Children returning to school can learn to navigate the process

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg suggests restarting after lockdown could be akin to starting at a new school. Image: Supplied
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg suggests restarting after lockdown could be akin to starting at a new school. Image: Supplied

For many Australian school children, anxiety is a common part of life. In a survey of over 6000 Australian families, 6.9 per cent of students between four and 17 had a diagnosed anxiety disorder, with anxiety the most common disorder for girls.

As children return to school, these feelings may be heightened and affect those who may not have a diagnosis. According to leading child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, the main concern among parents and students is reintegrating with peer groups after a period of lockdown.

"Friendships are like a garden, and it needs to be watered. Sometimes some flowers and plants go into hibernation, and you've got to decide whether you're going to attend to another part of the garden or if you're going to invest time and energy in cultivating that relationship."

Broadly speaking, Carr-Gregg sees children heading back to school falling into three categories. The first are those who have maintained friendships during lockdown through outdoor activities or video games. Then there are those who may have begun the lockdown with play dates and online contact but have had less interaction as time has gone on. The third group are those who already had problems with friendships and have seen this intensify during lockdown.

For the latter two groups, going back to school can be like starting at a new school, with the opportunity to make new friendships and connections.

"Get involved with a sports team, a band or a drama club, because that's a great way to connect with like-minded people. It guarantees you have something to talk about," said Carr-Gregg.

Making new friends is challenging at any age but asking questions about what shows they've been watching during lockdown or what their favourite subjects are is an easy way to start a conversation.

While navigating a period of change, Carr-Gregg highlights going back to the fundamentals is the best place to start.

"Life will not always go smoothly, but we can ensure that our children have healthy diets, get lots of sleep and exercise."

This story Back to the playground after COVID: "like starting at a new school" first appeared on The Canberra Times.