This year’s “Back-To-School” will be unique and different than any other in our lifetime. With the Pandemic waning and vaccines available in the United States, most children will return to in-person school in the Fall. It will not just be about the trip to Target to get notebooks and backpacks and pencils and pens. It will not only be about a trip to the mall to obtain the perfect first day of school outfit. As parents we are faced with the tricky task of emotionally guiding and leading our families back to school after months upon months of isolation.
You are the leader of your family, needed more then ever right now. The key to a successful leader is to set the tone for any challenge. Your family is counting on you! After up to 18-months of virtual learning for some, returning to the classroom and school in general is daunting. Make sure you check your emotions at the door and present a positive tone and present demeanor to your family. This definitely takes practice, as adults, as we have our own set of worries and concerns about our families returning to school. Our children are attuned to us so it is required that we do the work required to be the calm and grounded leader our children deserve.
That being said, it is is crucial to find out what our children are anticipating and feeling about the return to school. In past pandemics, mental health symptoms increased for many years after the long period of isolation. This may or may not be true for your children. But burying your head in the sand about potential adjustment issues your child may have is never helpful.
Going back to school will be scary for most and after we validate that feeling, we then sell it as a good thing. If they tell you they are worried and scared, you can reframe that by saying: “It is a big change, it is normal to feel these things. Now what is one thing you are looking forward to?”Just like we have been taking the temperature to check for covid, we will have to start taking the emotional temperature of our children. They may not be nervous which is why you must remain neutral. As parents, we have to be open to what they may be feeling. And it will surely change day to day. Throughout the process, we must stay connected to and available for our kids to guide them through this transition.
The loss of in-person school meant the loss of your child’s external community, the loss of routines, schedules, and rituals. The loss of peers, friends, supportive adults, and sports and other fulfilling activities have created an emptiness. Depending on your child’s age and disposition, not dealing with peers may have been a welcome relief. For some, losing the schedule of in-person school encouraged their worries and compulsions to grow. For some, learning through a screen was nearly impossible. For some, their dependence on their screens for learning and connection has become almost an addiction. Wherever your child falls on the continuum, the adjustment back to school will be a big deal. Meeting them with compassion, connection, and teaching them how to regulate and stay calm is key.
In the end, your child may need professional support to navigate back to school. If they had pre-existing mental heath issues, be especially sensitive and open to seeking out a therapist to help your child through the very real and valid “Post-Pandemic” return to school reality.