Top tips for preparing children and young people to return to school

With students set to return to school in September, as a parent or carer you may have concerns about how your child will handle the adjustment after several months at home.

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists have put together some things you can do to help prepare your child for their return to school, especially if they are feeling anxious about going back.

These tips will help you and your child gain some control of the situation.

  • Think about your child’s individual needs: each young person has their own personality, strengths and requirements so will need different preparation and support.

  • Find out your child’s worries: are they worried about catching the virus or family members getting sick? Once you know their concerns you can provide them with information and reassurance to help them feel safe at school.

  • Share with teachers and support staff your family’s lockdown experience, as this will affect how your child will feel about returning to school. For some families, just getting through each day has been the priority, while others will have lost someone close to them. This will help school staff to provide the support your child needs.

  • Work together with your child’s teacher and other professionals to agree a ‘return to school’ plan. It will help to think about what time your child will start and finish school, who will meet them and where they’ll spend break time. You can add more details as they become known.

  • Use your child’s preferred communication method. Your child could help write their own ‘return to school’ plan. Other children may find symbols, photos or videos more helpful. Social stories which use short descriptions of a situation or activity can help children understand and cope with changes.

  • Think about what will be the same when your child returns to school, such as their teachers and uniform. Focusing on this first will be reassuring and help reduce their anxiety.

  • Find out how the school environment will be different, such as the number of desks in classrooms. School staff may be able to provide photos or videos so your child can see what school will look like. Remember, certain changes may benefit your child, for example fewer children may reduce the risk of sensory overload.

  • Consider how changes to school routines and activities will affect your child: for example, there could be new rules about entering and moving around school. Some activities that your child enjoys may not be allowed, such as swimming. Help your child to understand those changes to their school day and why they are happening.

  • Think about what you learned about your child during lockdown. Did certain activities calm your child down? Did regular movement breaks improve their focus? Share this with their teacher. It could also help to continue some of the activities you started in lockdown once schools reopen.

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