It’s been a long time since the majority of kids in America have learned inside the classroom. As they return to school, we’re seeing that many have forgotten what it was like to socialize, interact, and be around other kids. But we can help them through this most unusual of back to school transitions.
What Happened During School Closures
For many kids, distance learning was not an overall positive experience. Yes, kids enjoyed sleeping in a little later, attending school in their pajamas bottoms, and avoiding scary in-person presentations. But these kids likely also experienced isolation, boredom and withdrawal from their peers.
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How to Prepare for the Return to School
Many kids are starting a new level of school this year, having begun elementary, middle school, high school, even college in their homes rather than on campus. Being the new kid on campus can cause a lot of anxiety! These students have to get acquainted with campus life during a pandemic, friends that they have not seen in possibly over a year, and the emotional maturity they need to remember what it is like to socialize with people face-to-face. Or in these times, mask-to-mask.
Take the lead
As parents, it’s our job to set the tone for our children. If you are anxious about your kid’s return to school, you better believe your kids will feel that too. So, take the lead and be as cool as a cucumber. Even if you don’t feel that way inside, fake it! Reassure them that they are safe going back to school and that their teachers are going to make it a smooth transition.
Practice positive thinking
Before the school year begins, talk to your kids about starting back at school. Tell them all of the wonderful things they get to experience again that they have missed out on for the past 18 months. I don’t know about your kids but mine have a memory recall of about 5 minutes, so I make it a point to remind them of all the fun activities they get to partake in that they have probably forgotten about.
Listen and empathize
I think kids, no matter if they are living in the midst of a pandemic or not, need to be heard and more importantly, feel heard. So listen to them. If they are worried or anxious, be a sounding board for them. Don’t try and fix it for them, just listen. And then, empathize. Acknowledge their feelings, do not dismiss them. They are real feelings for them, no matter how silly they seem to us.
Establish a routine
I am a huge advocate of routine and structure because kids thrive with it! Routine makes children feel safe and secure. And in a world that feels anything but safe and secure, parents can provide that in the home before the kids go off to school. Talk to them about the weekly routine: what time their school week bedtime is, what time they need to wake up, when homework should be done. All of these timetables help kids know what’s coming. My kids know what time we “do life” during the school week. They know what time we leave, what needs to be done before we leave, and what is expected. And then once the weekend comes, they know they get a later bedtime, they get to sleep in, and they get to watch morning cartoons. They know that is their unwinding time. With so much uncertainty, make your home life something your children can rely on.
Know the safety protocols
All the new health and safety protocols on campus might cause additional anxiety. You can help by learning what is expected on their school campus and then discussing it with them. Learn about simple things like, are there public drinking fountains or do you need to bring your own water bottle? I recommend bringing your own regardless. What about hand sanitizers? When do they need to wear masks? These are all questions your child may have, and your knowledge of safety protocols will alleviate their worry and concerns.
These are unprecedented times for parents and kids. But the more we lead by a calm example, the better we will equip our children to return to school. These little ones have endured enough over the last year and a half, and going back to school should be a time of excitement, reunions with friends and a little dose of normalcy.
Jaime L. Mathews is the author of Sunroofs and Shoeboxes, a collection of the little nuggets of wisdom she has found in the little things of everyday life. Educated as a journalist and a holistic health educator, Jaime has had an eclectic career path that gave her the tool kit to become a mother. The journey of writing Sunroofs and Shoeboxes prepared Jaime for motherhood and helped her find the little nuggets of happiness when she was in the throes of having twin newborns. Jaime, her husband, and their five children live on a farm in California.