Transitioning back to school after the summer months can be tough with new schedules and routines. But this Fall, families will be faced with an even bigger transition as most children ease back into actual brick and mortar school buildings after 18-months at home. The best way parents can manage these changes and support their children include preparation and practice, research, communication and support, and trusting the schools.
PREPARATION and PRACTICE:
A couple weeks before school is to start, begin easing back into your school schedule. Start going to bed earlier and waking up earlier. Depending on your child’s age, have them lay their clothes out the night before, even make lunch for the next day, and really start to talk about what their days will look like once school starts. Starting this new routine in terms of sleep, food, and safety is an anxiety buster. Often to ease worry, just feeling in-control of the little details combined with knowing what to expect can make all the difference. If you child likes visuals, you can even post a calendar that shows how many more days they have till school starts. They can cross off the days as time moves on. Involving your children in planning for school lunches, what they will wear on the first day, and gathering school supplies is an excellent way to make the transition more manageable and will help them to feel calmer. Depending on your child’s age, find out as much as possible about their school situation: what friends will be in their class, what classes are they taking, who are their teachers, and who will they sit with at lunch?
The CDC is changing their announcements weekly about masks upon the return to school. Keep up-to-date with the current CDC regulations. Find out what your school’s policy is. Your kids need to know what to expect once back in the classroom? Will they still be required to social distance? How will things look if they take the bus to school? If they still need or want to wear masks, can you purchase a new one for this purpose. Will your child feel safer if they have a portable hand-sanitizer to clip on their backpack? Keep current with your school, as things will be swiftly changing down to the last minute. Encourage your child to check-in with their school via the school’s website so they can take ownership of these new policies and procedures.
COMMUNICATION and SUPPORT:
What is your child feeling about the return to school? If they struggled with change in the past, had anxiety before the Pandemic, or are not the best at flexible thinking, chances are they may be fearful right about now. They may not have the language to even talk about it depending on their age, their history, and if they have experienced past trauma. Start by asking your child if there is anything in particular they are excited about? Not looking forward to? Ask them to list or draw 3 things they are thinking about most? Reassure your child if they are worried, that this is completely normal and they are not the only student feeling this way. Do not sugar coat things and tell them it’s no big deal or it will be easy. Do let them know that this Pandemic has been a huge deal and lasted for a long time. Reassure them that you will be there to support them along the way. Remind them how well they solved the problems they have faced so far throughout the Pandemic. Keep checking back in at least weekly as these complex feelings are bound to change.
TRUST YOUR SCHOOLS:
Schools are truly focusing on and valuing student mental health with the return to in-person learning. The emphasis on social-emotional well-being has never been stronger as schools throughout the nation hire more school counselors and other mental health clinicians than ever before. Schools will start to accept “mental health reasons” as an excused absence. You can expect your children, no matter their age, to spend the first couple weeks of school really talking about the adjustment back to school. Teachers and other professionals will begin to address all the losses, the grief, the uncertainty, and the anxiety many students are experiencing. School administrators know that academic achievement must also be a priority especially since some students fell behind and regressed during the Pandemic. However, there appears to be a consensus that social-emotional well-being is the first priority as our children return to school.
**Remember how you talk to your child can make all the difference. Be intentional about when and where you have these necessary and crucial conversations. Avoid the face-to-face sit down talk as this is usually not the best way to promote open communication and sharing. Try having a dialogue when you are driving your child somewhere. Take a walk with them or have them help you cook to take some of the pressure off the conversation.
**Sometimes your children will need a professional to help them manage their mental health. This is normal. There is no shame. If you or someone you love needs this level of support, reach out as help is out there.