Thanks to the disruptions caused by COVID-19, family life in 2020 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

For some families there have been some pleasant side effects – more time together and less racing around before and after school. 

But there has also been plenty of upheaval, rapid change and the loss of familiar routines.

And with school finally returning for all Queensland students on May 25, families are again bracing themselves for the next “new normal”.

What can families expect?

Every school community will be doing things slightly differently, but the current social distancing rules mean that parents won’t be able to move about their child’s school as they did before.

That will have ramifications for school drop-off and pick-up routines (many schools are urging parents to use stop-drop-go zones), classroom volunteering as well as most school events.

Queensland Independent Schools Parents Network Executive Officer Justine Cirocco has urged parents to be kind to themselves as well as their children as everyone in the family adjusts.

“Returning to full-time school routines will be eagerly anticipated by many parents and children but we all need to give ourselves time to adapt because things won’t be like they were before,’’ Ms Cirocco said.

“All those things will take time to get used to.’’

Be prepared for a range of emotions – for yourself and your children

Ms Cirocco advised parents to have realistic expectations about the first days and weeks and to be prepared for a range of emotions from their children as they also adjust.

But she reassured parents that they weren’t tackling the challenges alone.

“Please remember that your child’s teachers and the school administration will be prioritising your child’s health and wellbeing and will be ensuring students are supported and eased back into school life at a gentle pace.

“It’s also important for parents to remember that it’s okay to not feel okay. If you or your child need help to process how you are feeling, please reach out to the many free telephone support services that are available.’’ (*you can find support services at the end of this article*)

Practical tips for getting through the first few weeks

Australian parenting educator Maggie Dent advises parents to make sure the time immediately after school is “restorative” for children.

“As this is an unsettling time, you may notice your kids are more fatigued and tired than usual,” she writes in this recent opinion piece for Essential Kids.

“This is normal as the nervous system is working hard to help your child cope with our unpredictable world.

“Allow time after school to be restorative with some time outside in the fresh air, lots of child-directed play and with as much TLC as possible. Things will improve gradually and before you know it your child will have adjusted to returning to full-time schooling, despite the fact that we still live in a world where the coronavirus is a threat.”

‘Take it slow’

Fellow parenting author Dr Justin Coulson also advises families to ease gently back into school life, in his recent blog article titled How to Help your Anxious Child Transition Back to School.

“There is no benefit to jumping back into the school environment with both feet,” he says.

“Consider scaling back on extracurricular activities or, depending on the child, having none at all. Consider keeping homework and outside school assignments to a minimum, or doing none at all.”

And keep any new traditions developed during lockdown going, Dr Coulson writes.

“While I’m not trying to minimise the terrible toll the current pandemic has had on much of the world, for some there have been silver linings. Families are reporting more quality time together – more bike rides, more family dinners, more pancake breakfasts, more board games and more time reading together. Whatever traditions you’ve developed during your ‘new normal’, find a way to maintain them as we move forward.”

Advice written especially for young people

Kids Helpline has prepared a great resource page for teens and tweens which addresses some common concerns young people have about the return to “normal” life.

Titled “I’m not ready to go back to normal”, the online guide provides self-care advice and reassures children that not feeling “ready” is okay.

“The pressure to return to ‘normal’ after a collective trauma, like a pandemic or natural disaster, can be overwhelming. It’s okay to feel like you aren’t ready to go back,” the guide says.

Support for families

If you or a family remember require mental health support, the Australian Government’s Head to Health website contains phone numbers for free telephone support services as well as state-by-state crisis support.