The end of the summer holidays can be a challenging time for children and young people. Worries about going into a new school year, changing form groups, starting new subjects or being around people who are no longer friends. Friendships at school might look a lot different in September to how they were left in July, and for some children this can cause real anxiety. The transition from school holiday back to school day can be tough, so here are some ideas that might help.
Friendship issuesFriendships and group dynamics can change very quickly, especially if they're using social media. During my years of teaching, I would often see a group of friends happily leaving together at the end of the school day, only to be sat apart and in silence during registration the following morning. Usually there would have been some sort of disagreement online, which can be hard to keep up with when you’re not able to see it yourself. The change of pace in friendships can be exhausting for children, and often we see them try to establish a sense of security in a ‘best’ friend. This can then feel devastating if it changes, like their world has crumbled, and I’ve often seen children skip school after arguing with their closest friend. If your child is worrying about who they will spend time with, or where they will sit at lunch, talk through all the extra-curricular clubs that school offers at lunchtime. If there isn’t one they like, get in touch with the pastoral team at school to see if you/your child could help set one up. A board game club is really easy, and really inclusive too. Remember that their form tutor is really well placed to keep an eye on them, and sit them next to new people during form time to encourage friendships.
New year/form/subjectsMoving into a new year group can feel scary, especially if it comes with a change in classroom, uniform or routine. Talk them through the changes, and help them visualise where their new classroom is if they’re worried. It’s natural to feel anxious about a new subject, but if they are really concerned then get in touch with their form tutor and ask them to check in with the subject teacher. They can offer extra support, and flag any worries to you as soon as possible.
Gender identity/sexualityIf your child is exploring or questioning their gender identity or sexuality, it hopefully is a beautiful expression of their true self. This exploration or expression can, as we know, come with challenges too. There are lots of brilliant organisations who work with young people and parents. In particular, I’d recommend Young Minds and Mind UK, who have a specific Rainbow Mind group that meet online.
BullyingBullying is concerning and very often requires adult intervention, both for the person being bullied and the person displaying bullying behaviour. Ask the pastoral team at school if they know of The Diana Award, who have a brilliant Anti-Bullying Ambassador programme. Pupils nominate themselves to take part in their Anti-Bullying training, and then act as Ambassadors for other pupils to chat to about worries or concerns. Sometimes it can feel easier for children to share with other young people, rather than an adult first. Details here https://diana-award.org.uk/anti-bullying/
Worried about Covid-19There have been so many changes to rules and regulations at school, along with whole year groups or bubbles being sent home at the last minute. So it’s not surprising if this is on your child’s mind before they return to school in September. Your school will have contacted you to explain the protocols for the new term, likely involving twice-weekly testing. It is up to individual headteachers to decide on the use of masks, one-way systems and social distancing. Please know that you can express your preferences and concerns to your school at any point. For more info, see the latest government guidance here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/actions-for-schools-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak/schools-covid-19-operational-guidance
School refusalIf your child is refusing to go back to school entirely, it might feel incredibly challenging for you. If they give you a clear reason (i.e. they are worried about any of the above), then talking through all their worries and then all the possible solutions might be enough. Sometimes, they just want to be heard. However, they might not be willing, or able, to communicate their worries and fears to you. This can feel really difficult, and our first instinct might be to try and get it out of them as quickly as possible, because we realise the implications of their choice on our lives. So, if you’re able to, take some time for yourself first. Get a piece of paper and pen, and write down the worst case scenario if they refused to go into school. Write down all the things you’re worried about, e.g. you might have to take time off work, you might lose income, you’re worried that people might judge you or your child. Then talk through all those things with a trusted adult, rather than communicating those worries to your child. Then speak to their form tutor, or pastoral lead. They can help co-create strategies with you. Know that refusal, whilst can be seen as an act of defiance, is actually just another form of communication. It’s our responsibility as adults to try and understand and interpret what they are trying to tell us. Often it’s as simple as “I feel safe at home, I don’t feel safe at school”. That can be a really great place to start with them - what does safety look and feel like, and how can we create more of it for you at school.
Returning to normalityWe know that the last two academic years have been so disrupted and changeable for children and young people. Some of them thrived with online learning, and some couldn’t wait to get back to the classroom. It will take time to adjust to a new routine, so be kind to yourself if the routine doesn’t quite look like ‘normal’ for a while. The pastoral team at school are there to support you, and you can always get in touch with me to chat about any worries or concerns too.
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