How to prepare your child to return to school during the coronavirus

Are you ready? And are your kids ready for when they return to school?

While grades 7 and 12 learners are returning to school on 1 June, some education specialists are looking to motivate for the return of early child development centres, pre-primaries, creches and nurseries, as well as a possible return of learners in the foundation phase. Some private schools are already opening up their classes to other grades. While many parents have struggled with homeschooling their children, they are also battling with the concept of sending their kids back to school.

How to prepare your child for school

Schools are developing policies that work for them depending on the physical nature of the school, age of learners and needs of learners (among many other factors). What one school implements could be entirely different to another.

Therefore, before you have a discussion with your child, communicate with their school on any policies and plans they have developed. This will allow you to give accurate information to your child, and will also help you to make a decision of what to do. Feel free to ask as much as you need to know, and maintain open communication with your child’s school on your family’s needs.

The return to school will mimic, in many ways, the start of a school year or new school for your child – a host of different anxieties and uncertainties.

If your child finds routine change difficult it will be helpful to start preparing them in advance for how things will be at school. In the week or even two weeks leading up to your child starting school, try to get into a regular routine that will be expected of them when they are at school.

This includes regular waking times, meal times, bed times and afternoon activities. Remind your child of the things that will stay the same, and how he/she once enjoyed particular aspects of the school, and explain the parts that will now be different.

For example, if you won’t be allowed to accompany your child to the classroom you will need to discuss this with them and explain how the process will work.

Discuss who will pick your child up, where and how. If your child’s school requires that temperatures are taken each morning, explain ahead of time what the non-contact thermometers look like, and what they do. Explain that it’s not a medical procedure and nobody will actually even touch them at all.

By now you would probably have gone through the hygiene practices at length with your child, but emphasise these in preparation – not touching their friends, coughing or sneezing into their elbow, not picking their nose or touching their face, no hands in their mouths.

Practise wearing a mask at home for a week or two before school starts so that your child gets used to it. This will also give you an opportunity to see how they manage and whether they need encouragement to talk louder, or if they struggle to hear somebody wearing a mask when they’re being spoken to.

Wear your mask too so they can get a sense of how it feels talking to somebody whose whole face cannot be seen. For some children masks can be associated with dentists, doctors and scary medical procedures – try to draw the distinction for your child so they can see the masks for the purposes they’re intended.

Create a checklist for your child to remind them what they need to take to school. This checklist could include: face mask (one worn, one spare), hand sanitizer or sanitising wipes.

How to prepare your kids for going back to school during coronvirus

How to make your child feel safe

It is important for parents to be the adult in the situation, and to be the voice of reason. It is important to acknowledge any fears your child may have, and also how to alleviate these with facts (where you can).

Provide age-appropriate information on the virus, information on how your child’s school is going to protect them, and encourage your child that you as a family will also be safe if all safety precautions are followed. Remind your child that their friends will likely be at school too, and that they might also be feeling a bit concerned, but that they can also understand each other because of this.

As with any fear or trauma (because this is a collective, global, trauma), if your child is not ready to go back to school, don’t send them. Work through their feelings with them, seek professional help if need be, and work with their time frames where possible.

With that in mind, it is likely not possible to keep your child from going back to school at all, and within this time some encouraging and guidance will be required. Create smaller goals with a full return to school as the end goal. This might look like half a day at school at first, with a build up to a full day, a few days and eventual return.

Put your child in touch with their teacher or a friend who does return to school to almost entice them and so they can be less fearful of the process.

Emphasise to your child that them feeling safe and okay is a priority for you. While education is important, and returning to normal is important, their sense of safety, security and wellbeing is paramount. Help them to feel safe again.

