Going back to school after the summer holidays can be daunting and evoke feelings of anxiety for some children, particularly when they have experienced a bereavement.
After having 6 or more weeks off for the summer holidays, settling back into the school routine can be a challenge. Having had time to relax, see friends or even go on holiday, going back to school can seem like a chore, or may even cause some children to worry.
The summer holidays are typically a time when families spend more time together than usual, but for those who have been bereaved this time of year can take on a different meaning entirely. It may be difficult for your child to return to school and hear stories of what all their friends have been up to with their families when someone very special is missing from their own life.
In many ways, school can offer some normality in terms of routines. When much of their home life may have changed, school remains a constant with friends, teachers and other familiar faces being there to support them through their grieving process.
We have put together a short checklist of things which can be done to smooth the transition back into the school routine after the summer holidays, or indeed after any other period of absence.
1) Ask your child if they are worried about anything and talk to them if they are. By discussing their concerns, you can help them identify coping strategies that might help overcome these barriers. They may want to know who they can talk to at school if they are finding things difficult, but it could just be something as simple as having a photo in their school bag which they can look at during the day.
2) If your child is worried about returning to school have a conversation with their teacher or a trusted member of staff and let them know that your child is concerned. If staff are aware of the worries, they will be better placed to support them through this difficult transition. It may be worth considering organising a regular stream of communication between yourself and the staff, taking into consideration how often you would like to be updated.
3) Identify staff members who your child feels they trust and can talk to. Having a dedicated person your child can seek out when they are finding things tough can eradicate worries about not knowing where to go and who to talk to. It may also be a good idea to have a plan if your child needs to leave the classroom, with a dedicated space that they can go to where they are safe and can access a staff member if they need to.
4) Friendships between children can sometimes be difficult, but after a bereavement your child may feel particularly isolated if there is turbulence amongst their peers. It is often hard for other children to understand what their friend is experiencing after a bereavement. Some children may want to be treated the same as before the death, whereas others might find comfort in change, either seeking new friends or requesting special treatment from their old friends. If they are finding that they have been pushed out of their friendship group, or are being bullied, schools will have a bullying policy and this behaviour should be discussed and addressed as soon as possible.
5) Let your child know that it's OK for them to enjoy school and have fun. A new school year is exciting, with new people to meet and old friends to catch up with, but some children may feel guilty or self-conscious about having fun after a bereavement. Make sure to remind your child that you want them to enjoy school and that it's normal for them to have fun and be happy.