How to make it easier for children to return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic?

On September 1st, 2020, the psychologist of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center,  Krešimir Prijatelj held a lecture “How to facilitate return to school in the current circumstances” in the “Prica” Gallery of the Samobor Public School, in which he presented the psychological aspects of current recommendations and measures of competent institutions for children, parents and carers and the consequences of the pandemic on the mental health of children and young people.

UNESCO notes that during the quarantine, 1.6 billion children in the world were forced not to physically attend school. At the end of August, 78% of states decided on the start date of the new school year. Croatia has decided that schools will open their doors to students on September 7, 2020.

Some children will clearly express happiness and excitement about going back to school, while others will be worried, scared, or anxious. It is important that we, as parents and guardians, explain the current situation and the way in which it affects the return to school in a developmentally appropriate way, said psychologist Krešimir Prijatelj. To help express the child’s feelings, it is useful to include creative techniques such as play, dance or drawing.


Psychologist’s advice for preparing children to return to school

Going to or returning to school for children can be stressful even in conditions without a health crisis, and in the current circumstances, some children can be particularly distracted, anxious and frightened. The lecture highlighted some tips that can be useful to parents in preparing children to return to school:

– ask them openly and talk about their feelings about going back to school in the current circumstances,

– let them know that in the current situation it is normal to feel sometimes “bad”, anxious or scared,

– communicate with them regularly about compliance with measures such as hand washing, physical distance, etc.,

– empathize about the impossibility of socializing with peers, but suggest and support outdoor socializing after school.


Will the children be upset by emphasizing the importance of the instructions and measures received?

Conversation about adherence to measures and instructions does not have to be a long and “scary” conversation that will overwhelm the child, but a continuous process of learning about the usefulness and importance of maintaining hygiene and physical distance at school, especially for children in lower grades;

– sing songs (1,2,3 – viruses disappear all; 4,5,6 – soap is bad news for the virus)

– tell stories (although they are very small, viruses and bacteria can be very strong)

– include fun and play (smear your hands with tempera and compete who will wash them more thoroughly)


A sense of predictability

Honest communication with the child can be beneficial in cases of worsening epidemiological situation, so it is useful to explain to the child how opening and returning to schools can take until a certain point when classes will start online again for some time to protect all students and teachers.

Introduce the child to the potential and possible new conditions in which classes will take place (spaced tables or a distance of 1.5 m, less socializing with peers from other classes, staying in class during breaks, etc.).

Explain to the children that schools are not the only place where classes are monitored and learned, but that in certain situations this can be done from home.

Emphasize and encourage children to connect and video-communicate with peers in the event of school closures again.

At the lecture, the psychologist also talked about how challenging it can be for children to follow instructions, and some students may develop fear of other children. In this context, the conversation between the parents and the child plays a significant role. In young children, one of the best ways to adopt instruction is through play (Holford, 2020);

“Imagine having a hula-hoop around you, try to keep such a distance from your friends and teachers to protect each other.”

“… Tape your part of the table with colorful tape to reduce the likelihood of more children touching the same surface you are touching.”

Practice with the children how to remind other children to sneeze and cough at the elbow and follow other instructions and how they will react if they notice that someone in the class is not feeling well, eg “Teacher, I don’t think Ana is feeling well today very best ”instead of “Ana has a corona, I want to go home! ”

Work with children to develop their independence around food and school supplies to reduce contact with teachers.

Make sure children bring all the necessary supplies to school so that they do not have to borrow from other students (protecting yourself and others is not stinginess).


About hygiene…

During the lecture, psychologist Krešimir Prijatelj additionally emphasized the importance of teaching children to adopt hygienic habits with the aim of preventing the spread of infection:

– teaching thorough hand washing,

– regular use of disinfectants and wet wipes (but also clarification that they do not replace water and soap),

– changing clothes on the way back from school (airing or washing goods),

– taking off footwear outside the space in which the child resides,

– disinfection or ventilation of bags and backpacks on the way back from school,

– checking the skin on the hands of children to avoid skin irritations,


In conclusion, the psychologist of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center emphasized the importance of parents and guardians, especially in the coming period, to be protective and give the child a sense of protection, support him in performing school obligations and at the same time remain calm in front of the children.


In the photo: Psychologist of the Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center, Krešimir Prijatelj during a lecture in Samobor


Disclaimer: This is unofficial translation provided for information purposes. Zagreb Child and Youth Protection Center cannot be held legally responsible for any translation inaccuracy.   


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