Transitioning back to school

As the pandemic situation in Hong Kong stabilises and students return to school, most families have grown accustomed to online learning. As a result, many parents and their children may encounter challenges when transitioning back to school. Below are recommendations on how parents and students themselves can prepare for the transition back to school, and guidelines regarding things to look out for once your child is back in school.

Connect with the school. understand what your school is doing to ensure the safety of your child and how they will ease students’ transition from home learning to in-person instruction.

Minimise the unknown. transitions are difficult because of unknowns and uncertainties. Try to minimise these by ensuring that your school and teachers are delineating the back-to-school process (using a visual schedule as outlined below), and are informing students of what is expected from them and what both the school and parents can do to mitigate any difficulties.

Maintain a normal daily routine. Adherence to a routine can make the transition back to school much easier and less stressful. It can provide a sense of predictability and control. If you haven’t already been doing so, start to maintain a normal daily routine that is consistent with the daily school routine.

Countdowns to build excitement and practice runs. Some children will be very excited to be back in school, whilst others may be anxious or worried, and some may be conflicted. You can consider using visual schedules, organisers, and checklists to outline schedules and to help your child manage themselves better.

Explain social distancing. When children are back in school, they will likely be excited to be able to socialise with their friends. However, they may not always fully understand why they are not allowed to be physically close with their friends. Explain why social distancing is still important and continue to follow the health guidelines regarding wearing masks, physical contact, and hand washing.

Play dates. arrange playdates with other children before school starts to help ease your child back in to school life. Research studies have shown that the ability to interact with peers during their transition back to school can have a positive impact on their academic and emotional adjustment.

Manage social media and dispel rumours. Most children will be excited to be able to return to school. it is important to manage social media and ensure that you are receiving accurate information regarding the current situation about school closures and other school information. Do not share information that is not credible.

Continue to encourage and maintain healthy hygiene habits. There are many sources of information that outline good hygiene habits for protecting against COVID-19, including washing hands, wearing masks, and avoiding crowds.

Monitor changes in your child’s behaviour. It is important to monitor your child’s behaviour and functioning to see how they are coping with the transition back to school. Distress and worry, in addition to other issues, may last a long time and are entirely appropriate feelings following a traumatic event. Seek immediate help from your family doctor or a mental health professional if they are interfering with yours or your child’s ability to function or succeed.

Model managing your own emotions. Everyone experiences stress and anxiety differently. In an age-appropriate manner, it may be helpful to acknowledge your stress and explain that you are struggling and trying to manage your emotions in a healthy way. This helps to normalise feelings of stress and will help your child to manage the situation in a more positive way. Know when to seek help for you and/or your child.

Be mindful of your conversations. Children are perceptive of mood and may overhear conversations. It is important that you are mindful of the things you are saying about the current situation and what messages you may be directly or indirectly sending to your children. The things you say can impact your child’s thoughts, especially regarding transitions back to school.

Be a good listener. Try to be understanding about how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to them. Let children know it is okay to share with you how they are feeling at any time.

Validate what they are feeling. It is important to reflect and acknowledge your child’s thoughts and emotions, and reiterate, it is okay to not be okay. Try not to invalidate their feelings with responses like, “oh, don’t be worried”. This may cause them to feel embarrassed or criticised. It is better to confirm and reflect what you are hearing – “yes, I can see that you are worried”. Pay attention to any separation anxiety with younger children as they have been at home with caregivers for a long period.

Reassure your children that they are safe. It is important to reassure your child that they are safe despite what they may be seeing or hearing. Ensure them that returning to school is safe and the school is doing everything they can to maintain good hygiene and safety.

Constant Questions. Realise that questions may persist as it is quite common for children when they are processing events. Let their questions guide you.

Maintain a healthy diet. A balanced diet, enough sleep, and adequate amounts of exercise all contribute to building a robust immune system.

Signs of distress or worry:

  • Changes in sleep patterns (nightmares, trouble settling down to sleep, expressing fear about sleeping)
  • Irritability, anger, and moodiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Changes in appetite
  • Behavioural problems (acting out, tantrums)
  • Excessively jittery or jumpy behaviour
  • Regression of behaviour in young children (clinging, bedwetting, thumb-sucking, trouble separating, baby-talk)
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Crying and tearfulness
  • Increased fearfulness (worries about monsters, the dark, being alone)
  • Functional impairment (trouble going to school, performing in school, playing with friends)