The back-to-school season can be overwhelming at the best of times, but on top of usual concerns like getting good grades and fitting in, returning to the classroom in the midst of a pandemic means a whole new level of uncertainty for parents and kids. Whether your children are going back in-person, virtually (or a combination of both), the fall will inevitably be a very different experience for students. Here are some tips to help ease the transition and keep everyone as safe as possible:
Start establishing routines. After months of remote learning followed by summer vacation, just getting back into a schedule will be a struggle for many kids. If you haven’t already, start sticking to consistent bedtimes and wake times to prepare your child for this shift. Similarly, if your child is starting digital learning, create a schedule now because kids typically do best when they know what to expect. It’s also a good idea to establish a dedicated school space for at-home learning to help your child stay focused and organized.
Practice to reinforce. Give your child lots of opportunities to practice healthy habits so that they will happen more naturally at school. Review proper handwashing, practice playing at a safe distance, discourage touching the face or mouth and go over how to properly wear and remove masks. Even if your child isn’t returning physically in September, keep encouraging these behaviours to stay safe and in case your plans change later in the school year.
Normalize changes. Schools will look a lot different than when they were shut down in March. Although we don’t know exactly what to expect, if your child is returning to school in-person, prepare them for separated desks, temperature checks, more time in the classroom, staggered recesses and cancelled extra-curricular activities to help ready them for this new school environment. You should also acknowledge that things could change again quickly and it is possible that there will be a return to remote learning in the coming weeks or months.
Model healthy coping. It’s likely that you’re feeling overwhelmed and scared, but try to model a calm and confident attitude about going back to school. Kids look to the adults in their life for how to respond to stressful events, so it’s important to project confidence—even if you have your reservations. This doesn’t mean pretending that everything is okay, but rather acknowledging the risks, focusing on what everyone is doing to stay safe and finding healthy ways to manage stress. If you have selected remote learning, while there can be sadness around this, try to celebrate the positives like all the extra time together.
Check in and validate. This pandemic is unprecedented and it’s hard to know how it will impact our children. It can be difficult for kids to manage big emotions, so don’t expect them to tell you if they are struggling. Before returning to the classroom, ask your child what they are looking forward to and what they are worried about, or if they are staying home, find out what part of school they will miss the most. Keep having these conversations as the school year gets busy and continue to ask about and show that you understand their fears. If you notice any concerning symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, unusual outbursts, sleeping problems, changes in eating habits or obsessive behaviours, your child may benefit from some outside support.
Every child and family are unique. Trust that the decision that you made about back-to-school is the right one for you. No parent could have possibly prepared for the anxiety and stress of sending a child to school during a pandemic. Instead, we can help our children focus on what they can control, stay as optimistic as possible and celebrate the positive moments along the way.