How to support children as they begin to transition into the ‘new world’
COVID-19 dramatically changed the landscape of the education system (Birth to Year 12) for children and families. Whilst NSW public schools have remained open, the majority of families followed the Governments’ advice to self-isolate to protect their children’s health and that of their family unit.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, children and families were required to adjust their whole lives virtually overnight. The majority of families were required to set up positive learning environments in the home. Children had to adjust from being part of a vibrant learning community within the confines of school and adjust to the use of online learning platforms at home. There were a number of common tips shared on social media about how to help children (and parents/carers) transition into the ‘new world’ of home learning.
Irrespective of whether your child attends an early education and care service or is in primary school, they are going to feel a myriad of emotions as they begin to make their return. This will be a crucial time for families, teachers and educators to support children in this transition after being in self-isolation for such an extended period. Below are five helpful tips to support your child and yourself as the parent/carer as you all adjust into the “new normal”.
- Be present for your child
Many families are beginning to discuss the logistics of how to transition back into the workplace and how their child will transition back to their early education and care service and primary school. Children, like adults, will begin to feel heightened emotions at the prospect of re-entering the new world after isolation. Many children and adults have difficulty with change, and transitions are a form of change. Research led by Dr Bruce Perry highlights that ‘relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy in human love’ (Perry & Szalavitz 2017). Therefore, it is important as parents and carers that we connect and talk with our children about how they are feeling, what they may be looking forward to, and what may be causing them to feel anxious. For older children, these conversations are easier to have together if you are driving somewhere, going for a walk or as you are tucking your child into bed at night. Acknowledge their feelings and emotions about transitioning back into their early education service and school by listening. Let your child know you have heard them and you have taken their concerns or worries seriously (this means giving your child 100% of your attention, and not listening while you are trying to do the washing or make dinner). Being an emotionally supportive adult (a caring, trusting and optimistic person), will be important during this transition.
- Observe their wellbeing
Children that are feeling anxious about returning to their early education service or returning part-time to school may display a range of emotions, feelings and behaviours. Younger children may even show signs of regression in self-help skills (feeding, sleeping and dressing). Therefore, monitoring how children are coping is important. Observe for changes in behaviours. These can indicate an underlying anxiety/fear or stress. By regularly communicating with your child, you may be able to determine if the behavioural change stems from a singular reason or multiple factors. Factors that could cause a child to feel anxious or fearful could include; separating from their parents or carers, reuniting with their peers after a prolonged period of time (peer/social acceptance), the change in their physical environment, and re-entering a noisy environment compared to home. For school age children, the prospect of adjusting to a hybrid-learning model (that is, some days at home and some at school), or how their teachers will monitor and manage the 1.5-metre social distancing rule, could cause anxiety. If concerned, seek advice from the educators at your early education and care service or teachers at your school on how to support your child.
- Set a timetable and maintain routines
Primary schools will be distributing new hybrid learning schedules for you and your child to follow, so integrate this into your child’s weekly routine. On the days that your child is learning from home, it’s important to remember they are still participating in school activities, therefore elements of normality are important (bedtimes, waking times, getting dressed etc.). Display the routine in a common space so all family members can refer to it at any time. Your daily home learning routine should include the time to get up, meals/snacks, lesson times, time to move (physical activity), and leisure time.
- Create new rituals
Over the next few months, the COVID-19 transition phase is still unknown. We do not know yet what restrictions will be relaxed, or exactly how each family will choose to re-emerge from isolation. To manage this change, it is important for children (and adults) to remain optimistic and positive (however, I acknowledge for some families this is easier said than done). Creating new family rituals could reduce the feelings of anxieties for children by providing them with an element of stability. For example, introduce a new daily sleep-time song, introduce a game or movie night, and invent a new family story, or place a daily note/picture in your child’s lunch box to surprise them.
- Remain active in your children’s learning
Often in the morning, we ask children what is on in the day ahead at school, and then ask how their day at school was. The days your child is at school you can engage in these conversations or initiate conversations about their current online learning tasks on the days they are at home. Monitoring their use of technology and setting up a communal space where you can view their online activities remains important. Promoting physical activity also remains important for healthy bodies and minds (encourage active breaks during the day, go for a family walk/bike ride, or play active games outdoors). Providing play –based learning opportunities for young children in the home environment will continue to support and develop your child’s overall development (cognitive, physical, social, emotional and language). Families can seek support from their early education care service for new ideas, as well as go to the Big Fat Smile website, and visit the @Home with Big Fat Smile link http://bigfatsmile.com.au/athome/ for new weekly ideas and information.
Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. (2017). The boy who was raised as a dog: And other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook–What traumatized children can teach us about loss, love, and healing. Basic Books.
Shanker, S (2019). Creating a culture of wellbeing, retrieved from
State of New South Wales (Department of Education) (2019). Parent and careers supporting student wellbeing while learning remotely, retrieved from https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/curriculum/learning-from-home/advice-to-parents-and-carers#Learning3