Summer vacation is often a time where routines are disrupted,bedtimes are thrown to the wayside, and kids get the chance to recharge fromthe school year they have just completed. Getting back on track with the new school yearcan be challenging but also invoke a sense of excitement. What we used to know as an exciting timewhere kids looked forward to going back to school to see their friends and teachers,is looking a little different than it had in previous years. While “back toschool” in 2021 may not have the exact same feel as it once did for bothparents and students, it is important to consider all of the changes going onand how we can work towards making this a healthy and happy transition.
The pandemic has impacted a lot of adolescents’ social,emotional, and mental well-being in many ways including the separation fromfriends and loved ones, breaks in their routines of daily living and learning,limited access to mental health services, and missed milestones and events.Returning to the classroom may just be the most anticipated event in a while,however as with other types of transition, going back to school and starting anew routine can bring about feelings of stress and anxiety. Children who had previouslybeen at home and engaging in remote learning may face challenges of separationand social anxiety when returning to the classroom and being away from theircaregivers in the home whom they have spent the majority of their time with.Below are 10 tips geared towards preparing parents, caregivers, and children to successfully transition children back to in-person learning this year.
1. Begin to re-introduce previous routines and habitsthat were normal prior to remote learning.
Getting back into routines such as sleep schedules are goingto play an important role in getting children back into the swing of thingswhen preparing to resume in-person learning. Setting a designated time forgoing to bed as well as an appropriate wake time will ensure that children aregetting proper sleep and setting them up for success. It may be best to startthis a few weeks prior to school starting and continue to enforce it throughoutthe school year. Other helpful habits such as setting out the next days’outfit, planning a lunch, and having their backpack and supplies ready will alsohelp eliminate chaos in the mornings.
2. Make “back-to-school” an event again.
The familiarity of walking up and down the isles and havingthe kids pick out pens, pencils, and their favorite color notebook and backpackmay help to create some excitement for the children about getting back toin-person learning. Whether you prefer to shop online or feel comfortableshopping in store, you can make “back to school” shopping into something fun. Alittle “back to school” nostalgia may improve your child’s attitudes and givethem something to look forward to when returning to the classroom.
3. Discuss back-to-school safety plans and guidelineswith your children.
Get familiar with the safety plans and what the guidelinesare for returning to in-person learning in your child’s school. Some districtsmay have different guidelines, so it is important to get your informationdirectly from the source that applies to your child’s school. Understanding howyour child’s school is planning to re-open and what their safety guidelines arewill help you to communicate with your child, so they know what to expect. Checkback in throughout the school year to keep up with changes that may arise and havediscussions with your children so they understand what to expect when returningto school.
4. Reinforce healthy hygiene practices.
Reminding children about proper mask wearing, hand washingand sanitizing during the school day can help them feel confident that they arekeeping themselves and others around them safe.
5. Discuss coping strategies for stress and anxietymanagement.
In times when children are feeling anxious, stressed, oroverwhelmed about the challenges they might be facing in the upcoming schoolyear, have conversations with them to learn and reinforce what coping skillswork best for them. Encourage them to use these skills to overcome theiranxiety whenever those feelings arise.
6. Connect with teachers in the school.
Find ways to reach out to staff and educators at the schoolby requesting time to speak in person, over the phone, or through video call.Asking questions about what the classroom looks like or what the structure ofthe school day will look like can help children prepare and feel morecomfortable entering the classroom.
7. Reassure children that it is safe to be away from you.
Separation anxiety may be a challenge to overcome in youngerchildren who have grown accustomed to seeing their caregivers 24/7. As a parentor caregiver, it will be important to begin emphasizing that your child is alsosafe in the care of others such as their teachers and fellow classmates. Validateyour child’s feelings but also use words of encouragement to promote theirindependence and sense of safety and security while in school.
8. Speak positively.
Children are very in tune with their surroundings and evenwhen we think they aren’t listening – they are! Use positive words and tonewhen speaking about returning to school. While this time may be stressful, itis important to stay calm and model the type of behavior we would like ourchildren to see and mirror.
9. Create space for children to communicate concerns.
Have open discussions with your child and allow them thistime to share any worries they have with going back to in-person learning orconcerns they anticipate having when they return. Ask what is on their mind. Ifthey don’t know, ask probing questions about what they anticipate some of theirconcerns to be. Children may be unsure of how to communicate their feelings, soby opening up the conversation it may invite them to feel more comfortableexploring what those concerns are.
10. Expect and allow things to not always go smoothly.
It is important to keep in mind that parents and childrenhave endured a lot in the past year and a half and have been kept on their toesthroughout all of the changes and uncertainties. Returning to in-personlearning is just another one of the experiences that we are all going throughtogether and like everything else, there may be bumps in the road. Be kind toyourself as a parent and caregiver and remind children that they are not aloneas they go through this transition.
BONUS TIP- Do not neglect your own mental health.
Parents and caregivers are also going through a transition.With many people staying home this past year and a half to help with remotelearning, a lot of adjustments and sacrifices were made to keep things afloat. Parentsand caregivers need to take time for self-care and remember, you can’t pourfrom an empty cup!
Additional resources for transitioning back to school: