Returning to school a perfect time to “start again”

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Newcastle child psychologist Lynn Jenkins is offering parents and carers some tips for helping children return to full-time school post-COVID-19.

As children return to full-time, face-to-face learning, Newcastle child psychologist Lynn Jenkins warns now is not the time to ignore “scary thoughts”.

Speaking about the effects of COVID-19 on her young clients, and emerging from a ‘safe place’, Ms Jenkins says now is the perfect time for children to “start again”.

“My little clients are starting to present with anxiety about returning to school,” she said.

“Some are returning to pre-COVID positions in regards to their anxiety.”

Ms Jenkins said although many of her clients were excited about seeing friends again some were very concerned about their grandparents contracting the virus.

A psychologist with more than 13 years experience, Ms Jenkins is offering our readers some tips for avoiding anxiety in children as they return to their “normal”.

1. You’ve survived before: “Kids have returned to school after a break before – after school holidays,” Ms Jenkins said. “Try the strategies used to help kids transition after being away on holidays. Kids who have experienced anxiety in relation to returning to school, have probably felt a level of relief at being at home-the things they have had to worry about pre-COVID had gone away for a bit. They could reasonably feel they have to start at the beginning again when returning to school, and often feel ‘anxious’ about feeling anxious again when back at school.”

2. Stick to the plan: “If kids have been on a ‘treatment plan’ from school, parent or psychologist, remember the beginning steps,” she said. “You may need to repeat them. Remind yourself and your child they have achieved success previously and build ‘success bridges’ back to the times they had success at managing their anxiety before the COVID-19 break.”

3. The brain can be trained: “Help them understand that their little brains like to do, over time, what their words and images tell it. So, perhaps revise their words and images about returning to school: ‘I can’t’, with distress images of what might happen versus ‘I will try’, with images of them being calm and happy, focusing on the things they are OK with about being at school.”

4. Planting: “It will be important for kids to express their fears in some way – talking, drawing, writing, etc. Try not to dismiss, instead, validate and over time, present alternative scenarios to their catastrophic thoughts stories and images – kind of like planting seeds.”

5. Communicate: “Keep communication open with their teacher.”

5. You can do this: “Guide their attention to what qualities they have that makes them courageous, brave – perhaps how those qualities have helped them to do big/hard things in the past – surfing, skiing, bushwalking, climbing at a climbing centre.”

6. Doing its job: “Either way it is their little emotion brains hearing the ’scary’ thought stories again and just doing its job in turning on their bodies’ protection system. This is what they feel when they are anxious.”

 

Lynn Jenkins has published several children’s books dealing with anxiety, including ‘Tree’, illustrated by Newcastle’s Kirrili Lonergan.

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