We are about to emerge from our little iso-cocoons – the government is pulling back on some restrictions, so back to the real world of school, task demands, social interactions, expectations and sensory stimulation. For some kids – they are going to take one look at the big wide world, say “no thank you” and promptly slam that door!
Do not be too worried. Most kids don’t like it when school holidays end or when anything good ends. This will be no exception. The problem is largely to do with expectations. In the beginning, given the nature of the pandemic – restrictions were placed in such a way that the deadline was abstract. With such open-ended information, we all settled in for the long haul. Now just as abruptly, it appears we can start going to school again – for some this will be online and for some this will be face- to -face. And for most there will be some aspect of school refusal.
For those going down the route of remote learning – you face the challenge of your child refusing to do the work at home. Children are very good at compartmentalising – home is for home and school is for school and that’s that. Furthermore, home is where they would escape from the task demands of school – it’s their safe place. To mix the two up is too confusing, so for a lot of children they will simply not comply.
It is important to note here that you’re are not trying to replicate the school day or hours- it’s not possible. The more flexible you are in considering what learning is then you’re increasing the likelihood that your child will come to the table. Moreover – a lot of parents will also be working from home whilst trying to help their child with school – be kind to yourself and realistic. Research into time recommendations for children to spend on sustained “academic” learning is surprisingly low – see table 1 of recommendations below:
Table 1: recommended home-schooling times for parents during COVID-19 Illinois State Board of Education.
This information was released by the Illinois State Board of Education in response to Covid-19 conditions. There is an understanding here that you are not practicing home schooling in the traditional context. You are trying to get by and help your child and not destroy your relationship with them in the meantime. There were no such recommendations on the Education Department WA website however they did have a parent helpline you can call 1800 882 345 between 8.00am and 4.00pm weekdays or email CoronaVirusSupport@education.wa.edu.au to get support. They also recommended contacting your child’s school directly.
For children who will be attending school physically, start preparing them as soon as possible. Provide a countdown calendar and start adjusting things like sleep and other routines accordingly. Social stories with specific information tailored to them will also be useful. The first week back for most schools is a short week – and this is a nice, slow way of helping them to transition. If a child is adamantly refusing to attend, consider what is driving this behaviour. Is this behaviour new, therefore do they have specific COVID-19 concerns that need to addressed regarding health and practicing good hygiene? Or do they have a history or school refusal? If so, what was underpinning this refusal in the past and is it relevant now?
- Separation anxiety – acknowledge that this it hard for them to be away from you, but that it will absolutely get easier. Let them know that it happens to everyone and that there are things that they can try to make it easier. In the run up to school, try increasing their independence a little at a time and praise them for doing things on their own or with little assistance. Let school know that this transition is difficult and make a concrete plan for your child when they get to school – i.e. handover to teacher, puts away their things and has a special job/function to perform. Also have a reward system in place and it should only be given at the school so that they associate good things with the school.
- Issues with friendships or bullying – work with the school to identify appropriate peers so that your child feels welcome and has a sense of belonging. Make sure that the school is aware of bullying and that adequate supervision is available to help increase your child’s sense of safety.
- Learning difficulties/task demands too high – again work with the school to scaffold the work and either put in place an IEP or review the existing one.
At times it maybe necessary to seek professional assistance, especially when the anxiety starts to interfere too greatly with the child’s social or academic functioning and their distress is not decreasing.