How to support your child through reopening

Tips for guiding your child through transitions from family life under COVID-19 restrictions.

Through the COVID-19 pandemic, family life for many has been upended by lockdowns, school closures and remote work. For many families, this has meant spending a lot of time together at home navigating the stressful and uncertain situation. Many children have become used to having their parent or caregiver by their side at all hours of the day. For some infants, it’s all they’ve known.

Though the situation varies greatly depending on where you live, if your family is preparing for a shift in daily routines with day-care centres, schools and offices reopening, here are some tips for helping your child adjust.

What does separation anxiety look like?

Separation anxiety may show up as crying and being more clingy when you leave your child (even for a short period of time) or when they are faced with new situations. It happens most between the ages of 6 months and 3 years and is a common part of your child’s development. The stress and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that such behaviours may sometimes be seen in older children as well.

Dropping children off at daycare or school is a typical time for them to start showing signs of separation anxiety. Because of the events of this past year, older children may have an even more difficult time during school drop off, also fearing that they may not be safe due to COVID-19.

How can I help my child to feel safe making the transition back to old routines?

Helping your child transition to going back to school, and you going back to work, may be a process which takes time and planning. To make the separation less difficult for your child, try some of these tips:

Listen to your child

Take their worries seriously and talk to them about their concerns. With younger children, you could try play-acting what the return will look like or asking them to draw a picture of the steps involved, including one of you returning to collect them.

Help them prepare

Learn the new rules of returning to school and go over them with your little one. Ask your child how they feel about going back to school and make sure you inform their teacher if they have any significant concerns.

Keep calm

Remember that children pick up on adults’ behavioural cues. To help your child stay relaxed and feel safe, modeling calm behaviour yourself is important.

Have a leaving plan

To keep goodbyes from becoming difficult for older children, try the following:

  • Make goodbyes positive.
  • Announce that you’re leaving.
  • Make your explanation for leaving clear and short.
  • Remind your child that you will be back for them.
  • Do not hesitate when leaving.
  • Do not return until the planned time.
  • Follow the same routine every time you leave or drop off your child.

My child is scared to go back to school. How can I help him feel at ease?

Some children may feel nervous or reluctant to return to school, especially if they have been learning at home for months. Be honest – for example you could go through the changes they may expect at school. Reassure them about safety measures in place to help keep them and others safe.

Let your child know that they can warm up slowly. They don’t have to dive in right away. Being comfortable playing with friends again may take time, and that is completely okay.

How can I check to see how my child is doing without overwhelming them?

Be proactive but be calm. Children often take their emotional cues from the key adults in their lives, so it’s important that you listen to child’s concerns, speak kindly and be reassuring. Be prepared that their emotions may change and let them know that this is completely okay.

In terms of how to check in, a lot of that depends on your child. If your child keeps to themselves you may want to ask “How are you doing?” Other children may be more upfront about approaching you with their feelings. You know your child best, and the most important thing is to manage these conversations from a place of compassion and understanding.

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