With the lion’s share of children not returning to school until after the summer break, these are increasingly strange times for our small humans. Eventually, children will be going back to school but probably not when or how they thought. With so much uncertainty and so many changes, it is likely that many children will be experiencing a range of emotions about returning to school when the day comes. For some, worry and anxiety may feature heavily in that.
With that said, I’ve teamed up with The Emotion Game – a fun game to help your children understand their emotions and Anita Cleare, founder of the Positive Parenting Project and author of The Work/Parent Switch: How to Parent Smarter not Harder to share our tips on how to help your children manage their emotions about returning to school when the time does come.
Exploring their emotions
We found The Emotion Game a really great way to explore our daughter’s emotions in this strange time. On the day we tested it out, she was actually in a positive space. She really enjoyed picking out the emotions and desire cards which resonated with her that day, and discussing why these emotions and desires came about, what the reasons for these might be and how they may relate not only to her but also to other people in our network of friends and family.
But what I’m really looking forward to is using The Emotion Game on those wonky days. The days when she is worried, sad, anxious about what is happening and what is yet to come. Playing The Emotion Game is not only a brilliant exercise in self-awareness, but also for in empathy development.
Supporting young children who are anxious about going back to school
After a prolonged period at home, it’s natural for children to have worries about going back to school. Anita Cleare shares five simple, concrete ways that parents can support children who may be feeling anxious or stressed about returning to school.
Play as therapy
Young children often work through their worries in play. In the week before school starts, get out your child’s book bag and lunch box and pencil case and leave them lying around near their toys. After such a long time, these items will have a big novelty factor and children will be drawn to them.
Allow them to incorporate their school equipment into their play. You might find that they naturally start role-playing about going back to school. Observe quietly and you will have a wonderful window into their thinking! You might also notice that they start to work through their worries by voicing reassurance to themselves – such as pretending to be the teacher or parent.
Talk positively about change
Change can feel scary to children because they have far less experience of managing change. Think about what changes your child has already experienced – maybe, starting school, moving house or just going back to school after the long summer holidays.
Look at pictures from that time and talk about how those changes felt. How beforehand they felt nervous, how everything was strange but how, quickly, they felt like things had always been that way. Emphasise all the things that will be the same about school, not just the differences.
Children love finger breathing because it is so tactile. Finger breathing is just a simple way to encourage children to take five deep breaths if they are feeling overwhelmed by a situation or emotion. Get them to spread their fingers on one hand in front of them. Using the pointing finger on their other hand, they trace around their fingers slowly, breathing in as they go up from base to tip and then breathing out as they slide back down the finger towards the hand.
The slower the better for nice deep breaths. Show them how to do finger breathing and your child will always have a portable strategy for calming themselves!
If something is really preying on your child’s mind, help them park that worry so they don’t have to think about it all the time. Say something like, “That’s obviously a very important thought for you so let’s put it somewhere special.” You could get a worry notebook or decorate an old tissue box and post their worries in there.
Tell your child that whenever they want, they can go and look at the worry – but emphasise that it is somewhere safe so they don’t need to carry it about in their head all the time. At the end of the first week at school, you could revisit the worries and see if there are any that they are now happy to remove.
Even if you are feeling worried yourself, try not to transmit that. However big your child’s worries, the safety of a calm parent will provide comfort. So, make sure you are positive about going back to school. Ask open questions like, “I wonder what you will be learning about in Science this term?” Reassure your child that their teachers are really looking forward to seeing them. And that the teachers have been working hard to make sure that all the children will be safe and will be able to have fun and learn.
Teachers supporting children
There is obviously a lot teachers can do supporting children who may be anxious about returning to school. The “I’m feeling” cards work well in small groups where pupils can talk to each other about how they feel about different situations; and using the “I’d like to” cards to express what they want to do.
This gives them a framework and the words to express their emotions. It also allows the teacher time to reflect on the cards pupils are choosing; and possibly identify where a pupil may be struggling with an issue. Giving the pupils a structure and language to express themselves, and explore their feelings is extremely valuable during times like these.
We really hope the above tools and strategies will help you support your child/children if they are feeling nervous about returning to school.
The Emotion Game retails for £9.99 (Excl. P&P), to learn more visit www.emotionsgame.com.
We have five sets of The Emotion Game to give away to help support your child/children returning to school.