Auckland has been in lockdown since 11.59pm on August 17. That's more than 12 weeks, which is longer than most school terms. Primary schools finally opening for all students this Wednesday, although exactly what this looks like will vary and daycare centres should soon be able to enlarge care bubbles.
While on one hand that is welcome news for parents who have struggled through months of juggling working from home childcare and homeschooling, on the other it is worrying. How will more sensitive children adjust to being thrust back into structured learning and how will the very young react to daycare teachers they may not even remember?
With this front of mind for many parents, the question is: what can we do in the lead up to our return to (sort of) normalcy to make an easier transition for our children?
Dr Emma Woodward, an experienced child psychologist and founder of The Child Psychology Service in Auckland has some great advice for how to help your children through this change.
For young children returning to daycare the break can be especially traumatic for parent and child alike. After months away from daycare it is normal for parents to wonder if their pre-schooler will even remember their centre, the teachers or the other children. The good news from Woodward is that they will.
"They will remember. They will have some emotional memories about the place. Once they settle back in those will return," assures Woodward. More good news is that parents can help to ensure their child's memories return.
Prior to their child returning to structured learning or care, Woodward recommends talking about it with them, in positive ways. "Talk about it, start bringing daycare workers back into the conversation," shares Woodward, "connect fun stories back to that space. Look at photos... which will help them trigger memories"
For older children returning to school the same rules apply, talk to them about it, focus on the positives and, Woodward suggests, give them a job to do. "I get my kids to give their teachers a 'hello gift'," shares Woodward. "It gives them a sense of purpose. It takes the focus away from the transition."
Another suggestion from Woodward is to be as prepared as possible the night before so that you reduce anxiety in the morning: "Be prepared the night before so there is no excess stress."
Whether school or daycare Woodward recommends making the drop off "quick, efficient and warm". How you drop off your child is not the only concern however. Woodward warns that children may be fine at school but crash as soon as you pick them up.
"At pick up you might see a total meltdown as they have been holding it together, you need to be ready for that," warns Woodward, who sees this with her own children and sometimes will keep a lollipop on hand as "the act of sucking soothes the nervous system".
The most important thing to remember, according to Woodward, is to keep your own anxiety in check. It is natural to worry about how our children will cope after so long at home, but if they can tell you are concerned that only serves to "will legitimise their worry".
"Our job is to contain their feelings and hand them back to them in a way that they understand.
"It is actually a good life lesson, that there will be uncertainty and you can have these feelings and learn to be ok with them."
Woodward reminds us that you, as their parent, are the best judge of how they are coping. If you know your child is naturally anxious or has a diagnosis such as ADHD or ASD you may need to structure the return to school more carefully, perhaps it needs to be gradual.
Whatever your plans for returning you children to school or daycare it is natural to be a little worried, just remember to try not to show it. They will be okay.