Back to school (and coping) in 2022
By Mason Gismondi, Psychological Health & Safety Partner at Bupa.
Let’s face it – COVID-19 has changed so much about the way we live. As we begin the third year of this pandemic, it is sometimes hard to remember life before COVID. Although it constantly pops up in everyday conversations, on news updates and on posters all around us, this does not mean our children fully understand what is happening.
As “back to school” approaches, it is natural for your child to be curious and to have lots of questions about COVID-19, face masks, and vaccinations. Especially as we face inevitable disruptions amidst soaring case numbers, and now that children aged 5 – 11 years are eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations.
We are mindful that navigating such conversations can be challenging for parents, so we have pulled together our top tips to help guide you:
1. Acknowledge how your child feels
Children may find it difficult to understand all the concepts surrounding COVID-19 and may have many and mixed feelings about the pandemic. Some might be worried or upset by the distress their parents show, confused why everyone is wearing masks and constantly sanitising, frustrated if they must isolate at home, or anxious about receiving their vaccinations or having a COVID-19 test.
Allowing children plenty of opportunities to ask questions and talk about their feelings is key. Having a conversation with your child will also allow you to find out more about how they are feeling and establish whether they may need additional support.
2. Adjust your tone
Children take their emotional cues from adults and will naturally feel safe and secure if you are able to use a calm and reassuring tone when talking through COVID-19. And this might not be easy! You yourself may be stressed or upset about the situation – this is also natural. If you can, try to take a few deep breaths before you talk to help you speak calmly. Try to remain patient and positive when talking to your child and let them know you can work together to overcome both your fears!
3. Find out what your children know and let them lead
We can get so wrapped up in making sure we have the right answers to the questions our children ask, that we often forget to ask questions of our own. It’s always a good starting point to find out what your child knows about COVID-19, face masks or vaccinations by asking some simple questions, like:
- “Do you know why we wear masks at the shops?”
- “There are a lot of people talking about vaccination. Do you know what that is?”
- “You can’t see your friend or Nanna right now, her and her family are isolating. Do you understand what that means?”
- Avoid telling them to ‘stop worrying’ – often they can’t control it!
4. Explain concepts using simple language
This can be a tricky one! Especially when there are so many technical and clinical terms surround COVID-19. Sticking to facts, focusing on positives, and using reassuring your child is important. You could say:
- “COVID-19 is a virus that makes people sick, a bit like when you get a nasty cold. If you have it, it can spread when you sneeze, cough or breathe to close to other people.”
- “Vaccines work by teaching our bodies how to fight illness and are very safe.”
- “We need to do all we can to stop the germ spreading to keep it away from old/sick people.”
- “Getting a COVID-19 test can feel a little weird, like having fizzy water up your nose and can hurt a bit, but some kids have said it doesn’t really bother them.”
For children with a disability, chronic health conditions or other needs, this time can be especially worrying, for yourself as the parent, and of course for them. When talking to children with additional needs, it’s especially important to use developmentally appropriate information and adjust your language as needed. And of course, always seek advice from your child’s GP or specialist about any added precautions that will keep your child safe.
5. Acknowledge how your child feels – take two!
Yes, this one is special and gets mentioned twice. This is because no matter how the conversation goes with your child, they are likely to have an emotional response. This is ok! It is important to ask your child how they feel about the information you told them and ask them what they need to feel better. You could say:
- “I know you’re feeling a bit nervous about getting your vaccine. Would you like me to hold your hand while we’re there?”
- “I understand that you feel frustrated when you have to wear a face mask. Let’s take some deep breaths together.”
- “I know if can be frustrating that everyone’s in the house all the time. But it’s important we use calm words to say how we feel, rather than shouting. Let’s say some together.”
6. Keeping up to date
It can be challenging to keep across all the information surrounding COVID-19, especially when it concerns your children, their schools, and vaccinations.
As parents, many of us are waiting in anticipation for news updates concerning “back to school” dates. For the latest information impacting your children’s schools, see:
- Queensland (QLD)
- New South Wales (NSW)
- Victoria (VIC)
- Australian Capital Territory (ACT)
- South Australia (SA)
- Western Australia (WA)
- Northern Territory (NA)
Of course, your school’s website should be your first place to visit for the most relevant information that may impact your child.
As you prepare your children for “back to school”, you can also access some useful advice for helping them adjust to wearing face masks. And there are also pictures and short videos about COVID-19 testing that have been created just for children.
A new year plus COVID is a daunting prospect for all of us. So be kind to yourself. And reach out for support if you (or your child) needs it.
For mental health support, contact: