Experts have said the first step to creating a smooth transition for children to go back to school this year is to plan ahead and make sure you work together as a family.
Many students feel anxious when they return to school in the fall, but with the added concerns about the COVID pandemic, many parents and students could feel more anxious than usual.
“It’s really important as your children go back to school to have a plan. And you do that by talking to the teachers, talking to your children, and figuring out what is best for our family right now and how we proceed along these lines,” Clinical Psychologist Dr. Donna Rockwell said. “Some people want to, you know, make sure their children are there every single day. Others will feel more comfortable in another setup. But we have to be true to ourselves and our family.”
Rockwell said one way to do that is to make sure you have a plan in place and remind yourself to go with the flow with whatever changes come your way. Experts said they’re seeing more stress in children of all ages.
“We’re involved in a global pandemic that isn’t over yet. It’s a very mysterious thing. We don’t understand it. We need to be flexible and adaptable. So we need to say, I need to change. If so, and so happens, I need to understand. If this occurs and not be like we were before, rigid with plans and schedules and having it to stay just that way. That can’t work right now. We’re still in a pandemic.”
Children may experience concerns specifically related to the pandemic. Like concerns about wearing a mask in school all day, or new safety rules to follow. Some of them are nervous about getting sick.
“I think the most important thing is to think about your child’s mental health. So you should have family meetings where you talk about everyone’s feelings and what they’re going through. It’s terrible for children to keep secrets of their fears to themselves because they’re afraid to tell their parents. We need to create an opening for them to tell us how they’re feeling. And to check in on their emotional and mental health constantly,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell said to try to engage the younger children in some of the fun of going back to school. Like picking out new clothes or school supplies, visit the playground, or take a walk by the school. If your child’s bedtime shifted a lot during summer vacation, try to establish some of the pre-pandemic routines you used to have in place.
“As we go back into the school situation, it’s important that we have patience with our children, with ourselves and with the school and not to expect these to change overnight. It took us so long to get here. We need to be patient, calm and compassionate with how we go forward,” Rockwell said.
Parents are feeling anxious too. Rockwell said to use your own healthy coping strategies to deal with your emotions so you can be a calm, steady show of support for your child.
“We need to be kind, compassionate and calm. If we match their nervousness, we’re not helping them. We need to be a grounding force of calmness, tranquility and presence. And then our children can respond accordingly,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell said one of the most important things to remember is that children need consistency and predictability. The best thing you can do is to make sure they have stability during times of change.
Click here to learn more about Dr. Donna Rockwell.