Getting back into the school routine was a challenge for Ashleigh Daly and her three boys.
The family had started getting used to online karate lessons and learning at home, only to have to shift again when face-to-face lessons started. As Mrs Daly and her husband, Justin, were essential workers, the boys had to go back to school earlier than most children.
Her youngest child, Ryan, 6, has special needs and required some extra help from occupational therapist Sarah Tonkin to get back into the school routine.
"We had a lot of resistance as he had been off school for four to five weeks," Mrs Daly said.
"Sarah helped us out and wrote him a social story to help prepare him for that."
Mrs Daly said clear communication was important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as children understood more about the situation than you might think.
"We've had really open conversations with the boys, and particularly with Ryan. You need to be really open and really honest," she said.
Ms Tonkin, the principal occupational therapist at Queanbeyan's Up Therapy Services, said now was a good time to reflect as a family on what had changed during the COVID-19 lockdown and what could continue in their routine going forward.
"I think the parents are having to turn into the teacher, therapist, the parent, they're juggling a lot of roles. They've had to reflect on what's working and what's not."
She said many of her clients had successfully used telehealth during the pandemic and parents were more empowered to notice what was going on with their children and implement strategies to cope.
Melbourne-based occupational therapist Kate Woods said the unusual circumstances had had an affect on everybody.
"We're all sensory people, we're all processing what's going on around us and when we're out of our comfort zone we set off the adrenal system, and that can turn on the fight or flight syndrome," she said.
Mrs Woods said taking sensory breaks before going to school can set children up for a good day. This could mean jumping on the trampoline, or going for a short walk.
She said it was normal to have feelings of anxiety when going back to school and it was helpful for children to discuss how they were feeling, perhaps using a colour-coded system.
Getting back into the daily routine won't be easy though. Mrs Woods suggests families take a day to practise the morning routine of having breakfast, packing school bags and getting dressed in school uniform.
"Have a countdown timer on to show how much time you would have to get ready," she said.
Ms Tonkin said providing a to-do list that children can tick off when tasks are complete gives them a sense of independence.
"It's giving them control of the situation that they might not have control of."
She said many children held themselves together through the school day, but home is a safe space where challenging behaviours can emerge.
"Take it day-by-day," she said.
Back to school advice
- Have a morning when you practise getting dressed and ready for school by a certain time.
- Provide a to-do list and get children to tick things off as they do them
- Create a family brainstorm about the things you are excited or nervous about going back to school.
- Make a book explaining what is happening during the pandemic, and that now children need to go back to school so parents can go to work
- Write a letter to your teacher or organise a phone call to let them know any feelings or concerns you have
- Don't try to rush back into your old routine and extracurricular activities as your bodies won't be used to that level of activity
- Provide support when children get home after school, as this is when challenging behaviours can emerge