Back to School: How to prepare after a mind-boggling year


Routines, measures, and nerves. Just a few words that come to mind in the looming shadow of returning back to school post-pandemic. Moving away from bubbles and fresh into a new exciting term brings an element of fear as well as exhilaration. When speaking to children after sessions, and asking the dreaded ‘looking forward to returning to school?’ question in a high enthusiastic tone, I received a variety of responses:

‘Yes, I can’t wait!’ 

‘…I’m feeling a little nervous…’

‘-I prefer Minecraft.’

All of these feelings are completely valid and as Tutors, we like to be aware of how the children are feeling and encourage an open rapport. After all, for some children, it will be the first time they will have been in a group of people for a long time. For others, it might be a big change like moving to secondary school or a new school.

So how do we, as parents, address these more frequent feelings of anxiety and nervousness in children? How can we help them manage social pressures and stress?

Here are three top tips to help prepare your child to go back to school:


#1 Talk about going back

The key is in communication and validation. This past year has been challenging – we all recognize or are even intimately familiar with the concerns our children are expressing. All children are having a hard time navigating the rules and understanding the restrictions being placed on them. Let your child know that what they are feeling is normal. We all feel like we are blindly trudging through a dense forest of rules, dodging viruses like poisonous snakes. The rules in schools are easing, there are no bubbles, and restrictions on breaks, assemblies, and social distancing are being toned down – this is bound to cause concern.

But you are not alone.

Encouraging the communication between you and your children enables these concerns to be shared and addressed. Talk to your children about going back to school, remind them of fond memories of when they were having fun at school, and engage them in their favorite activities to prepare for the new school year. Ease some of their anxieties.

For example: go to a shop to pick out back-to-school supplies or new school shoes. Help them get excited about the small things. 

Talking about what the child can expect may also help. Perhaps refresh yourself with what they may be learning this year and the National Curriculum. At our Smart 11+ Tuition Centers, we like to talk about how to approach papers, style of questions, and pacing to help them prepare and feel calmer about the 11 + Exam. Similarly, when watching the news at home perhaps engage children with co-vid restrictions and help to prepare them for any changes. Don’t intrude or impose yourself on them – but open the conversation and let them know you are there if they want to talk.



#2 Listen – create a safe space

‘The biggest mistake by most human beings. Listening half. Understanding a quarter. Telling double.’ (Anonymous)

Most children are excited to go back to school but it can trigger anxiety for both the social butterflies and those prone to nervousness who tend to get clingier than usual. It’s also not easy for parents. Most of us have had to coax a child through the front gate of a school, or talk a panicked year five onto a bus – it isn’t buckets of fun. With this in mind, it is no surprise that children’s mental well-being sites like Child Mind Institute and YoungMinds encourage parents to prioritize listening.

It is fantastic to talk to children about their concerns but it’s almost more important to listen to their thoughts on going back to school. Create a space for children to express themselves and be heard. Once there is an understanding it will be much easier to deal with how they are feeling. Getting into this habit can be hard – have a look at some of our top tips here at Smart 11+ Tuition below.

Top tips for creating a safe space:

  • Respond with empathy – not anger, sadness, or disappointment.
  • Don’t just try to ‘fix’ every problem, sometimes just let the problem be heard.
  • Don’t overreact and ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’
  • Even if you don’t agree with their concern, acknowledge that it is a concern for them.
  • Ask open-ended questions. Try to promote positivity with questions like: ‘What was the most exciting part of your day?’


#3 New Routines

Our third tip for preparing your child to go back to school is to start developing a routine early.

We all recognize that bedtimes may or may not, have shifted or slipped during sumphoto-1603354351226-d82bd4a635a3mer – so to help children prepare for those upcoming early mornings start the routine as soon as you can.

Get back into the habit of getting up and going to bed earlier. Provide clear and simple steps that will set your expectations and help your child to know what to do and when to do it. Having a stunning visual guide with pictures galore and fun animal stickers will also help build their excitement for the new back-to-school routine. It will let children know what to do next and ensure they have a good time doing it!

Make sure you don’t forget to give children praise for getting into routines. This will help with their self-esteem and increase their time management skills in the future.


Let’s talk about the parents: How are you feeling?

It’s really easy and encouraged to focus on your child during these uncertain times. However, children quickly pick up on and mirror adult anxieties – so it’s really important that you also take care of yourself and be as present as possible. As easy as it is to do, don’t forget to manage your own stress and acknowledge your feelings.

Taking deep breaths, a bathroom break, drinking water regularly, and taking moments that give you a second to yourself will help to regulate your feelings. Reflect on what worked before the pandemic and try to get a little bit of that back – that may be exercise, time to yourself, or a social gathering. For me, it’s a ten-minute walk to and from the shops which currently feels like a marathon!

You can even share what helps you de-stress with your child and offer them a walk to help clear their heads. It’s entirely your choice, and whatever works for you and your child.


Here at Smart 11+ Tuition, we like to support each individual child on their journey to Grammer or Independent School and our tutors are also here for children and parents to talk to about anxieties or concerns for upcoming entrance exams. If you are interested in joining our Smart 11+ Tuition family please enquire by emailing us at learn@smart11plus.co.uk.

Thank you.