Going back to school may be overwhelming

How do you feel about your child or teenager going back to school?

You may have feelings of concern, joy, worry, frustration or pure relief.

This has been an extraordinary time and it’s bloody amazing that you got through it. It may have been a period of extreme stress, exhaustion, concern and you may have all struggled.

We are at the end of a strange period and we hope there will now be a sense of some normality. Obviously this is a new normal and there is always the risk of a second wave.

But for now, we can look forward to a new term of school.

But what about your child’s feelings?

Some children have welcomed the time away from school, away from feelings of blame, shame and feeling not good enough. The thought of going back into an environment that was unsuitable may fill them with sadness.

However, some of our children are looking forward to going back to see their friends and getting back in a routine and so are extremely excited.

All these feelings can cause a child with ADHD to feel overwhelmed. An ADHD brain’s emotional bucket gets full very quickly and often this spills over into unwanted behaviour.

The closer we are to school starting, you may have noticed your child’s behaviour changing or deteriorating.

Rudeness, swearing, fighting, spitting. Destructive behaviour, arguing. Or your child may be shutting down and keeping themselves in their room away from the family. Sleep may be restless or there may be deliberate delays or avoidance at bedtimes.

You want your child to be happy.

So how do you help with these overwhelming emotions and prepare your child emotionally for the new term?

Keep fear away

Avoid talking about your fears in front of your child. They are socially lagging behind their peers and cannot handle the emotional pressure. Your child will pick up on your anxieties and this will transfer and make them fearful. As much as you can, keep positive about going back to school.

Present the facts

It has been reported that there is little risk to your children going back to school. Let your child know the risks and the facts without fear and emotion. Provide opportunities to talk and listen to your child and hear what they are saying to you. Reassure them that everyone is working hard to keep them safe.

Practice hand washing and social distancing

Depending on the age of your child, there will be instances at school that will require your child to wear a mask. Make this okay. There will be social distancing. Talk to your teenagers about keeping distance on the bus and outside school as much as possible. Practice how to wash hands – remember the ‘Happy Birthday’ song we used at the beginning?!

Contact the school

Do this today. Email and ask for photos or video of what the new classroom or corridors look like. What are the new procedures and expectations? Make a social story so your child is familiar before the first day of term.

New staff

Request a meeting with the new teacher or Head of Year. Give them a copy of this ‘All About Me’ document to outline their needs and what you noticed during lockdown. It is vital new staff have an understanding from the beginning what your child needs.

click here for a copy

Notice changes in behaviour

All behaviour is communication. What is behind the rudeness, the sleep disturbances, the moody behaviour? Try and come up with a solution together. Listen to your child and give them some control over a tricky situation.

Coping strategies

Your child will always experience emotional overwhelm. As a teenager, as a young person and as an adult. So start now to help them with coping strategies when things get too much. Have a plan in place. What do they need to feel calm? Talking and communicating is a good place to start. They may need equipment such as sensory gadgets, music, headphones, a den, a favourite toy. Or they may need to run, scream, dance or jump. Whatever helps your child to feel safe, calm and secure; teach them now.

All emotions are okay

In the coming weeks as we start to go back to work, go back to shops and to socialise, we may all experience these feelings of fear and worry. These feelings are okay. They are normal and expected. However, if they become too big and are affecting daily life for a sustained period of time, then seek medical advice.


During the first few weeks of term, your child will be exhausted. The mental and physical effort of being back at school will be enormous. Earlier mornings will mean their body clock has to readjust. The pressure of being organised, on time, focussed, learning and socially confident is enormous.

So have few expectations after school. Keep after school activities to a minimum and expect moody or challenging behaviour. Go easy on them and keep chores to a minimum too. Just for a while. The emotional bucket may be getting full….

I hope all goes well and you have a smooth start to the new term.