How to help children adjust after lockdown
Lockdown hasn’t been easy for any of us but it is our young people – otherwise known as the ‘coronials’ – who have been most impacted. The developmental tasks of children – being with friends, going to school and emancipating from adult carers – have all been seriously thwarted.
One of my Victorian clients, Sarah (not her real name) had managed the coronacoaster quite well, she had kept her 3 children in remote learning, alternating exercise and entertainment with teaching them new concepts like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’. Sarah was lucky, she was able to work from home and with the help of a ‘quarantini’ or two after the children had gone to bed – she survived lockdown2.0.
So the thought of returning to school came with a mix of relief for her and excitement for all but one of her primary aged children. During the first and second lockdowns, Sarah had gone out of her way to explain to her youngest (and most anxious) Chloe, who had quizzed her Mum as to why she couldn’t be at school with her friends. She had patiently explained to her the importance of learning from home to keep her healthy and safe but now she was really worried about the safety of returning to school.
Sarah, of course, is not alone, there are thousands of families in the same boat. So, what can be done to assuage these concerns? As a child and adolescent psychologist, I have been urging parents to be guided by their children’s curiosity, to use age appropriate language and to be patient.
So what did I suggest Sarah do? I said it would be useful to take Chloe aside, get down to her eye level and explain that the reason we can all go back to school is that the medical doctors advising the Premier have said it is now safe to do so, that it is highly unusual for children to get sick from the virus and when they do they have very mild symptoms.
If Chloe asks more questions then, Sarah could let her know that anyone who is sick will not be at school, the government will continue testing people, and that it is very normal to have many different emotions such as worry, sadness and frustration but that talking about these thoughts is really good. Before going to school, let her know that there will be changes to the normal school routines which your school will have sent to you. The more Chloe understands the changes, the more relaxed she will be. It is still important to remind her to use hand sanitiser, practice social distancing and not to touch her eyes, nose and mouth. Sarah can also focus on asking Chloe what she is looking forward to and if she has any residual concerns.
Having a standard after school check in routine is also useful, where Sarah might ask Chloe about her day, what went well and why, whether she had any concerns, or about what she is looking forward to tomorrow. I would advise Sarah to schedule some extra family time as the children will miss their lockdown routine and some may inevitably feel exhausted and may benefit from quiet activities to recharge. The good news is that most children are much more resilient than we think and with a little preparation the majority will and are coping well.