Many young people are feeling worried about returning to school; just like adults they have experienced a huge break from interacting with peers face to face due to Covid restrictions. Some young people have expressed being worried they are behind in school work however the most common worry I often hear is the fear of reconnecting with peers when returning to school. Since Covid lockdowns I have seen an increase in worry in social situations in people seeking out therapy support, in particular around fears about feeling comfortable seeing friends face to face.
During lockdown the way we have connected with others has changed. For some young people they have thrived where others have expressed struggling to cope with the new way of socialising. This has caused some young people to isolate themselves from interacting with peers. Returning to school or extracurricular activities such as team sport is highly stressful for many young people. It is really important that we normalise any worry that a young person may express about returning to connecting with others face to face. The fact that young people have not attended school in person for up to 18 months consistently, it is only natural that they might find it challenging to go back to how it was. Adults have also expressed similar concerns. Here are some tips to help encourage your teen to address their worry about getting back to school and extracurricular activities.
Identify the problem
It is really important to check in with your child. Going for a walk or sitting in a car is a great way of getting your teen to open up. Ask your child how they are feeling about returning to school? The most important thing to do is connect by asking open questions and listening. To show your child you are listening you can say things like ‘I hear you,’ and you can acknowledge what they have disclosed by saying something like “thank you for sharing …. with me”. Don’t act too quickly to try and fix the problem even though your natural instinct may be to do this. Acknowledge their way of seeing the world.
Normalise the problem
Talk to your child about this article and the fact that many young people and adults have expressed being worried about returning to school and work as we have all changed our routine. We are out of the routine of ‘socialising’ face to face due to the restrictions. Emphasis that we are all in this together and we have a shared experience. However also acknowledge that in particular for young people, it may be even more challenging to not see their friends or have social connection as it was before. Ask your child if it is ok if you help them with their worry.
Support your child work through the worry
Brainstorming is a great way to work through worries. Suggest writing out a mind map on a piece of paper. Alternatively you can talk through these questions.
- What is the main worry?
- How are you feeling about the worry? Rate the feeling out of 10.
- What is the best / worst thing that could happen?
- What is the evidence that this will not happen?
- What else could happen?
- What has happened in the past?
- Could you survive if the worst did happen?
Create a graded exposure plan
Create a ‘graded exposure’ plan with your child. It involves breaking the goal down so that you can work step by step towards your major goal.
Example of graded exposure plan;
Goal -Socialising with friends face to face
- Zoom call with a close friend
- Group call with a friendship group from the school
- Walk with a friend, or if you don’t feel comfortable asking a friend try and arrange to go for a walk with a neighbour
- Organise a picnic with a group of people
Connect with the School Community
Reach out to their school community and request support. Many parents send emails to the school to seek support from the school community with helping their child return to school. Sending an email may help to alleviate any stress your child may be having. Getting your child to come up with questions or support people they feel may be helpful to reconnect with when they return to school.
Not Long to Go Until the Holidays
Most schools are 10 weeks per term. Every term I encourage students to think about when their next school holidays are as this helps them to identify a break. Remember there are only a few weeks until the end of term 4. Rewarding your child to face their challenges is a great way to encourage exposing themselves to their worry. For example, at the end of the term we will organise a holiday/ fun activities to do together or why don’t you suggest something we can cook every Friday to look forward to the end of the week and celebrate facing your fear.
Soothing your own fears
Many families will experience separation anxiety when they transition back to face to face learning. It is really important to reflect on your own worry about your child returning to school. I suggest writing a reflection on your own experience throughout the transition you have been through due to lockdown including writing about before lockdown, during lockdown, and what are your hopes post lockdown.
Further Support Available
This is a guide to address worry returning to school post lockdown. If you are concerned about heightened worry which may need professional support from a health professional please reach out to book in an appointment.