As summer winds down, another unpredictable school year looms ahead. Once again, parents are required to make tough decisions for their children’s educational journeys in the face of a global health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter our life rhythms. This is especially felt by families as they navigate the return to school in novel ways. Their questions speak to the many unknowns and angst regarding their kids’ safety and the school’s preparedness. Questions like: “Should my child return in person?” “Is it mandatory for teachers and students to be vaccinated?”, and “What are the protocols should someone test positive in the classroom?”
Children also have their own thoughts and feelings about returning to school. Some are excited to move beyond ‘Zoom-land’ and connect with their friends on the playground and in the classroom. Others are ambivalent, anxious, or just not ready to return for a host of possible reasons.
As a parent, your role is key in helping your child adjust and transition into the school setting, be that a physical classroom, a virtual one, or your kitchen table. This school year, how can you help your child focus on learning while having some fun and avoiding the pandemic blues? Equipping yourself with the following four tips can help with navigating this new learning journey and help your kids return to school with resiliency:
Educate and familiarize your family with the specific in-person learning protocols in place at your child’s school. This will help you assess your family’s personal readiness to return. It is easy to get caught up in the online chatter of social media and the nightly news. Trying to keep tabs on what everyone else is saying can cause information overload and decision paralysis, making it overwhelming and confusing to know how to move forward. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) is clear that the priority for the 2021 school year is to return back to in-person instruction, outlining their guidelines for schools to return safely.1 Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the CDC’s Strategy for K-12 Schools to help you understand your options and determine the best route for your family’s needs.2
Next, call a meeting with your child(ren) to talk about what returning will look like for them. Based on the information you have learned, talk openly about the best way to return and begin the process of preparing them to take ownership of both the school and house rules. Establish agreements and come up with a family plan about social distancing, vaccinations, mask mandates, and all of the other factors important in fostering a sense of security and preparedness. Should the decision be made to continue distance learning, discuss ways to help your child engage and socialize with their peers, which is a necessity for their ongoing social and emotional development.
It is normal for children to feel frustrated, fearful, anxious, or uncertain about the plans you’ve put in place for the upcoming school year. These feelings may show up before the school begins or come up as they adjust to the altered school environment. Creating a safe space for your child to express their thoughts and emotions will help them process them without feeling bad about the conflicting feelings. By supporting their ability to understand their emotions, name their feelings, and develop healthy coping habits to improve their mood, you can help your child(ren) develop a strong sense of self-esteem and self-worth. (3) Emotional intelligence, especially in the current landscape, is key to their academic achievement and will be invaluable throughout their life.
Creating networks of support is another strong indicator of a child’s future success. Protective communities made up of family, mentors, and peer supports are strongly linked to healthy development and outcomes. (3) Connect with other parents and share information to build community and foster collaboration and trust.
These tips will allow your student to re-enter the school year self-assured and equipped for success!