How to prepare your young child to go back to school

Here’s what you can do to help your little one adjust to ‘the new normal’

Experts recommend that you let your child get used to wearing a mask and seeing you and others in masks in order to prepare them to go to back to school. Image: 123RF/blueaperture15

As primary schools and their affiliated nursery schools get ready to welcome pupils back to a wide range of grades on July 6, you’re probably feeling anxious about sending your child out into the “real world” again, and understandably so.

This can potentially be a scary time for your little one, too. They’ll be returning to a “new normal” that’s not part of their usual school routine at all: there will be masks, temperature checks, strict social distancing rules and more.

Here are tips to help you mentally and physically prepare young children for what lies ahead:

START SLOW TO AVOID SEPARATION ANXIETY

After months of being safely cooped up at home with their family, it’s likely your child might feel anxious about being separated from you during the day, especially if they have some awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus.

That’s why developmental psychologist Dr Dona Matthews recommends you ease them into it, if possible. She suggests they return to school slowly, going for a short period of time each day, and that you gradually lengthen this time period as you see your child learning to cope with the new normal.

Registered nurse and midwife Ann Richardson, who is an expert on childcare issues, says children are remarkably resilient and adapt well to most situations, but it’s important that you talk to your child about going back to school, and that you convey a sense of confidence when you have the discussion.

“Focus on the positives of playing and being back with friends and seeing beloved teachers again. Role play is a great way to practice saying goodbye,” says Richardson.

Richardson says you should avoid talking negatively about the situation around your child, and you should frequently tell them are loved and will be safe at school.

“Your attitude is what is most important. If you are calm, confident, kind and reassuring, you are giving your child the best tools for enjoying this time as much as possible,” says Matthews.

“You want them to be aware of the legitimacy of their worries, but confident the adults in their life are doing everything they can to keep them safe.”

EXPLAIN THAT THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT

Matthews says you should start talking to your child about the new health and safety protocols they’re likely to encounter on a day-to-day basis, like having to do daily temperature checks and follow rules about social distancing.

Explain that they might enter a classroom with desks spaced far apart, and that there might be restrictions on certain playtime activities.

“Be warm and confident when you talk to your child about all this. Ask if they have any questions, and take time to think about your answers,” Matthews says.

“Tell them they will probably have more questions, and that you’re always glad to talk when they do have questions. Acknowledge this is a big deal in their life, and reassure them that you’re there to make sure it all goes well.”

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Richardson says role play and practising new health and safety protocols at home will prepare your child for the new routines they will encounter at school.

“Encourage frequent washing of hands. Show your child pictures of the thermometers and make one out of an empty toilet roll so you can practice taking their temperature at home in a play environment,” she advises. “Practice wearing masks so you can work out which one is the most comfortable for your child.”

Matthews agrees that you should let your child get used to wearing a mask and seeing you and others in masks.

“Go to places where people are wearing masks and point that out. Explain that these precautions are good, that they’re happening to keep everybody safe.”

She said this is a good time to help your child understand the importance of physical distancing whenever they are outside their own home, and to help them understand what a distance of 2m between people looks like.

BY SANET OBERHOLZER

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