Rochester child therapist's advice for comforting children's anxiety about going back to school
There is still a lot of uncertainty over whether children will be returning to the classroom soon following Boris Johnson's plan to reopen schools by June.
New guidelines from the government suggest when they do go back it will be to a very different environment. Clinical hypnotherapist Karen Wells, from Rochester, says the abnormal change in routine and fears for safety contribute to feelings of anxiety about returning to school - whether this is next month or later.
She added: "Children thrive on routine. They like to know the rules, but when all this is taken away from them, they feel lost."
The therapist advises parents in a helpful Facebook video to not just offer reassurance, but also teach coping mechanisms around the situation their children feel anxious about.
She adds: "A really good one is, if the child is worried about going back to school, get them to write or draw a story with a happy ending where they went to school, saw their friends, were very happy and had a lovely day."
Leading on from this, parents can encourage their children to focus on the positives by asking them what their favourite things are about school and which friends they are looking forward to seeing the most.
Parents can also teach their children simple breathing and grounding techniques to manage their anxiety. One of these techniques is called belly breathing, where you place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest and concentrate on long, deep breaths pushing with your hands 10 times.
A simpler grounding exercise is to tell your child to 'stop and listen' and tell you what they can hear when you can see them getting stressed.
The mum also urges parents to be aware of their own behaviour. She adds: "This is probably the hardest one for all of us. If we are feeling anxious about our child going back to school, even if our child has not heard us say it in words, they are very good at picking up our body language.
"Just take a moment to be aware of your own feelings if you are anxious, as children do model our behaviour."
Parents can manage their own anxiety by spending less time amongst the panic of social media and news, while concentrating on keeping in contact with their school for the most up-to-date information.
When it comes to preparing for the first day back, parents should get their children into a routine at least a week before they return to school. This is so they do not associate the negatives of going to bed early with school.
The 32-year-old added: "If you are anything like us in our house, bedtimes have gotten later, there are strange things being eaten for breakfast and we have very much gotten out of our routine.
"Whatever unusual habits you may have got into while being home, you need to get back into the normal routine you used to be in when they were at school."
Part of this routine can be walking your child to their school to keep them familiar with the sight of it, especially for younger primary school children who will need to get used to the new rules for social distancing.
It is also a good idea to give your child a small picture of yourself for them to take to school and look to for comfort.
The Rochester therapist also stresses the importance of short and sweet goodbyes at the school gates. She added: "This can be a very difficult one as children can pick up on our anxiety if we get into pro-longed goodbyes with lots of tears, cuddles and kisses.
"Always say goodbye to your child and tell them what time mummy or daddy will be picking them up. Doing this will help them get over their separation anxiety a lot quicker."