Parents and their children across the country are facing a wave of emotions regarding heading back to school this fall. In the past, back to school has typically been a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, with kids wondering “When are we going back to school shopping?” or “Who will my new teacher be?” In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, children and parents are confronted with a much greater degree of uncertainty regarding what school will look like, while also grappling with conflicting feelings about how to keep their child safe while also longing for a return to normalcy and resuming in-person learning. For a sizeable amount of parents and students locally, the last month has been particularly difficult as several public schools have pivoted from initial plans to offer both in-person and remote learning options to only offer a primarily remote learning environment once school resumes. Such sudden reversals in decision-making, in addition to the daunting task in general of returning to school with heightened safety protocols in place or continuing virtual learning, has contributed to a sense of emotional whiplash that many parents and students are experiencing.
To manage these feelings, consider the following steps in order to support your child and manage your own reactions about returning to school this fall.
1. Rehearse and role play. Take some time to talk to your children about what to expect by going through what a typical day will look like, whether it be at home or at school. For example, if your child is heading back to school and will need to wear a mask, here are some helpful tips for how to prepare them and how to practice before school starts.
2. Maintain a daily routine. For remote learning it is even more important to keep a schedule with your family that is clear and consistent and that includes fun activities as well as schoolwork. Consider having your child help create a general calendar that outlines their schedule, encouraging them to decorate it in fun ways.
3. Limit negative news. Let your children know what they can do to stay safe and limit their access to the news on T.V. Also, don’t forget about how well children can tap into your own personal discussions about the return to school with significant others, so be mindful of the privacy of such conversations.
4. Stay connected. Foster relationships with other parents to share your feelings about the return to school and share resources. For some families in which their children will resume remote learning, they are forming pods in which the children learn together in small groups with parents or other adults alternating the facilitation of their learning.
5. Listen. Check in often with your children about how they are doing by asking open ended questions and taking the time to listen to what they have to say. For younger children, consider having them draw pictures of how they feel about returning to school and discuss the drawing together.
6. Build hope and a sense of purpose. Help your children to focus on something positive they can do to help others in their family and community. Also, assure your children that things will get better in time.
7. Take advantage of outside resources. If your child is struggling with keeping a routine or staying organized, you may want to enlist the help of a tutor or executive functioning coach via phone, Zoom, or in-person one-on-one. You may call our office for a consultation with our Executive Functioning Coach, Gianna Alden to find out if this service would be helpful for your child or adolescent.
You may find that you are already doing many of these things and you and your family are still struggling with stress. Here are six Stress-Busting Strategies from the California Surgeon General’s Playbook: Stress Relief for Caregivers and Kids during COVID-19:
1. Supportive Relationships: Maintain relationships with friends and loved ones.
2. Exercise Daily: Engage in 60 minutes of physical activity a day, all activities count!
3. Healthy Sleep
4. Nutrition: Keep regular mealtimes, eat healthy snacks, and strive for a well-balanced diet.
5. Mental and Behavioral Health Support: Reach out to a mental health provider if you feel you or your child could benefit from talking with a mental health provider via phone or video.
6. Mindfulness, Meditation, Prayer: Practice any of these for 20 minutes a day if possible.
Here are some more helpful links during these uncertain times for parents and children:
Back-to-School Resources for Families and Educators
The Subtle Ways Your Kid Is Trying To Show You Their Coronavirus Anxiety
COVID-19 and Schools: EdWeek Answers Your Questions
California Surgeon General’s Playbook: Stress Relief for Caregivers and Kids during COVID-19
A Mom’s Retreat podcast with Lynn Lyons: Back to School Anxiety: Supporting the Social-Emotional