For many of us, back to school season starts with the office supply commercial playing the song, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” and shows a father eagerly filling a shopping cart with school supplies as his children sulk and pout. The commercial is a humorous portrayal of a parent’s excitement to get their kids out of the house and back into the classroom for that much needed structure. However due to Covid-19, the 2020-2021 back to school season is already looking and feeling different. In retrospect, the mixed emotions that parents and school aged children experienced in those previous back to school seasons seemed to be more manageable and had a structured set of guidelines and supports to assist those who were struggling. Today, as we move closer to the end of the summer season and are now facing the reality of the start of the 2020-2021 school year, it is more than just the back to school jitters that many are experiencing. This back to school season, in this unprecedented time, will instill a new set of emotions not only for children but for society as a whole and many are unsure as to how to navigate through this.
While preparing for this unprecedented back to school season can seem daunting, it’s important to remember that as schools quickly transitioned to an online format back in March, children, parents, teachers, and school administrators all scrambled to make the adjustments without established guidelines. For many of us, this transition was riddled with challenges, but we somehow made it through to the end of the school year. While it may not be easy, there are interventions we can implement to help reduce some of our anxiety, fear, and discomfort as we prepare for the upcoming school year.
Once you learn of your school district’s plan for reopening, it’s important to process your own feelings. Not every family will be able to make the necessary adjustments as easily as others. It is okay to reach out to others for guidance and support. Reach out to your school district’s administration and ask questions or let them know of your concerns; they may be able to provide you with additional information to help you plan and prepare better.
Once you understand what your school district plans entail and have been able to process through those feelings, talk to your children and help them understand what to expect. Outline what their daily routine could look like so they may gain a better sense of control and alleviate some of those fears. Explain the safety precautions they will need to take which may include routine handwashing, social distancing, and wearing a face mask.
Next, listen to your child’s concerns and acknowledge those concerns. It may be more helpful to ask the open-ended questions to gain a clear understanding of their specific worries. While they may not express their concerns right away, check in with them periodically to ensure they are not struggling in silence. Depending on their age, some children may not be able to verbally articulate their concerns. Instead, watch and observe their behavior. Look for differences in how they behave, watch for changes in how they play, and monitor their eating and sleeping habits. When children do express their worries, validate their feelings. Let them know it is okay to feel the range of emotions they are experiencing and reassure them they are not alone in their struggle. Talking to your child and helping them identify the people they feel connected to and can go to for support and reassurance may help them feel less isolated as well.
If any of the above interventions do not alleviate the fears and concerns your child is experiencing or you notice a decline in their overall mood and well-being, reaching out to a Mental Health provider that specializes in counseling children may be needed. Additionally, contacting your child’s School Counselor can also help ease your child’s transition back to school and they can provide you with resources to utilize.