Back to school: the psychological impact on children returning to class

ON MONDAY, hundreds of thousands of children will be returning to the classroom as schools reopen for all pupils.
For many parents there will be mixed emotions, relief from what has been a highly pressurised few months, anxiety over what the effects of reopening may be.
But what about the psychological impact?
Just how has the past 12 months affected our children living through an unprecedented time? Dr Amy Pearson, senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, looks at the impact on our pandemic pupils.
Dr Amy Pearson, senior lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland.

So, what are the main issues for our children as they return to class?

Dr Pearson said: “Children have had to adapt to different methods of schooling, and a different timetable.

“Many children have not had access to the technologies needed to keep up with online schooling.

“Many children will have been worried about the pandemic, their friends, and families. Some children might have been really anxious and frightened, or felt unsettled about what is going on.”


Will returning to the classroom be difficult/easy for children?

Dr Pearson said: “While many children will be looking forward to seeing their friends and teachers, it might be hard to get used to being back in a formal classroom setting.

“Children have had shorter days and a different structure to their learning, so it might take them some time to get used to being back at school.

“Psychologists recommend that we focus on helping children to cope with re-entering school by focussing on the positives where possible.

“Many people have experienced significant distress and loss over the last 12 months, so it is important that we find ways to encourage feelings of fun and safety whilst also acknowledging how challenging it has been.”


What impact may there have been from a lack of social interaction with peers?

Dr Pearson said: “Many children will have spent time with friends and family using online tools, but may not have seen many people face-to-face.

“Social interaction is a really important part of school, and children will need time to get used to being around their friends again.

“Many children might have felt really lonely and isolated throughout lockdown, and the opportunity to reconnect and play with their friends will be a vital part of helping them to regain a sense of ‘normality’.”


What about parents? What is going through their minds?

Dr Pearson said: “Parents have been under a lot of stress over the past 12 months. They will have been worried about their children’s health, education, and socialising, as well as everything else that comes with running a household.

“Many have been balancing full time work with full time home schooling, and will be exhausted. Whilst a return to school might lessen the strain of balancing work and education, many parents might be worried about their children becoming ill upon returning to school or dealing with their child’s anxiety about what is going on.”


Could the impact of the past 12 months have long-lasting psychological impact?

Dr Pearson said: “Yes, British Psychological Society believes that the impact of Covid-19 will have a significant and long-lasting impact on children.

“The education and wellbeing of children will be of incredible importance in the post-Covid recovery plan, focussing on social and educational opportunities to improve the wellbeing of young people.”

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