By Cammie Jones
The 2020-21 academic school year topped the charts for the year that was anything but ordinary. Relentless uncertainties and last-minute disruptions to our routines were common occurrences that every parent experienced. With hopes high for a normal academic 2021-22 school year, we are providing some practical reminders of how to ease your child’s anxieties as the school year starts.
Parents set the tone for how the family reacts to life changes. Setting a positive tone, especially as we are easing out of more than a year-long pandemic, is one practical way to help children with the transition.
According to Dr. Lauren Grodin, Dr. Ximena Flanders and Dr. Tina Jules’ article, “5 Ways to Cope with Back to School Anxiety during Covid-19”, it’s important to talk with your children about safety procedures and how to stay safe. Be positive in your approach and “talk to the kids about the ‘social-emotional benefits’ in words they can understand,” says Grodin, Flanders and Jules. Make sure to focus on the fun they will experience with their classmates. With the ease of Covid restrictions in many states, especially Georgia and South Carolina, explain the latest updates and how they may affect your child’s school year. Hopefully, many restrictions will be loosened as we approach the beginning of school and that can only help your children as they prepare mentally for learning.
Be Open and Non-judgmental
It’s important to acknowledge your child’s worries and thoughts about the new school year. Be willing to discuss their concerns and fears while remaining non-judgmental during the conversation. They may be worried about something trivial or insignificant to you, but try not to make them feel silly about any concern. As a parent, you may have questions about your child being behind due to the inconsistencies of school learning last year. You may want to know if your child can handle a regular school day. They, too, might be nervous. The “let’s wait and see” approach helps recognize their concerns and allows them the assurance of understanding that solutions may unfold naturally. It’s okay to have a few unknowns. That is all part of life!
Be Patient and Flexible
Patience and flexibility are great partners as we have learned this past year. This means not only being patient and flexible with your child but also with the school’s administration and teachers. You may not like a decision made by the school/school board, but they are doing the best they can. Reach out to the school’s principal or a local school board member if you are unhappy… only practice the 24-hour rule. Waiting until you cool down will help alleviate any defensive posture due to your tone. Talk to your child’s teachers before or during the beginning of the school year to understand their approach to the curriculum and let them know that you are there to help all parties succeed. Starting with a positive tone is always in the best interest of everyone!
Be on a Routine
Most children have not been on a routine since 2019. A routine may be more difficult to establish this summer due to the long break from it. A few weeks before school starts, return to an earlier bedtime. Begin a more structured wake-up time and meal plan. Summer is a great time to relax restrictions for bedtimes and formal dinners but building a more structured routine early will make the transition a little smoother for you and your children once those school days begin.
Be in the Habit of Laughing
Laughter keeps life in perspective and helps release tension stored up in the body. Keep a sense of humor about things that may pop up as school begins. Spin something that may have upset your child into a light or humorous situation. Don’t sweat the small stuff and recite that same mantra to your children. Here’s to a great 2021-22 school year!
If your child is anxious in general, there are some small ways you can ease feelings when returning to school. Dr. Hayley van Zwanenberg, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Prior Wellbeing Centre Oxford and blog host of “Managing Children’s Fears Around Returning to School after Coronavirus ‘Lockdown,’” shares some advice for parents:
• Drive past the school when you are on essential trips around town
• If within walking distance, make walking past the school a regular route
• Request contact with various teachers via online meetings before school starts
• Ask to bring your child to the school to walk around, pick up a textbook or see a teacher (safely distanced)
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