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Returning to normal after COVID-19

Check out our guide to supporting your child to go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19 (novel coronavirus).

Parent with hands on the shoulders of a child who is wearing a school backpack

Everybody has different feelings about going back to ‘normal.'

Parentline QLD & NT asked parents if they were ready to return to normal. Half of parents were, and half weren’t. 

We also asked young people on Instagram whether they were ready to go back to ‘normal’. 39% of young people told us they weren’t ready.

Here are some direct quotes from young people about why they feared getting back to the way things were.

It’s normal to be both excited to get back to normal and to feel stressed or anxious about it. If you need support, get in touch with the Parentline service in your state or territory.

Why is going back to normal challenging for some people?

There are many reasons why going back to normal might be anxiety-provoking for your child. Here are some of the main concerns young people had:

Grief/loss over changes in lifestyle

'Normal’ won’t be the same as before COVID-19

Return to pre-COVID-19 stresses, like school bullying

Life was better in isolation, e.g. more time with family

Feeling safe at home and unsafe/out-of-control in public

Fear of COVID-19 second-wave

Supporting a worried child

It’s very normal for children and young people to experience re-entry anxiety following a pandemic. Here are some things that can help:

  • Be curious. Ask open questions and actively listen to understand more about your child’s thoughts and feelings.
  • Normalise and validate their feelings. This means letting them know that what they are feeling is normal, other people feel the same way and that there is nothing wrong with their feelings. For example, “It must be hard to have so many worries, but it’s normal to worry about getting sick when you go back to school.” 
  • Help them limit exposure to media. If they are younger, this might include reducing their exposure to the news. If they are older, it might be helping them to critically think about media messages they are exposed to or ensuring they are accessing reputable sources.
  • Create a plan around transitioning. Planning can help alleviate some anxiety, especially fear of the unknown. Having a plan for the first day of school can help.
  • Take small steps to re-integrate into society. Some fears can be alleviated with small, controlled exposures. For instance, a great first step might be a quick trip to the supermarket, or organising for your child to meet and hangout with one friend in a park.
  • Problem-solve any concerns together. A lot of young people have let Kids Helpline know that their main fears revolve around bullying, conflict with friends, or school/study-related stress and this is contributing to their anxiety around going back to ‘normal’. Talking through strategies together (you can use Kids Helpline as a resource if needed for different topics) can help your child improve their problem-solving skills and feel more empowered.

“It’s ok to not have all the answers. If your child asks a question you can’t answer, or needs help with something you don’t know how to solve, be honest. It’s a great opportunity to do some research and learn something new together.”

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

What’s the difference between normal behaviour and concerning behaviour?

Some changes in behaviours are normal. Here’s how to know when to get help:

Normal impacts

Research into psychological impacts of health anxiety, quarantine and isolation have found a range of short-term emotional changes are normal, including confusion, anger, anxiety and depression.

Some short-term behaviour change is also normal. This includes insomnia, exhaustion, irritability, or avoidance, e.g. avoiding crowded places. 

Some long-term behaviour changes can also be normal, e.g. changes in hygiene practices. 

Concerning impacts

While most children will bounce back and recover in their own time, a pandemic can trigger Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in some people. 

Trauma is a response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms your ability cope. A trauma typically involves intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror. A trauma can include the threat of serious harm, or death to themselves, or another person, e.g. fear for an immune-compromised sibling or witnessing the suffering of others on the news. 
 

 

If you are concerned that your child is more distressed than expected, is taking longer to recover or is struggling to cope, it’s important to seek professional support. ASD & PTSD are very treatable.

Helping your child transition back to school

Being away from school and returning to an environment that has changed can be anxiety-provoking. Here are some ways you can support your child:

  • Get back into routine. Routines are safe and familiar which can help reduce anxiety. 
  • Focus on what you can control. It’s hard getting caught up in the unknown and ‘what-if’s'? Helping your child identify what they can control and practical things they can do can help them be more in the present moment and reduce anxiety. Practical strategies can include getting organised, making plans for the weekend, preparing their school bag, etc.
  • Revisit social distancing rules and good hygiene practices. Reviewing these can help your child feel more at ease about their safety when in public spaces.
  • Provide reassurance. Sometimes we can’t solve all our children’s problems, but they don’t always need solutions – just to feel understood and supported.
  • Explore the positives. Even if they are worried about returning to school, there may be some things they are looking forward to. It can be helpful to chat through these together if they seem open to this.

Struggles with everyday anxiety

Listen to Bupa's parenting podcast Mumbles, as Debbie shares how she helped her daughter feel more in control, before our Kids Helpline Counsellor, Leo, shares his expert advice based on years of experience hearing from kids themselves about the same issues.

Need help supporting your child to return to normal?

There’s help available for parents if you’re looking for information and guidance. Try calling Parentline in your State or Territory for assistance.

You can also encourage your child to contact Kids Helpline if they need additional support and somebody to talk to about their concerns. They can give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email anytime, for any reason.

This content was last reviewed 18/05/2020

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