Back to school: Advice for parents and carers

Last reviewed on 30 August 2021

As your son or daughter goes back to nursery, school or college this Autumn, you might have mixed emotions. Although you understand the benefits for their development and wellbeing, you might still be worried about the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19), especially if you have vulnerable family members or if you’re in a high risk group.

Your child might also be feeling anxious about the virus, their studies, reconnecting with friends and other issues – or they might simply not want the summer holidays to end! If they have special educational needs and disabilities or an existing mental health condition, the COVID-19 lockdowns might have brought additional challenges.

A recent survey by The Student Room (5 July - 1 August 2021) revealed that lack of motivation, friendship worries and uncertainty about the future are the main things impacting young people’s mental health right now.

Good Thinking, London’s digital mental wellbeing service, recognises that the last 18 months have been tough for all the family. As your child returns to the classroom, you might have to discuss some complex issues and answer some difficult questions – as ever, the most important thing is that they feel safe and loved.

To help your family, we've put together these tips and links to other useful resources and we've created back to school advice for young people. You can also find NHS-approved wellbeing apps for adults (e.g. Be Mindful, MyCognition PRO and tomo) and young people (e.g. Feeling Good Teens and Move Mood) on Good Thinking.

As it says on the UK Government website, “...the overwhelming majority of children and young people still have no symptoms or very mild illness only.” Although the clinical risks of COVID-19 to children remain low, nurseries, schools and colleges will continue to maintain certain safety measures in the new term to reduce transmission of the virus.

‘Bubbles’ to minimise mixing are no longer compulsory and students won’t have to wear a face covering in the classroom or communal areas (although it is still recommended that they do). Nurseries, schools and college will focus on maintaining good hygiene and keeping spaces well ventilated. 16 and 17-year-olds have been offered the vaccine and regular testing remains important in reducing the risk of infection.

Once you understand what measures your child’s educational establishment has in place, you can have an honest and open conversation with your son or daughter so they know what to expect on day one. Focus on what they can control and remind them that everyone plays an important part in making this work.

You might also find it useful to talk to your child's teacher about plans for catch-up programmes (e.g. extra tuition) and, if your child is in Year 11 or Year 13, the assessment process for GCSEs, A Levels and other qualifications.

Find out more on the UK Government website.

Ask your son or daughter how they feel about going back to nursery, school or college. They’ll probably be excited to see their friends and their teachers but they might be a bit worried too. Reassure them that lots of things are being done to help them stay safe and tell them they can ask you any questions.

Whilst it’s important to listen your child’s concerns and validate their emotions, it’s also a good idea to focus on the positives and discuss what they are looking forward to.

Make sure you’re in regular contact with their teachers. If your child has found lockdown or the summer holidays particularly difficult, if there are financial worries at home or if they have lost a loved one, let their teachers know. They will be able to explain how they can work with you to support your child’s mental wellbeing.

If you have a mental health condition yourself, such as anxiety or depression, you might find it hard to support your child at this time. Be open with your support network and talk to your counsellor, if you have one. Don’t be afraid to ask for help so you can be there for your son or daughter.

You’re a major influence on how your child deals with going back to school and they will take cues from you, so try to stay calm when you’re talking to them about it, even if you’re feeling stressed about the situation.

Perhaps you could help them to come up with some coping strategies for dealing with any worries they have, such as writing them down or doing some breathing exercises? If your child is at secondary school or college and has to take regular COVID-19 tests, you might find this video useful.

Share Good Thinking’s advice about handling uncertainty and dealing with anger with them. Your son or daughter might also find the following wellbeing apps, which are free to Good Thinking users, helpful: Feeling Good Teens, Move Mood, Student Health.

If your child is extremely distressed and you're worried that they might not be able to keep themselves safe, call your local 24/7 NHS mental health helpline – you can find contact details in this article.

During the holidays, your child might have been going to bed later and eating differently. Now is a good time to start getting them back into their normal routine.

Could you draw up a schedule that includes bed time, getting up time and mealtimes? And discuss how much time they think they should spend each day on homework, exercise, socialising and relaxing once they are back at school or college?

You might also like to spend some time revisiting the schoolwork they were doing last term or reading some stories together to help them get back into learning mode.

Read Good Thinking’s advice about getting enough sleep and developing new habits.

The last 18 months have been an unsettling time for everyone. Make sure you look after yourself (eat healthily, exercise regularly, get enough sleep) as well as your family. Read Good Thinking’s article about Five ways to good mental wellbeing.

There are lots of different opinions, concerns and expectations about the Autumn term so try not to put pressure on other parents and carers, either on social media or in person. Everyone is doing what they feel is right for their own family.

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