Prepared by: UNICEF
The coronavirus outbreak has caused major disruptions to daily life, and children are deeply feeling these changes. While many children feel yearning and excited to return to school, others feel anxious or afraid about it. Here are tips for parents to help their children deal with some of the complex emotions they might face when they return to school.
My child is afraid to go back to school. How can I help him feel at ease?
Going to school for the first time, or starting a new school year, can be alarming even at the best of times, not to mention the emotions that this evokes during a global pandemic. You can reassure your child by initiating an open dialogue about what triggers him or her and letting him know that it is normal for him to feel anxious.
Children may feel anxious or hesitant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months. Be honest with your child – for example, you can review some of the changes that he may encounter at school, such as the need to wear uniforms or protective gear such as masks. Children may also find it difficult to keep a physical distance from friends and teachers while they are at school – you can encourage your child to think in other ways to strengthen his bond with friends and maintain contact with them.
Reassure your child about safety measures in place to help keep students and teachers healthy, and remind them that they can also help prevent the spread of germs by washing hands with soap and water, and containing sneezing and coughing by bending the elbow and covering the mouth with the arm.
Remind your child of the positive aspects – seeing his friends and teachers (if he’s going back to class) and learning new things.
My child’s school recommends that children wear protective clothing, which increases her anxiety. What should I say to her?
Deal with this conversation sympathetically, confirming that you are aware of the feelings of anxiety that your child has because of the Coronavirus, and it is healthy to talk about our concerns and our feelings. Children may feel upset or frustrated if they find it difficult to wear masks, especially while jogging or playing. You can reassure your children that many adults are working hard to help keep your family safe, but you need to stress the importance of everyone adhering to the recommended procedures for caring for the most vulnerable members of our community.
How can I encourage my child to adhere to precautions at school (such as frequent hand washing, social distancing, etc.) without becoming anxious?
One of the best ways to keep your child safe from catching COVID-19 and other infectious diseases is to simply encourage him to wash his hands regularly. And this conversation need not be intimidating. You can sing his favorite song with your child or dance together to add fun to learning. Make sure to teach your child to realize that germs are present even though we do not see them. And when children understand why they have to wash their hands, they are likely to continue doing so.
You can also show your child how to contain sneezing and coughing by bending the elbow and covering the mouth with the arm, and ask him to tell you if he has a fever, starts coughing, or has difficulty breathing.
My child will not be part of the same group as her close friends returning to school, and she feels more isolated because of it. How could she feel more attached to her class and friends?
If your child’s school begins to gradually resume teaching, your child may be anxious about breaking up with her friends. When schools are officially announced to reopen, help your child prepare for their return to school by sharing information about when and how.
It is a good idea to inform your child in advance that schools may have to close again, as this will help her to be ready for the next period of change. It is also important to keep reminding your child that education can take place anywhere – at school and at home.
And for those with access to the Internet, the safe and supervised use of online gaming software, social media, and video chat software can provide wonderful opportunities for children to network, learn and play with their friends, parents and relatives while they are at home. You can also encourage your children to use their voices on the Internet to share their views and support individuals in need of support during this crisis.
You can encourage your children to take advantage of digital tools that stimulate them, such as exercise videos for children, and video games that require physical activity. And remember that a balance should be struck between entertainment using the Internet and non-Internet activities, including spending time outside, if possible.
How can I gently see to my child how he is coping and dealing with what is going on?
It is important to be calm and proactive in your conversations with your children – talk to them to find out how they are doing. Their emotions will constantly change, so you must make it clear to them that this change is normal and acceptable.
Caregivers can engage children in creative activities, whether at school or at home, such as playing or painting, to help them express the negative feelings they may be experiencing, in a safe and supportive environment. This helps children find positive ways to express difficult emotions such as anger, fear and sadness.
Children usually derive emotional stimuli from the major adults in their lives – including parents and teachers – so it is important for adults to manage their emotions well and to remain calm, listen to children’s concerns, and talk to them kindly to reassure them.
Is there anything I should pay attention to as my child resumes school?
In addition to paying attention to your child’s physical health and learning when you return to school, you should also pay attention to signs of stress and anxiety, as the Covid-19 pandemic may affect your child’s mental health, and it is important to show that it is normal and acceptable that sometimes one feels that the burden is great. And if you have any doubts, the best thing is to show sympathy and support.
Concerns have also emerged that an increase in cases of stigmatization and bullying may occur when children return to school, due to some misinformation about COVID-19. You should make it clear to your child that the virus has nothing to do with the way the person or group it is from, or the language it speaks. If your child has been insulted or bullied at school, encourage her to report an adult you trust. Remind your children that everyone deserves to be safe in school and while using the Internet, and that bullying is wrong in all cases, and each of us must do our duty to spread kindness and support one another.
My child is concerned about bullying in school and on the Internet, how can I talk to him about it?
If your child is concerned about bullying, either in person or online, it is important to make him or her aware that he is not alone and that he can always talk to you or another adult he trusts. The more you talk to your child about bullying, the more reassured he becomes that he tells you what he is seeing or going through. Talk to your child daily and inquire about his time at school, his activities on the Internet, and his feelings. There are children who do not express their feelings in words, so you should pay attention to any behavior that expresses anxiety or hostility that may indicate something is wrong.
You should also engage in open and frank conversations with your children about how to keep them safe while using the Internet. Engage in an honest dialogue with your children about who and how they communicate with them. Make sure they understand the value of a pleasant and supportive interaction, which means that discerning or inappropriate communication is totally unacceptable. If your children are experiencing any of these practices, encourage them to report it to you immediately or to another adult they trust. Pay attention if you notice that your child is becoming withdrawn or upset, or if he is using his device more or less than usual, as this may be evidence of being bullied via the Internet.
It is also important to familiarize yourself with your child’s school safety procedures, policies against bullying, as well as adequate referral mechanisms and availability of dedicated phone lines to provide assistance.