What can parents of primary schoolers do to support their children back to school after lock down?

In the fifth podcast episode of Parenting in the age of coronavirus, host Professor Sharon Goldfeld leads a discussion about the impacts of online learning, behaviour parents and teachers should look out for, and talking to kids about changes in school routines.

(with Professor Harriet Hiscock and Professor Vicki Anderson – internationally-recognised child health researchers from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute )

Listen to episode 5

Clear and reliable information is the key to helping kids (and their parents) feel comfortable about returning to school after home learning.

It’s normal to feel worried. These are unprecedented times, and there’s a huge amount of information to juggle. But it’s important to remember that Australia is doing a superb job of managing the response to COVID-19. In addition, the rate of infection in children is incredibly small – in Victoria you can count the number of infected children on one hand, and the infections that have happened have been very mild.

The news coming out of Europe and the USA in regard to child infections is frightening, but what’s happening there is not happening here.

Schools are well prepared. Around the country, different school locations and systems are taking different approaches, but universally school leaders are thinking hard about how to manage the return in a way that protects staff and students.

Hand sanitiser is abundant throughout schools, and teachers and parents are encouraging kids to use it and instructing those kids about proper hand hygiene, using and disposing of tissues, and sneezing and coughing into elbows. Lots of schools are temperature-checking students, and staggered drop off and pick up times are helping to avoid crowds of parents outside.

Any symptoms, no school. To support the work that schools are doing, and protect the health of staff and students, it’s vital that all students with a runny nose, sore throat or temperature stay home. Kids get a lot of viral infections in a normal year so this might feel incredibly frustrating, particularly over winter. You need to wait until your child is well again before they return to school, and consider taking them to a COVID-19 testing centre to be completely sure.

It’s like starting school, all over again. In the primary school years, a huge amount of growth and development can happen in a very short period of time. Some kids are going to feel like they, or their friends, are totally different now. All children will be renegotiating friendships and relationships in the classroom, and at home. This could mean that for some kids, the transition back to school will be a source of stress and anxiety. As a parent, take the time to sit quietly and listen to your child’s worries and answer their questions.

Rules are positive. Most young kids are extremely adaptable and resilient. Now they know about keeping physically distant, taking care of hand hygiene and being careful about touching their face, continuing under those rules at school will feel quite normal and comfortable. For kids who have immune problems or social difficulties, and have been operating under restrictions for some time, it could be like they were ahead of the curve – the rest of us have only just caught up.

Physical distancing is harder for small kids. For kids in their first years of school, remembering the rules when they’re excited to see their friends again is going to be hard. You can help them to get a firmer grasp on what 1.5 metres looks like by spacing it out at home with a pool noodle or a broomstick.

In 13 years of school, two months isn’t a big gap. Teachers are skilled at helping kids to catch up, and well aware that everyone’s home learning experience has been different. A two month break from the classroom is very unlikely to have a serious impact on a primary school kid’s school outcome.

If you would like more support, there’s a range of online resources and GPs are still holding appointments, via telehealth. They’re the best first stop for mental health support.

Don’t hesitate to reach out and seek the support you need.

Helpful contacts
Parenting in the age of coronavirus podcast series
Beyond Blue 
Kids helpline
Smiling Mind
1800 Respect