Tips for parents and caregivers – preparing your child to return to school 

Page last reviewed: 04 March 2021

The Mental Health Foundation is part of the national mental health response during the coronavirus outbreak. Government advice designed to keep us safe is under constant review and will be different depending on where you live: more details and up to date information here.

This section of our guide on returning to school after the coronavirus lockdown includes practical advice for parents and caregivers relevant for when children and young people go back to face-to-face learning.

Start talking 

Your child might have worries about the virus, restrictions in place or their education and school. It’s important to acknowledge that this is a difficult time. You can explore these and help them to think of ways to manage them using our Time for Us pack or the resources on the Family Links website.   

It’s important to give them the message that returning to school is a big thing and you understand that. Talk to them in a way that is sensitive to their needs – you will know your child best. Don’t intrude or impose yourself on them, but gently open the conversation and let them know you’re there for them if they want to talk.

Sleep routine 

Sleep is very important for your child’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as their development. Try and help your child build a healthy sleep routine which they can maintain whether attending school in person or not. Our guide on improving sleep could be a good place to start. 

Coping strategies

Coping strategies are what you use when feeling stressed, such as speaking with friends or family, doing regular exercise, or using breathing techniques. If you feel comfortable, you could share your own worries and feelings about the current situation and coping strategies you are using to manage these feelings. Acknowledge that it’s normal to feel anxious about going back to school – try sharing an example of a time you’ve felt anxious about going into a new situation.

Encourage them to focus on the present and avoid thinking too far ahead. Thinking too far ahead can feel overwhelming. Focus on what is in their control (hand washing, wearing masks, getting prepared for returning such as packing their bag) rather than what they can’t control (what might happen with the pandemic in several months time).

Make yourself available as much as possible

Children may want to come and “debrief” but maybe not when you expect. Create space for talking in different ways, such as going on a walk together or baking together – there may be less pressure in these circumstances than when sitting face-to-face. Check in with them periodically. Don’t assume they’re ok because they seem it. Ask the young person how things are going. Ask them questions like: what have they enjoyed about being back? Any worries or challenges?

Look at the positives 

It might be helpful to talk with your child about the things they have enjoyed during the pandemic and what they may be looking forward to, like their favourite shop reopening, seeing friends in the park or getting ice cream from their favourite café.