“Teach your child how to take proper care of themselves around others, and how to practise appropriate distancing and safety measures”

More tips to prepare yourself and your child:

  • Familiarise yourself with the protocols created by your child’s school – ask questions and try to trust the school and the policies that will have been developed.
  • Teach your child how to take proper care of themselves around others, and how to practise appropriate distancing and safety measures.
  • Realise what is within your control and what is not – work with what you can control and try to find peace with the aspects that you cannot control.
  • Try to dissect what your fears are about – break them down and try to approach each one with a set of solutions workable for you and your family.
  • Read the facts and the science on how the Coronavirus can affect children and follow reliable sources and research – use your wise mind (a combination of your emotional and rational mind) to make decisions, rather than just letting your emotions control them.
  • Weigh up the pros and cons of your child returning to school or staying at home – pay attention to their developing social needs as a factor too.
  • Be kind to yourselves. The decision is a tough one and the individualised approach for each child and family is crucial.

How to prepare your child to go back to school during coronavirus

Common concerns

My child is afraid of catching the virus – what do I tell them?

It is important to be factual when dealing with this particular fear. Explain what you know to your child. Use videos or stories from online to teach where possible. Children who are not already immune-compromised have little chance of becoming sick from the Coronavirus, and research has shown that if they do get the virus it’s possible that they won’t even show any symptoms.

Also explain that just because they don’t get sick from it doesn’t mean that they don’t need to be careful, because if they have the virus they could make somebody else sick without meaning to.

Remind them to take precautions – just as they would wear a beanie when it’s cold or brush their teeth to keep germs away, they need to wear masks and sanitise or wash their hands to protect themselves.

Remind them that by taking these precautions they are helping themselves, and others, a lot. Again, use your wise mind when dealing with your children – a healthy balance of facts to counter any overwhelming emotions.

Are our children actually able to follow regulations?

Children require information in ways that will make sense to them, and in the same way they will only be able to understand and follow certain regulations from certain ages. From age four children start to learn about cause and effect, becoming more aware of the people around them.

A four-year-old will start to obey rules although they may not necessarily understand right from wrong and why rules need to be followed. Children from four should therefore be able to be taught specific safety precaution rules relating to the Coronavirus.

While they might not be able to transfer this understanding to every new situation that arises, it will be possible to teach them about social distancing and what is or isn’t allowed in their classroom and with their peers.

Children younger than four are taught about hand washing and general hygiene, and this should be emphasised at home and at school. It will, however, be tricky to “undo” some of what a child knows to be acceptable and possible with their peers and their teacher.

Running to their teacher for a hug, or sharing a sandwich with their friends might come naturally and will need encouragement to limit. It is important that our children become aware that it’s not that these behaviours are now bad or wrong, but that they can’t be done under these circumstances.

It will also be difficult to teach social distancing and control the natural and automatic behaviour of children younger than four – in these circumstances children should be kept at home or if attending daycare, safety precautions as a whole at the day care will need to be followed, but the responsibility cannot be on children to follow certain regulations.

Making restrictions and regulations less threatening for our youngsters

It is important to find a balance between frightening our children into submission and guiding them to know what best practices need to be followed when they are around others.

In families with vulnerable members, either immune compromised or elderly, try not to scare your child into feeling the weight of responsibility for the wellbeing of others, but also educate them on how their actions may affect others.

We don’t want our children to be out in the school and in the world feeling fearful of their every move, but rather to be educated on how they can act to keep others safe.

Try to use the term “physical distancing” instead of “social distancing” – your child can still be social, can still talk to their friends and greet their teacher, but they need to be slightly further away than usual. Use certain procedures as teaching opportunities – record and discuss your or your child’s temperature when it’s taken and learn how to make graphs and compare data.

Try to find masks (or even get them made) with patterns chosen by your child or with their favourite superhero, cartoon character or colour. This way they will feel more confident wearing something they have chosen and what they think looks cool or acceptable.

If they’re happy with their own mask, chances are they won’t want to trade masks with somebody else. Explain to your child that just like their hat, jersey or school shoes belong to them, so does their mask, and it can’t be swapped with somebody.

In the end there is no perfect method to handle your child returning to school. There is certainly no right or wrong way to feel as a parent, and no right or wrong for how your child feels. Do what works for your family and emphasise emotional wellbeing at the forefront of all decisions made. The rest has time to fall into place where necessary.