Hannah Abrahams, a leading educational and child psychologist, offers her advice on how to protect your child’s emotional and mental wellbeing when the time comes to go back to childcare or Reception.
For many parents, the prospect of sending their young child back to childcare and returning to work themselves after this stage of the coronavirus pandemic is daunting.
Not only have we become accustomed to a new routine of all living, working and learning all under one roof, but the fear of the unknown in terms of what the new routine will look like is bound to bring a heightened sense of anxiety.
The last few months have been full of change, but one thing has been constant in your child’s life – and that’s you. As a parent, you have been there to carry out routines and rituals, and most importantly to nurture them with love and comfort.
When the time comes, you will naturally feel anxious about the new change and the level of adaptability that will be required. You may have felt cocooned with your family during this time and therefore sending them off to childcare or school will be filled with many complex feelings for both you and your child.
You may feel very ready to send your child back too.
There is no right or wrong feeling here.
We hope that by sharing this advice, we can help make this transition as smooth as possible.
Start with your own emotions
As parents, we so often rush to help our children first, but, it’s more beneficial for us to ‘put our own oxygen mask on first’. We are then stronger and more prepared to help our children.
Most children, including infants and toddlers, will be feeling a heightened sense of awareness and will pick up on your emotions if you’re worried, anxious or apprehensive about them returning to childcare or school.
Try and remain calm and positive.
This way, your child will feel safe and secure and more emotionally contained. Use preparatory language with them, maybe show them a photo of their key worker, childminder or teacher or remind them about how their day may look. Know that you are likely to feel a host of emotions when you say goodbye and that’s OK.
Talk about your feelings
Talk about how they might feel going back. Try to name their feelings so you can validate their thoughts and emotions and recognise they will move and change.
Sometimes it is helpful to talk with young children about a traffic light of emotions.
Are they feeling Green - Good to go, happy and content? Or maybe they are on Amber - feeling a little worried. Make an emotions traffic light together to have visible on the fridge.
Acknowledge that they may feel worried about saying goodbye at the setting or school door.
For younger children you can give them a transitional toy, such as a little bunny from home (but check with your childcare provider first that this is OK and in accordance with their infection control measures). In doing this you are letting them know that they are always in your mind too. Notice how challenging and courageous they are being. Be in close contact with nursery, childminder or teacher so that they can let you know how well your child is settling too.
It is to be expected that your child will find the transition a challenge initially. There may be tears and heartache but please be reassured that these feelings will ebb and flow. If your child knows that you are “holding them in mind,” this will help to alleviate some of the worry.
Books including “The Kissing Hand,” or “On a Pink String,” present sensitive stories about saying goodbye to your main caregivers while knowing that you are always connected,
Remember your child will mirror your responses too and children are naturally intuitive beings. Try to talk positively and honestly about the changes involved in returning to nursery. Reflect that it may feel worrying but also exciting too.
Ask staff to send a photo of the room and how it may look different so you can prepare your child.
Be honest that sometimes you don’t have all the answers.
Be consistent and prepared
Always be consistent in your promises about returning, even if it means agreeing to bring the exact snack that was requested when you pick them up later. It helps with emotional containment and a sense your child feels listened to.
Finally, schools, nurseries and childminders will be aware of the very great emotional needs of their pupils and will no doubt be offering additional support at this time. Many will be in touch beforehand to communicate how things will be different for children.
For those old enough to understand, take time to discuss the changes that are going to happen. They will then feel prepared, reassured, and know what to expect when the time comes.
Hannah Abrahams is a leading educational and child psychologist of 15 years, and previously a primary school teacher. Hannah is registered with the British Psychological Society and the Health and Care Professionals Body.