Back to school means new teachers, subjects, and classmates, as well as a chance for kids to start fresh after a restful summer off. And while the start of any school year can provoke a level of anxiety for students, the return to in-person learning after over a year of virtual or hybrid schooling models can be nerve-wracking or expose signs of separation anxiety.
During this transition, it’s important to acknowledge your child’s anxieties and set them up for a successful return to the classroom. Here at Atrius Health, we’ve thought of a few ways that parents can help support their kids at the start of the school year.
Often, when children are feeling stressed, they want to feel like their concerns have been heard and acknowledged. If you notice that your child is displaying signs of anxiety about returning to school, talk with them about their fears in a safe, non-judgmental space. Allowing your child to talk through their concerns, instead of keeping them bottled up, will help you learn how to best support your child and bring you closer together.
Another way to make the transition back to school easier for students is to be aware of important dates, events and deadlines before the school year approaches. Take the time to review emails and documents shared by your school district to avoid feeling unprepared or rushed when deadlines arise. This is especially important if your child plays a sport or is interested in joining an extracurricular activity during the school year, because they may require you to submit proof of a yearly physical or require a summer sign-up period. And as we start this school year with rising COVID-19 cases fueled by the Delta variant, you should be on the lookout for emails from the school district communicating new or shifting COVID-19 protocols.
If your child is younger or entering a new school, look out for any potential “open house” events, where families can tour the school, meet their new teachers, and learn more about how things run on a daily basis. Familiarizing your child with their new environment can often ease feelings of stress and demystify this new experience.
While fewer kids have been infected by COVID-19 than adults, children can still catch and spread the virus. The CDC recommends that all children ages 12 and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to protect themselves and others from infection. And while district and state guidance may vary, the CDC recommends that all students wear a mask while in school, regardless of vaccination status.
Be sure to discuss COVID-19 protocols and personal hygiene with your child in a way that is age appropriate and easy to understand. This reduces the potential for confusion and helps your child feel safe entering the new school year. You can also discuss an after-school routine that includes thorough handwashing and sanitizing items like phones, pencil cases and other frequently touched items.
Along with speaking positively about the return to school, involve your child in exciting activities to mark the start of the school year. Shopping for school supplies and clothing are fun – and traditionally normal – things that you can do with your child to instill self-confidence and a feeling of independence.
Establishing and encouraging a routine is also key for ensuring a smooth transition from hybrid or virtual learning to in-person learning, as it allows you to set clear expectations for your child. Many of our lives were disrupted by the pandemic, leading to a change in schedules and habits, which can feel scary and unfamiliar. Creating a routine for your child to follow can help them quickly learn what to expect on a daily basis so they feel more prepared to take on the day.
For younger children, expectations of age-appropriate nighttime chores, consistent bedtimes and other tasks can help your child feel in control of their days. For older children, empower them to make good choices on their own. Sending subtle yet consistent cues can help them feel in control of their own schedule. For example, if “homework time” is after dinner, consider sitting with your child as they complete their schoolwork rather than turning on the TV or hopping on your phone. Not only will this minimize distractions, but it also allows you to be more present in your child’s everyday life.
It is normal for kids to feel some level of jitters or stress as the long-anticipated return to school draws closer. For many kids, these feelings will be temporary, but checking in with your child and their provider opens the conversation to ease back-to-school anxieties.