As parents and caregivers prepare for their children to return to the classroom, full-time – many for the first time since the pandemic started – we can expect things to be difficult, at least initially.
How will our children deal with any social or physical limitations? Will the isolation many felt during the pandemic be wiped away or will it carry into the classroom? How will so much time spent trying to learn in front of a computer be helpful or hurtful when they face teachers in person? If anxiety is normal during a typical back-to-school period, then the stress levels will likely be even higher during these extraordinary times. Here are tips to get them ready for the return.
Ready them with routine, practice
While parents can’t answer all the questions that come up, they can help their kids face the new school by giving them a routine. Bedtime, when they wake up in the morning and the breakfast they eat are all part of setting them on their way in the best possible fashion. Don’t wait until the night before school starts to start any new routine, give them at least a couple of weeks of transition, or more. Remember to give younger children a routine at night, not just order them to bed. A bath/shower, brush teeth and hopefully, a bedtime story will help ease any anxiety and get to sleep quicker. Also, use the last couple of weeks before school starts to reinforce all the lessons of good hygiene, social distancing and other habits that have kept them safe during the pandemic.
Dealing with separation anxiety
Much has been said about the feelings of isolation in children during the pandemic, but the flip side is that our children may have become overly attached and dependent on the family unit over these past 18 months. Sending them out in the real world will likely come with its own anxieties and parents should consider prepping them before school starts. Get them used to being away from family for short periods of time, including spending time with close friends. Send them on playdates (see guidelines in Playdate Primer) and help them flex their socialization muscles.
Combat fear with positives
The prospect of going back to school will fill children with questions and uncertainties, so talk to them about it and focus on the positives of in-person schooling when you do. Ask them what they are most looking forward to. Remind them about all the friends they can make or reconnect with, the activities or sports they can participate in, and the field trips or special occasions they will celebrate at school. Let them know it’s okay to be nervous and that chances are that everyone else is feeling just as they do, but that they will all get back into the school groove together.
Be flexible and ready with help
No matter how much we plan and prepare, the return to school will take some getting used to for your children and you. Be ready to be patient. You won’t be able to resolve all their issues and insecurities right off the bat and you can let them know that you don’t expect them to be school-ready on day one either. Set reasonable expectations, but be flexible if they aren’t met. Tell your kids you are there for them every step of the way.
Even if most of us will make the transition back to in-person schooling reasonably well, some of us will struggle. In those cases, don’t hesitate to look for additional help by reaching out to teachers, counselors and administrators. Remember, a partnership between The Children’s Trust, Miami-Dade County Publish Schools and the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade helps fund nursing, social work and mental health services in clinics in about half of all public schools, so take advantage of those services if needed.