You know the feeling when you come off a roller-coaster and your body thinks you’re still moving? Coming out of lockdown and getting the kids back to school will feel like that. If you’re a key worker or your kids have additional needs, they’ve may have already been at school, but the recent announcement from the Prime Minister indicates that schools will be re-opening more widely from June 1 for children in early years, reception, Y1 and Y6.
From June 15, the aim is for secondary schools to ‘provide contact’ for pupils in key exam years Y10 and Y12. For some of us, this is good news – we need to get back to a routine, earn money and to stop ourselves from going crazy, but the big question is: are our children safe? Feeling safe is a basic human need – if we don’t feel safe, we resort to one of three emotional responses: fight the enemy, run from the enemy, or freeze, hoping the enemy will disappear! But Covid-19 will be around for a while yet.
Dust off your SUPER PARENT cape
A phased return may reduce some of the health risks because lower numbers will mean reduced contact, but a school environment still presents some risks, especially for young people with autistic or ADHD type additional needs. Here are seven savvy suggestions that may help:
#1. Talk positively
to your child about returning to school. If you’re worried or angry about the decision, your mood will transfer to your kids, possibly creating anxiety issues in the future.
#2. Listen to your child’s fears
Are they worried about catching virus, or a family member getting ill? If they’ve been bereaved during this period you may wish to consider some child-focused therapy to help them manage their feelings of grief and loss. If your child has enjoyed being at home and is nervous about going back to school, try to start the conversation about re-starting school as soon as possible. If you’ve had an awful lockdown experience, consider telling a teacher or school counsellor in confidence.
#3. Plan together
Transition techniques: ‘First… & Then.’ Switching brain activity between different tasks can be challenging for autistic or ADHD kids. The First and Then technique help you explain with pictures or simple words, what’s happening now and what is coming next. “First you were at home during lockdown, then you will go back to school to see your favourite teacher/friends again.” Discuss school memories together, encourage your child to chat to their school chums about going back, making it a shared experience. List the positives of going back to school.
#4. Review the paperwork
SEN support/EHCP – what supports used to be in place before lockdown? If your child had an LSA at playtime, will that happen when they go back? How does the school plan to support your child, with less staff? If your child successfully managed mainstream school with a tight support plan in place, how will they manage if any link in their support chain is broken? Do your research, speak to the school, be ready.
#5. Check the local offer pages of the council website.
Each local authority will have a different approach to how they’re supporting parents and school-aged children, they will also have lists of registered childminders. If your child’s school is an Academy, the school should have their re-opening plans on their website or will have sent you an email. Local autism and ADHD support groups may be able to help with benefits or other questions. Chatting with other parents from your child’s school is a great idea, seek out the mum who knows everything!
#6. Changing body clock
Sleeping and eating patterns have been disrupted during lockdown: kids may have been staying up late or sleeping in, been on screens for too long. They’re tired and wired. They may have missed key weekly activities and sports. Kids with ADHD may have been on and off their meds as you’ve struggled to cope with their energy levels. If your kid wears braces like mine, we’ve done home dentistry – most of the sterilising brandy went down my neck. Just as their body clock is adjusting to lockdown, the routine is changing again, which is stressful for everyone. Try creeping bedtime forward by fifteen minutes or encouraging them to wake up slightly earlier – it will make back to school a bit less of a shock.
#7. Dealing with trauma
The biggest issue by far is how our youngest people will cope with the collective trauma of a world that has changed. The anxiety of a hidden virus with no cure or being locked indoors in a difficult family situation will have been deeply troubling for some children. We can help our children by encouraging them to be kind and considerate citizens, talking to them about our sameness rather than our differences, encourage them to feel proud of their school community and not to spit or cough at each other or the teachers. Teachers, especially those who are parents or carers themselves, have the huge responsibility of getting our children back into learning after a long time away from the classroom. I have developed the CALM model to make it easier:
C – collaborative
A – adjustments
L – low stimulus
M – monitoring
Parents, teachers, specialists and children working together to help our children feel safe, confident and supported and more likely to apart and learn.
Adjustments or reasonable adjustments are adaptations to the school day that children with special educational needs are legally entitled to, as outlined in the Equality Act 2010. Your child’s Education and Health Care plan is a good place to look at what Covid-19 era adaptations they may need, such as extra time for hand-washing or supervised access to hand-sanitiser.
Covid-19 era children will display a variety of anxiety signs at school. Schools may need to develop a designated ‘transition zone’ where anxious, or over-stimulated children can acclimatize to the school environment in a calm space and check-in with a member of staff.
Hopefully, teachers are already in regular dialogue with their pupils. Once the children are back, teachers and parents will need to monitor children’s progress closely – remembering to keep CALM.
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