Six months is a long time in the lives of young people. 

“For us more aged teachers it isn’t really much at all so the anxieties and their concerns are to do with whether they still have small things like self-confidence to make new friends and whether they have the self-confidence to try new things. 

“Some of the kids are charging in with bags of enthusiasm but we’re aware also that some of them need that little extra support. 

“At times we will have to help people restore their confidence, but we think we’re good at doing that.” 

Children School Teacher Lesson Credit JumpStory
Credit: JumpStory

While the teaching and support staff are focusing on the mental health of their children, they are also having to keep a close eye on the government's COVID-19 advice. He said: 

"The Government changes its advice regularly so keeping tabs and following that is a full-time job, but we have social distancing.  

“A lot of handwashing, hand gelling, one-way systems and lots of what to do ifs because of course, as a boarding school, parents are trusting us with their children completely and so we have enhanced safety measures, enhanced cleaning." 

School children take part in STEM event. Credit: SAC Charlotte Hopkins, Crown Copyright.
Credit: RAF

Many military children attend boarding schools and Old Swinford Hospital School is no stranger to the forces way of life. The school works very closely with parents to make sure they have the time they need together before perhaps one or both parents or guardians is sent away overseas. He said: 

“Pastoral care is a really big deal here. 

“Boarding schools are like big families so our forces children will be very close to their house master and matrons, the counselor, nurses, the Chaplains ... so there’s a lot of support for them.” 

Children School Teacher Lesson Credit JumpStory
Credit: JumpStory

A combination of lockdown, exam results controversy and having to change the classrooms to keep Coronvirus at bay, has made 2020 an incredibly stressful time for schools.

Teaching and support staff have had to reassure their students that it is safe to return to lessons. Thankfully, many schools can turn to their core values to help guide the students. He said: 

“The schools value system comes from St Paul’s letter to the Romans which is how everybody in the community is important, everybody’s valued, everybody chips in. 

“We tell our students regularly just how important they are. 

“It would be good for our politicians to remember just how important these young people really are and just how much they will be depending on them before too long.”

If you would like further advice on how to help your child's anxiety, visit the NHS Every Mind Matters website.

* The research, requested by Start-Rite Shoes, was conducted by OnePoll between July 6 and 7, 2020, with children across the UK aged 6-11 years and who have been out of school due to the Coronavirus.

Cover image: A child looks anxious on their first day of school (Picture: Shutterstock/Ann In The UK).