We’re used to it at this point in the summer holidays – the older one starts to withdraw occasionally, goes off into a world of his own, and even gets a bit short-tempered at times, which is unusual for him. With only two weeks to go until school’s back in, we know he’s started to mull this big change over and worry about what it will mean for him. He’s done this every year since he started school (here’s last year’s account), but this year it’s a much bigger deal.
He’s given to worrying, anyway – and it’s one of the things we’ve been trying to work on over lockdown. There are some great books out there if you’ve got a worrier too, and we’ve found the techniques in this one to be particularly good for our boy: What To Do When You Worry Too Much, by Dawn Huebner. But going back to school this year is a big one, not least because they haven’t been since March.
I know we’re not the only ones, so I thought I’d share some of things we’ve talked about to help our boy prepare himself for the inevitable.
1 – Emphasising the familiar things
He’s going back to the same school, and all of the children in his class are staying the same too – so no need to find his way around a new environment, or get to know new classmates. We’ll still be walking to school, just as we always have; all the same adults will be there, even if they’re not teaching him directly any more, and they will all want to help him to feel happy and safe, just as they always have.
2 – Talking through the new things
He’s got a new teacher, who has written a lovely letter to the class to introduce himself, and held a couple of Zoom sessions with them in the last week of term – so he’s halfway there with that already.
The tougher stuff comes with the new routines. We’ve got an outline idea of how things will work – staggered drop off and pick up times, class bubbles, year group playtime bubbles but no mixing with other classes, desks facing the front, no more whole school assemblies – but like anything, it’s hard for him to realise them until he lives it. We’re hoping that if we talk about what it might be like, the better prepared he will feel for the changes, but I know it’s not easy. I find it difficult just visiting the shops!
3 – The playground politics: setting his standards
This is the big one for him. Although he’s kept in touch with lots of his friends online over the last five months, spending the day surrounded by other children again is a massive shift in what he’s been used to, as it will be for so many of them. He’s looking forward to seeing his friends, but he’s also worried about old conflicts resurfacing, and even seeing one or two acquaintances who’ve been less than kind in the world of online gaming. The prospect of building relationships again in the real world is pretty daunting when you’ve spent nearly half a year safely behind a screen.
So we’ve had a chat about behaviour standards – what he thinks is acceptable behaviour from other people, and what he thinks is acceptable from himself towards others. Once we established that, we talked about what he could do if those standards aren’t being met…and now, he feels as though he has something of a strategy. In theory, at least!
It’s so hard to prepare a worrier for the start of school this year, and the worst bit is we have no way to know if we’re doing it right. We hope that helping him to come up with plans and strategies for the situations that are worrying him most will give him some feeling of power over the unknown, and to remember that while so much is changing, so much is staying exactly the same.
Now I just have to work on my own back to school worries!