Many parents are heaving sighs of relief that they’ll be able to send their children back to classrooms this fall. However, this relief doesn’t come without its stressors. Having had kids out of the classroom for over a year due to COVID, many parents wonder how their kids are going to fare readjusting to in-person learning. Take the summer to have a lot of conversations with your children. If you prepare children for in-school learning, then the fall should come with relief for everyone.
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Start Talking About School Now, Positively but Honestly
Communication is the best way to prepare children for in-school learning. Open up the conversation in small, casual ways. Discuss going back to school matter-of-factly all throughout the summer. This has many benefits:
- You normalize going back to school. Therefore, children’s fears reduce.
- By speaking about the positives of in-person learning, you help your child get excited about it again.
- Being honest about the concerns helps your kids know that it’s okay that they might be a little worried.
- Emphasizing the positive while making room for the negative allows your kids to feel like they can talk to you.
- By the time the first day of class comes around, you’ll all know what to expect.
Returning to School: Coping with Anxiety
The main issue you’ll face as you prepare children for in-school learning is anxiety. Anxiety is fear and worry about the future. The best antidote: focus on the present moment. Therefore, even though you’ll have lots of discussions about what it’s like to go back to school, make sure that you keep coming back to the present moment. Remember that: in this moment, you are both okay. Moreover, practice skills to help your child stay grounded when they do return to school.
Managing Your Own Anxiety
Children read their parents. If you’re anxious, then how can you prepare children for in-school learning without making them anxious? Obviously, you need to manage your own anxiety. In other words, you need to set an example for your kids. This can take many forms:
- Attend therapy to work through your own anxiety.
- Have conversations with your partner and/or adult friends to address fears and concerns.
- Communicate with the educators at your child’s school. See if they have resources that can help.
- Inform yourself about what to expect. Are your fears valid?
- Reduce your intake of stressful news and media.
- Practice deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and other somatic anxiety reducers.
Teaching Your Child to Manage Anxiety
Modeling a positive, relaxed attitude about the return to school is the best thing that you can do to prepare children for in-school learning. However, you also want to acknowledge and address any fears that your child has. Moreover, you want to work with them so that they can learn to reduce anxiety.
- Ask your child what their thoughts and feelings are about returning to school. Then LISTEN. Don’t make judgments. Don’t try to reassure them immediately. Instead, simply validate their feelings.
- Let your child know that it’s okay to feel anxious. Remind them that everyone is in the same boat, returning to school after a long absence.
- Practice grounding exercises with your child that they can do whenever they feel anxious. Normalize this by doing them together often. These may include breathing exercises, focusing on a comforting picture, feeling their feet on the ground, etc.
- If your child has an inordinate amount of anxiety about returning to school, then you might also consider therapy as an options.
Take a Visit to the School Before It Opens
If possible, take your child to the school before the first day of classes. This allows them to get a feel for what to expect. If a teacher or principal can meet you there, then that’s even better. Encourage your child to ask questions. Also ask questions of your own. Find out in advance what’s different now as everyone returns to school after COVID. Let your child see their classroom. Discuss what recess, lunch, and moving between classes will look like. The more that your child understands what to expect, the easier it will be.
Embrace More Activities This Summer
If your child gets used to socializing in groups again before school starts, then it’ll be easier when classes resume. Therefore, you should sign your child up for classes, day camps, meetups, summer sports, etc. They’ll be less stressed about doing something that they’re really excited about. Doing that will build their self-esteem. In turn, this will make the return to school easier.
Additional Quick Tips for Preparing Kids to Return to School
Here are some additional tips from the National Association of School Psychologists as well as from CNN:
- Help kids focus on ways to help others in school. Volunteering and helping others takes your focus off your own worries.
- Create and maintain a new daily routine. What’s the new routine now that you’re returning to school? Figure it out, right it down, and let your kids know what to expect.
- Keep some of the things that worked for you when you were home during COVID. Nature walks, board games, and spending time petting the dog are all still important. They can be a great way to decompress in the afternoon when school is over.
- Reduce and monitor media. This is good for both of you.
- If you have to take special precautions because of an at-risk family member, make sure that your child understands this. It’s awkward to be one of the few kids wearing a mask. However, if your child understands the reasoning behind this, it will make it easier for them.
- Pack the things that your child might need to feel safer: masks, hand sanitizer, and wipes. Your school might have a suggested list for the start of the year.
- Ask the school for help. Teachers, counselors, and other staff might have great suggestions. They’ll also know about resources if your child struggles returning to school.
Keep Communication Open and Ongoing
We can’t stress this enough. Communication is the key as you prepare children for in-school learning. In the first days and weeks of school, make sure that you have debriefing time with them when they get home. Give them space to talk about the positives and negatives. Let them express their feelings, fears, hopes, and excitements.
If your child has a hard time returning, you don’t immediately have to jump to letting them stay home. Instead, acknowledge that it’s hard going back. Work through the issues together. Come up with solutions as problems arise. Remember that adjusting is going to be tough for everyone. However, it’s also going to get easier and easier. We all learned how to navigate the new school situation during the pandemic. Therefore, we can all learn how to resume our “new normal.”
Make Sure You Have a Plan B
This one is for you, not for your child. However, you might feel better if you have a backup plan. What if your child simply can’t adjust to the return to school? Back-up plans might be moving to a school with smaller classes, working with a therapist, trying a hybrid in-person / online model, etc.
Additionally, consider that we simply don’t know what’s going to happen moving forward. Most likely, we’ll continue with in-person learning. However, with COVID variants, etc., we could see additional changes. We might return home. We might end up in a hybrid model. Alternatively, we might stay in school but have to resume mask-wearing, etc. Consider what your family’s plan will be in case of those events.
You don’t need to share those plans with your child. However, having the plan in mind can help ease your own stresses around returning to school. The better you feel, the better your child will feel about returning to in-person learning.
What have been yours and your children’s biggest concerns as you prepare children for in-school learning? Share in the comments below to help others!
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