Now that many children across world have spent the past year adapting to new models of remote education, there may be another period of transition when they return to in-person schools and classes.
When they do return, there are likely to be changes in daily routine and procedure in the school, and some children may feel anxiety about how to readjust to sitting in a classroom and separating from parents for the school day. If you worked with your children and students to adapt to virtual learning over the past year, you can also help them adjust to being physically back in school with similar principles.
Here are 7 things you can do to help make the transition easier:
- Start preparations as early as you can. Don't let the return be a surprise, so keep them informed when you learn of confirmed changes in your school district. Be open and honest with your children, at a level appropriate for their age, about what is known and what is unknown about the return to school.
- Ask them questions and talk through their responses. Instead of asking, “Are you worried to go back to school?” try asking, “What do you think it will be like to return to school full time?” If they express concerns about a specific aspect of the changes, talk through this and don’t discount their worries. Make it clear that you are there to support them and help them through any challenges.
- Discuss likely changes in procedure at school (or confirmed changes) and problem-solve with your kids about how that will affect them and what they can do to make it easier. For younger children, this might be talking through lunchtime routines or bathroom breaks. For older students, this might include how to keep track of books and online assignments to make sure they are prepared for each day.
- Model appropriate coping skills for children. Kids tend to look to trusted adults to know how to react in uncertain situations. If parents show they are not coping well with school changes and a return to in-person learning, children are more likely to be upset. This doesn't mean adults have to be happy about every change that comes along but show them how to manage worries you may have.
- If necessary, practice new procedures at home and get kids comfortable before they return to school in-person. Have them wear masks for short times at home and gradually increase the amount of time they wear them. Talk through different routines in the lunchroom, playground, or bus. You can also invite other children near their age to come practice playing while wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance.
- Get kids on a new routine in the weeks leading up to in-person school that mirrors what you know of their school schedule. Establish consistent sleep and wake times, have structured and unstructured parts of the day, and have them wear masks to do activities at home, such as art projects, reading or during parts of playtime. Normalize the changes for them by reminding them their classmates will be experiencing the same changes.
- If you have specific concerns for your child, reach out to the teacher and front office as the return-to-school approaches and discuss your concerns. Ask about any special resources that might be available to help.
Since most families have been spending more time together due to COVID-19 restrictions, young children may have increased separation anxiety or general stress and concerns about being away from family and being in new environments with new people.
For younger children who have a hard time saying goodbye, consider making a special goodbye part of your routine that you can do together, such as a special handshake or a statement that you and your child can make to one another. Also remind your child when you might see each other again. Some small children also like a transitional object, like a small item that reminds them of a caregiver while they are separated and that they can “keep safe” while apart. Practice short separations at home while a parent goes for a walk or runs errands. If safe to do so, have kids go for a sleepover at a grandparent’s house or spend some time away from home in a comfortable environment.
When to Seek More Help
It is natural for the beginning of the school year or major transitions in school to be stressful for kids of all ages (and parents!). It typically takes a few weeks of adjustment before kids are used to their new routines and schedules. If you notice significant changes in your child’s behavior, such as sleep problems, major appetite changes, behavior or mood changes, or anxiety that makes it difficult for them to function, seek advice from your child’s pediatrician, school counselor or teacher.