Returning to school after lockdown may bring some unexpected challenges. You might notice mood swings, tears, anger or increased stress and tension. All of this is normal in a period of adjustment.
For many children, learning at home has been a pleasant reprieve from the pressure of being in a classroom. Going back to school, and being part of what, for many, can be stressful environment may not be easy.
While some children will easily adapt, others my “act out” their stress in their behaviours. Perhaps you have a child who can “hold it together” during the day, then let it all out when they reach the safety of home.
The events of the last couple of years have been very unsettling for all of us, particularly our children. It’s normal to be feeling anxious and overwhelmed. Your children might need some help in understanding what is happening.
Your loving care as a parent can make a huge difference to how your children will process and adapt to these changes. Spending time together to talk about what is happening can be a big help.
Dealing with Change
Adapting to big life changes can challenge all of us, especially children. You might be noticing that they are more unsettled as they are returning to school. Their nervous systems are acting in survival mode, adapting to what many see as a threatening environment.
Some may act out their fears, preparing to fight or flee from an unseen thereat. Others might be more inclined to shutdown, and try to disappear. Each response is natural and completely normal.
They will benefit most from your care and understanding, as you offer a place of safety and security. If you feel you are struggling, there’s no harm in seeking some support. You can read some tips for beating the lockdown blues here.
Follow your Child’s Lead
Firstly, whenever possible follow your child’s lead in responding to their distress. They have an innate knowledge about what they need to do to support their healing.
What you might be Seeing?
You might notice some changes in your children’s behaviour as a result of their stress and overwhelm. Some of the changes you might notice include:
- Unsettled, distressed,
- Changed sleeping patterns, waking more, nightmares,
- Fussy with food, loss of appetite
- Acting out, more likely to have a meltdown
- Withdrawn, clingy, loss of independence
- Headaches, tummy aches, back and neck pain
What might they be Feeling?
It’s hard to know exactly what they might be feeling, but you can make some guesses based on your own feelings and emotional responses. Some possible responses are:
- Angry, helpless
What do they Need?
Your children need to know that you are able to offer them safety and security. You are their safe base and secure haven in times of emotional turmoil, offering:
You are the most important person in your child’s life, and your calm presence is the best way you can support them in their distress. You child will lead you to whatever will help them release their tension. Rather than seeing this as “naughtiness”, they are actually “acting out” their distress and uncertainty. They need the help of a regulated carer to help them process some really big feelings.
Parent self care is an essential part of supporting your children through this transition period. As they say “you can’t pour from an empty vessel”, so it helps if you can keep your own emotional cup full.
Some of the Ways you can Help
Although routines can feel stifling to adults, the predictability of a regular flow to the day can help restore a child’s sense of safety. They will also learn to regulate their strong emotions through connecting with an emotionally regulated adult.
There are many ways in which you can help your children deal with feelings of stress and overwhelm. Here are some suggestions:
- Listen to your children’s stories and empathise with their fear. Help them to “talk it through” if necessary, going into details if they want to, about how they are feeling, what they are thinking…
- Restore regular routines as much as possible. This gives the children a sense of safety and security
- Let them cry if this is what they need – simply being with them can be enough, offering hugs, understanding and reassurance
- Free play can be very healing – you may need to join in with them if invited to create scenarios, and role play events, perhaps racing around with water pistols to put out imaginary fires.
- Drawing and painting can help your children release their tension, using lots of colours. Even your toddler may find release through scribbling.
- Craft activities, such as making collages, cutting up pictures from magazines, or bits of coloured paper and gluing it to a background, or manipulating clay and play dough can be therapeutic
- Avoid watching the news on television
- Help them see that they are safe now
It will help to lighten the seriousness of the situation if you can find a way to have moments of fun together as a family, time to laugh and enjoy being together.
Helping the Child in us All
These activities can be helpful to the child in us all, not just our children. It’s no shame to realise that you are feeling stressed, and the above activities may be of help. We have all been through a lot, and it may take time for the full extent of the experience to surface.
The Next Step
It is quite possible that the impact of the crisis may come after the initial shock has subsided. Your children may seem fine initially, but they may still need your help to process their experiences.
Returning to school may challenge them emotionally. When words are not enough, they will let you know this through their behaviours. Your children may need some help to process what is happening in their lives.
If you are concerned about either your own or your child’s behaviour, why not give me a call? We can have a chat about what is happening, and work together to find resolution and personal growth.
A PACFA accredited Holistic Counsellor and Psychotherapist, Rosalind is also a Registered NDIS Provider, Circle of Security Facilitator and approved Victims Services Counsellor.
Sessions are available in person at Moruya South Head, and online via zoom.