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The kids are returning to school, sing hallelujah!

I heard a collective sigh of relief and possibly some cheering from the back row from parents when it was announced that students will be returning to school, starting with prep, grade 1, 2 and VCE students followed a few weeks later by the remaining year levels just before the end of Term 2.

As parents, we have adjusted to assisting our children with virtual learning while simultaneously continuing our day jobs and I know for me there were many occasions where the pressure built and spilled over into what I fondly call the ‘COVID cry’ moment. When it just all seemed too hard and like it was never going to end, however this moment passed and we settled into the ‘new’ routine. And like the saying goes, nothing lasts forever and this too shall pass (meanwhile these are the least helpful phrases to hear when you are actually in it but don't get me started on that) our lives have once again gone back into the turbulence of change.

Many kids and adults alike will be relieved and excited to be re-joining their school and the transition from home to classroom based learning will come as a welcomed change, but for many this time will bring trepidation and uncertainty.

As we establish new routines our brain is working in overdrive, we are making more decisions, constantly scanning our environment to assess risk. Most of these decisions are made subconsciously, nevertheless quietly draining our battery like having the Bluetooth turned on in the background. Having said that it is likely that our kids and ourselves will be more tired than normal. For our kids, as they adjust, this exhaustion might be seen as an increase in challenging behaviours (e.g. irritable, anger outbursts, fidgeting) or withdrawal from conversation or difficulty going to sleep. Fluctuations are expected, however if over time you feel your child is having difficulty adjusting to returning to school, reach out to their teacher for support, visit your GP or call your friendly Psychologist.

There is often more to the story than meets the eye and for students who face significant social challenges and those who are tormented by classmates, the time learning from home would have been a welcomed break, an opportunity where they could focus on their academic work and not be constantly fearful of the next humiliation. For these students the return to classroom based learning is not a time for rejoicing but a burden. Having had respite from interacting with others, there will be some students who have legitimate fears and worries about returning to ‘normal’. As a parent, it is heart breaking to watch your child struggle with these challenges, aim to stay connected and aware of your child’s social world, ask open ended questions (e.g. ‘what parts of school are you looking forward to and not looking forward to?’) can help enquire about their world without being intrusive. If you are concerned about their transition back to school communicate this with the school and ask for feedback from the teacher over the first few weeks.

As restrictions are lifted and our children return to the classroom environment there will be changes and precautions in place that will remain for the foreseeable future. Amongst all the chaos and changes, our children have adopted new insights into washing or sanitising their hands, coughing or sneezing into their elbow and greeting each other with foot high fives or toe taps. While these changes are great and sustainable at reducing the spread of all infections, the changes are a constant reminder of our vulnerability to becoming infected and/or be a carrier who could infect vulnerable family and friends. For some, this reminder can lead to worry and anxiety about their health and the health of the people close to them. If you notice your child is having trouble concentrating, constantly fidgeting, finding it hard to fall asleep or waking with bad dreams, getting irritable, angry or having anger outbursts, teary, complaining of stomach-aches, headaches, or refusing to go to school, visit your local GP to discuss support for your child’s mental health.

And don’t forget your vital role in keeping all the cogs turning, look after your own mental health too. During this time, take a moment to reconnect with yourself. If you notice you are wired and having trouble sleeping or concentrating, getting irritable, angry or having anger outbursts, teary, feeling guilty about having not done all the things you thought you would get around to while in isolation, having ongoing headaches or stomach-aches visit your GP to discuss support for your own mental health. Look after yourself so you can keep looking after your kids. You got this mumma... now go an take a nap!

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