Back to school: Advice for parents and carers

Last reviewed 3 March 2021

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

Your child might also be feeling anxious about the virus, the new GCSE/A Level assessment process or other issues. If they have special educational needs and disabilities or an existing mental health condition, the COVID-19 lockdown might have brought new challenges.

Good Thinking, London’s digital mental wellbeing service, recognises that this school year has been tough for all the family. As your child returns to full-time classroom education, 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, such as Be Mindful, MyCognition PRO and tomo, on Good Thinking.

As it says on the UK Government website, "The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has made clear that the overwhelming majority of children and young people still have no symptoms or very mild illness only... To continue to manage the risks, including when all children and students return, nurseries, childminders, schools and colleges will continue to implement the range of protective measures that they have been using throughout the autumn term. We have further strengthened these measures to help decrease the disruption the virus causes to education."

Protective measures at your child's nursery, school or college might include ‘bubbles’ of pupils or students, increased hygiene and hand washing and staggered start and finish times. If your child is at secondary school or college, they will be advised to wear a face covering in all areas and will have to take a COVID-19 test twice a week (initially at school and then at home). Free rapid COVID-19 tests are available to all households with children in England and the NHS Test and Trace service is available to anyone with symptoms of coronavirus.

Once you understand what your child’s educational establishment is doing, you can have an honest and open conversation with your son or daughter about these measures so they know what to expect on day one. Focus on what they can control – such as wearing a face covering on public transport if they are aged 11+ – 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 the summer catch-up programme (e.g. tutoring, clubs and other activities) and, if your child is in Year 11 or Year 13, the new assessment process for GCSEs, A Levels and other exams.

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 or 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 too. If your child has found lockdown 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.

While your child has been at home, they might have been going to bed later and eating differently. Now is a good time to start getting them back into a 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 have been doing at home 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 few 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 about nurseries, schools and colleges reopening – some families might not feel ready to send their child back. 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.