Last Updated on 8th September 2021

It’s that time of year again! When summer t-shirts are swapped for school ties, beach shorts replaced by crisp white shirts, and sandals in shoe-racks switch places with shiny new school shoes.

Alongside these replacements, there are other transitions happening that may not be so obvious. As school timetables are given out, our home routines change to necessitate earlier mornings and homework in the evenings. For young people, their world is opened up to more people, offline and online, bringing new challenges and risks. With a plethora of experiences and influences impacting young people, there are health and wellbeing issues to consider.

We’ve put together this guide to help you help the child or young person in your care navigate these new transitions as they go back to school.

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New Places and New Faces: Talking it Through

Alongside the flurry of excitement the new school term brings, there is also the uncomfortable fluttering of butterflies in stomachs. First-day nerves are a common occurrence for most students (and teachers and parents too!) but they can quickly become overwhelming. Being educated online is a very different experience to spending a whole school day away from home, away from familiar surroundings. Given that many pupils have spent the majority of the last 18 months being educated at home, this year’s return-to-school could be even more nerve-wracking than usual.

There are many reasons why a young person’s school environment might look new to them. They might be going into secondary school for the first time, have moved house during lockdown, or are starting with a new year group of students. Even if they return to the same school with the same classmates, it may have been a while since they’ve seen their peers face-to-face.

A young person could be worried about being bullied, especially if they have had problems in the past or experienced cyberbullying during the pandemic.

Get more information and advice on online bullying

Some young people might be experiencing anxiety over the risks of being infected with coronavirus or ‘bringing it home’ to vulnerable family members. They may struggle with new rules to follow or whether others will comply with the restrictions. It is important to make sure these anxieties are acknowledged and to talk them through their school’s rules and regulations.

As a parent or carer, you may have your own concerns and worries about your child’s return to school. There are new pressures, new people, and new academic challenges ahead. There is also worry about how your child or young person is feeling and whether they are coping with the emotional stress of being back at school. Here are our top three tips on how you can help:

Talk On Their Terms

It can be difficult for a child or young person to talk about how they feel. Encourage them by creating a space that is comfortable for them. If they have a favourite place to go for a walk or a food place they love, try taking them there to ease off any stress. You could even join in a favourite game they play! Just watching and asking questions about the game can be the start of meaningful engagement.

Ask What They Want

Open ended questions with attentive responses help your young person see that you care about their wants and needs. Try asking what their ideal first day/week would look like, and then do what you can to help make that happen. It’s easy to let our own priorities takeover, but it might be helpful to make some exceptions to the normal routine to support your young person. A planned trip to the cinema or their favourite meal after the first day could be a welcome distraction to think about.

Keep Calm and Avoid Chaos!

It isn’t always possible to curtail the chaos in a busy family home – last-minute breakfast spillages and lost PE bags happen! Try to create as stress-free an environment at home as possible before the ‘big day back’. For example, a rushed morning on the first day could add to a young person’s anxiety. Preparing lunches and school bags ahead of time will keep you ready. You could even ask the young person to be a part of the process, as the act of of getting organise might let them mentally prepare too.

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Time to Press Reset on Routines

During the summer months, it’s common for ‘house rules’ to slip and for things to become more relaxed. Lockdowns and at-home learning have especially impacted things like screen time limits and bedtimes. With the new school year in tow, it’s important to get these routines back into place.

  • Sleep is very important for cognitive performance. A good night’s sleep will help your young person get the most out of school. The NHS recommends that young people get a minimum of 8 to 10 hours per night. Turning off screens an hour before bedtime, going to bed at the same time every night, and keeping your bedroom a nice, clean place to be are all ways to help improve sleep.
  • Life during lockdown has meant we’re all spending more time looking at our screens. One survey found parents reporting a 32% increase in their children’s weekday screen time use from January 2020 to March 2021. Now that in-person school life has mostly returned to normal, consider monitoring your entire family’s screen time use. Our screen time pack is full of useful information and family activities to help.
  • Getting regular exercise and spending time outdoors is a great way to help increase health and wellbeing for young people and adults alike. It’s also a good way to create opportunities for the child or young person to open up and talk about their lives. Create some fun family memories by using treasure hunting and geocaching (GPS treasure hunting) appsor encourage weekend park dates with friends and their parents.

Add Online Safety to Your Back-to-School Checklist

Just how we check that new school shoes fit and everything is ready to go into their new backpack, consider this a time to check your young people are just as ready-to-go into the online world too. When was the last time you and your family members checked your social media privacy settings? Before you share those first-day photos online, be sure you know exactly who can access them. Even if you think all your social media accounts are set to private, there might be an update you missed. While you’re doing that, take the opportunity to change your passwords too!

Here are some easy-to-follow points about privacy and safety online that are especially important for the start of a new term:

Oversharing and ‘Sharenting’

The term ‘sharenting’ refers to parents sharing images and videos of their children online, usually on their social media pages. There is nothing wrong with wanting to proudly show off your child in their new uniform as they head off to another year of school. However, there are some safety concerns to take into consideration.

According to Ofcom, 42% of parents share photos of their children, with half of these parents posting photos at least once a month.

Oftentimes, first day photos give away a lot of information: which school a child or young person is attending, how old they are, and sometimes even where you live (many of these photos are taken outside of the front door with the house number and street name visible). This is all private information. The photo could be seen by more people than you intended to share it with, depending on your safety settings, and you may be unintentionally aiding a predator or bully.

Also, a child may not want their photo to go online! Even from a young age, it’s important to ask permission before you share a photo of the child in your care. It will help them feel in control of their image and will teach them about the importance of consent. Here’s our safeguarding checklist to help you discuss this together:

  • Encourage them to avoid sharing photos that include their uniform or information about their location.

  • Talk about location-sharing on apps. For example, how much information about their current location are they giving away when they use Snapchat? Are they posting lots of photos across apps that could make it easy to find out where they live?
  • A new year at school might mean meeting lots of new people. In today’s digital world, this usually means lots of new followers and ‘friends’ on social media. Discuss rules around accepting friend or follow requests, especially from strangers, on social media platforms. Even people we think are our friends could want access to our private information on social media for harmful reasons. This is especially important as other young people they may know could be using social media as a medium to bully.

Find about more about sharenting here

With online education and classmates keeping in touch through social media and gaming, the school day no longer ends when the bell rings. Just as you support your children and young people through their first few days back, they will need your guidance throughout the school year and beyond. You will find up-to-date information, support, and help on our blog. You can also subscribe to our free Safeguarding Hub newsletter for up-to-date safeguarding alerts as they happen.

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Pause, Think and Plan

Guidance on how to talk to the children in your care about online risks.

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