Many parents are wondering is it safe to allow children to return to school while the Coronavirus pandemic is still going on.
As a parenting coach, I believe it’s important for children’s mental health to allow them to restart school this September, and to make the transition back to school as smooth as possible.
How children receive subconscious messages
When a child is young, they accept what messages they receive from parents and people close to them, without filtering them. It’s how children learn about the norms of family culture and about society in general. They don’t have the worldly knowledge to know what is true and what isn’t.
This is why, as an adult, you have subconscious beliefs about money, work, risk-taking, how trustworthy people are and about the world in general.
The other day I was walking along in a country setting, and there was a family coming the other way. A young girl, just stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw us. Then burst into tears and ran back to her mum. That mum had clearly felt it necessary to frighten her child into keeping away from other people. Explaining that other people are scary.
What the mum may not have realised is that it’s quite possible that her little girl will later on have an irrational fear of meeting people. Possibly social anxiety or general anxiety disorder. If the little girl is lucky, years later a counsellor or therapist will help her unpick the subconscious messages she received as a child. To help her work on her fears that stop her meeting new people or having satisfying adult relationships.
Children do not have the ability to judge and filter information that you have as an adult. People are not scary. What’s important to stress is that there are some important things your child must do, at the moment, to keep themselves safe. It’s also important that they see school as a place of safety.
So, what can you do?
Your role is to to help your child understand the importance of following social distancing rules and be really matter-of-fact about it. To talk about it in the same way as putting on a seat-belt or brushing teeth.
Try to imagine, what is going on in your child’s mind right now? What are they thinking and feeling? What interpretation of the world are they making? How will your actions right now form part of their world view? for your child, is the world a safe and secure place to be?
Your child will learn the most from your example. Your insecurities, anxieties and low mood will become your child’s. So, dig deep. Find that place in yourself that is grounded, centred and calm.
Don’t reassure your child about something you can’t be sure about. You cannot be certain they won’t pick up a bug at school, in the same way you can’t be certain that they won’t be knocked over by a bus.
Instead it’s best to be quietly confident your child will find the inner strength and resources to cope with whatever life brings their way. Your job is not to protect them from every possible harm. But to allow them to develop the resilience and strength to deal with what life brings their way. To help your child feel empowered and grounded.
How will your child ever learn to bounce back from difficulties if they are never allowed to learn from experience, and discover their own inner strength?
Trust the school is a safe place
It is vital that your child feels there are two safe places to be. Your home, and their school. It’s so important to show your child that you trust the school and the teachers to keep them safe. This will help your child feel safe and secure. At this moment in time the risk to your child’s mental health of not going back to school is far greater than the risk to their physical health.
It’s best not to keep your child off school any longer and to allow them to return to school with other children in their class. So, they can have a shared experience of learning the new measures the school will have in place to keep your child safe. Such as creating groups or ‘bubbles’ of children who will play, eat and learn together.
Draw a line
As the new school year starts, it’s important to draw a line. Whatever your experiences of Coronavirus over the last six months, talk about it in the past.
Your job is now to build your child’s mental health. So your child learns to be strong, confident, and accepting of the world as it is. This is not to flout protective measures. But to see them as functional and necessary and to help your child understand the rules,
However, it is also good to help your child see the meaning behind the giant pause button we’ve just had. Plus, to allow them to learn strength and confidence from a really testing period in their lives.
From today it’s important to help your child find meaning and strength from a period in their lives that will be in the history books. And to find something valuable from the experience. To discover resilience and fortitude.
Just think, what has your child learned from the last 6 months? Now, what do you want them to learn? Let that be the legacy of 2020. Let this now be a turning point. Where protective measures are seen as functional, and just a backdrop to the bigger purpose of helping your child develop emotional health, resilience, enjoyment, and a sense of their deeper purpose in life.