With COVID-19 restrictions lifting, children are starting to resume some in-person learning at school. Many schools have individualized plans when it comes to hybrid learning, but whether your child is returning for just a few hours per week or is returning to full-time in person learning, it’s likely that many kiddos will experience some level of stress and anxiety.
It’s normal for young children to feel anxious during the first couple weeks of school as they adjust to being away from their parents—this is going to be especially true during a pandemic year. Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to help reduce your child’s concerns about returning to in-person school.
It has been a strange year for children—and parents. Many children haven’t been with their friends in person in almost a year, met their teacher face-to-face, or stepped foot in their school. On top of that, students are returning to school in masks with physical distancing protocols in place. Needless to say, this is new territory for everyone.
One of the best tools you have is to talk with your kids ahead of time. This may start with a simple conversation:
- “Your teachers think it’s safe for students to return to school. You will get to see your classroom, meet your classmates, and say hello to your teacher in-person! How do you feel about that?” Then validate their feelings.
If they express fears or worries, don’t discount them or tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. Express empathy, validate feelings, and tell them you understand and you can continue to check in and talk about it through this change: “Sounds like you are a little nervous about this and that is normal. Let’s talk about it some more.”
- “Let’s put a star on the calendar to show us when your first day back to school is. We can start a countdown until we get to March 30. Your teachers are so excited to read books with you and paint pictures. You will make new friends and have lots of fun!” ”
- List some of the fun things they can expect to do at school: See friends in person, learn new things, play on the playground.
Once you’ve talked about the basics of returning to school, you can go into some age-appropriate specifics and tactics for managing anxieties around returning to in-person school.
New routines are hard at first, and your child may be more tired out after school than you expect. The additional stimulation of interacting with others can feel overwhelming to some kids. Make sure your child gets plenty of rest. Offering a healthy breakfast is important as well, especially if your child is used to snacking through the day during their time learning at home.
- Talk about safety expectations, such as wearing a mask at school, keeping physical distance between friends and teachers, washing hands frequently, etc.
- Older children might also benefit from a conversation about the safety protocols their school has in place for reducing the spread of illnesses, such as deep cleaning of workspaces, utilizing outdoor classrooms as much as possible, etc. Knowing this information might help reduce fears around getting sick.
Preschool and Kindergarten:
- Let your child know that they will need to wear their mask—let them pick out a new face mask for school—in the classroom. If needed, have them practice wearing it at home for an extended period of time.
- Read books about starting school. For some early learners, this may be their first time attending school and being away from home. Scholastic.com, as well as the Eugene Public Library and Springfield Public Library, offer a great list of books about getting ready for the first day of school.
- Create a social story. Young children like to know what’s coming next. Creating a daily schedule chart or social story that shows what your child will do at school. Many preschool teachers use a visual schedule at school, which you could ask to replicate. Here is a sample social story.
Once school officially resumes, consider:
- Keeping a family photo in your child’s backpack.
- Leaving love notes, paper hearts, or stickers in their lunch box.
- Create a goodbye ritual like a special handshake or “hug, hug, kiss, kiss, high five, goodbye.”
These small gestures can have a big impact on how your child manages their anxiety at school.
It’s going to take time for your child to get used to the new routine and school schedule. Stick with your routine and stay informed of your school’s safety procedures and protocols. Parents and children alike are working through this together.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com).