COVID-19 lockdowns and returning to school
A COVID-safe return to school: what it might look like
- what time your child should arrive at school and leave
- where your child should enter and leave the school
- how classrooms will be set up
- what will happen at recess and lunch time
- what facilities will be open – for example, the library, gym and canteen
- whether extracurricular activities like sport and excursions will go ahead
- how the school is managing face masks, cleaning, hand hygiene, physical distancing, ventilation and so on
- how the school will support students to catch up on learning
- how the school will support students’ mental health and wellbeing
- how the school will manage COVID-19 cases at school or local outbreaks
- whether you need to return any borrowed items
- what you can do to support the school’s COVID safety efforts.
COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all children in Australia aged 12 years and over. It prevents them from getting severe complications or dying from COVID-19 and reduces their chance of getting long-term symptoms. If your child is unvaccinated or can’t be vaccinated and you have any concerns about them going back to school, you can talk with your GP or other health professional.
Teenagers’ feelings about the return to school after lockdown
Teenagers might have mixed feelings about returning to school. For example, they might be excited about learning in a classroom and seeing friends again. But they might also feel worried or anxious about being behind on learning, having less time for assignments, preparing for exams, managing changed friendships, and getting up early to go to school.
If your child feels uncertain or reluctant about returning to school, these ideas might help:
- Be confident and enthusiastic about your child going back to school. This sends the message that it’s a positive change.
- Actively listen to your child’s feelings about returning to school. For example, ‘Yes, it’ll be good to see your mates again’, ‘Yes, it will make it easier to ask questions about your assignments’ or ‘I’m sure lots of other kids are feeling nervous too – they just might not show it’.
- Let your child know it’s OK to feel nervous or uncertain about returning to school, but reassure them that they’ll get through it. For example, ‘It’s OK to feel unsettled – it’s another big change’, ‘The routine might be hard at first, but you’ll get back into it’ or ‘It’s natural to worry about being around so many people again’.
- Encourage your child to reconnect with friends before they go back to school. For example, if your local restrictions allow, they could meet up for exercise or a social activity.
- Encourage your child to do some mindfulness practice, breathing exercises or muscle relaxation activities. Or your child might like to download a mindfulness or meditation app. This can help with stress or anxiety.
If your child is feeling very anxious about returning to school, you could contact your child’s year coordinator or mentor for advice. They might suggest talking to the school’s counselling or wellbeing officers. Another option might be for your child to make a gradual return to school by starting with shorter days and building up to full ones.
Practical preparations for the return to school after lockdown
Practical preparations can help the return to school go smoothly for your child. And a smooth transition can help your child manage stress and anxiety too.
Here are practical things to do:
- Let your child know when they’ll be going back to school and how things will be different. For example, ‘You’ll need to stay in the Year 8 area’.
- Get your child back into the school routine, especially the routine for going to sleep and waking up at regular times.
- Check your child knows about the school’s COVID-19 precautions like how to wash hands, wear a mask and maintain physical distancing.
- Check your child’s uniform still fits and that they have enough stationery and other equipment.
- If classroom doors and windows are being kept open for ventilation, check your child’s clothes are appropriate for the weather.
- Talk with your child about how they plan to get to and from school, especially if they normally use public transport.
The early weeks at school after lockdown
Your child will probably have some ups and downs in the first few backs at school. It might take them a while to get used to learning with others and working to a fixed timetable again. They might also need time to adjust to being around friends and peers, especially if their friendships and relationships have changed during lockdown.
In the first few weeks of being back at school, the main thing is for your child to feel positive about being there. These tips can help:
- Make sure your child gets plenty of healthy food, physical activity and sleep. This can help with emotional ups and downs.
- Work on staying connected with your child. For example, you might be able to keep doing things that you enjoyed during lockdown, like going for a walk after dinner. Or you could go back to a pre-lockdown ritual, like getting a snack together on the way home from sport training.
- Keep your family routines predictable, and make time for family activities. For example, try to have family meals as often as possible, or have family games or movie nights on the weekend.
- Encourage your child to get back into their usual extracurricular activities.
- Try to stop what you’re doing and listen when your child wants to talk about school. Be patient if your child wants to tell you all the details.
- If your child doesn’t want to talk at all, try a conversation starter like ‘I noticed that you seem very sad today. I wonder why that is?’ Or you could take turns sharing things about the day during family meals.
- Help your child practise self-compassion if they’re feeling tired or finding it hard to adjust. For example, they could say, ‘I’m doing my best. It’s OK if I didn’t go so well on that assignment’.
When teenagers are struggling with the return to school after lockdown
Signs that teenagers are struggling include changes in behaviour and emotions, like:
- sleeping more
- eating less
- seeming less interested in doing things
- withdrawing from you
- not actively participating in conversations
- being more grumpy or angry than usual
- refusing to go to school.
If you notice these signs or you just feel worried about how your child is coping, it’s important to get help as soon as possible.
As a first step, you could talk with your child’s year coordinator, homeroom teacher, mentor or head of house. They can let you know whether they’ve noticed anything unusual in your child’s behaviour or emotions at school. They might also have ideas for supporting your child or put you in touch with the school counsellor.
If you’re concerned about your child’s physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing, you can also talk with your GP. Your child can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Youth Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, or eheadspace on 1800 650 890.
Teenagers with additional needs returning to school after lockdown
Autistic teenagers and teenagers with disability or additional needs might need extra support for the return to school after lockdown.
For example, if your child needs to take medicines or have injections at school, it’s a good idea to talk with the school about managing this in a COVID-safe way. Or you might need to work with the school on strategies to help your autistic child readjust to following a school routine, wearing a school uniform, being with other young people and so on.
These articles have ideas that you can adapt for the return to school after lockdown:
- Starting secondary school: children with disability
- Starting secondary school: autistic children
- School refusal: autistic children and teenagers
- Anxiety at school: autistic children and teenagers
Looking after yourself during the transition back to school, family and work routines is important. It will also help you give your child the support they need. If you’re feeling stressed or have anxiety about the situation, try talking to a family member, a trusted friend or your GP. You can also call Lifeline on 131 114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.