Some children are lucky enough to have already gone back to in-person school. But, sadly, many have not. Today the internet was alive with stories of more public schools soon being able to go back to in-person education. Hallelujah!
While we would all love our children to run and jump headfirst into school, it may not be so easy for some. For each child and family it will be different. Age is not necessarily the determining factor. The re entry transition has more to do with your child’s temperament, personality, sensitivity and context—that is, what has been each child’s experience while not at school. To top it off, each school will have a different protocol and procedure. Not only do we need to prepare our children to be patient and take it slowly, but we also need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that everything could again in the blink of an eye. Yikes!
Younger children may actually need to go through that initial separation process, the one that happens as the child starts pre-school. And children whose first time at nursery school, kindergarten, or even middle school was virtual, who have never been to the school or met the teacher in person, might have a bumpier road. They, too, will need to take it slowly.
During pandemic home school, children have grown accustomed to Mommy or Daddy or the nanny being right there much of the time. Someone is available to help, to support, to answer questions, to offer sustenance, to explain a challenge, to calm an emotional child, to provide encouragement. Some previously self-reliant and resourceful children have regressed and grown dependent on immediately accessible adult help. School will be a big change from that, indeed. Your kids will need to reinvigorate their school independence.
Already anticipating going back to school, some children have churned up anxiety not previously seen. They are uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. They are worried about who their friends will be. They are afraid that school is not a safe place, that they will contract Covid while there. A nine-year-old boy told his mother that he cannot sleep because he is worried that his mom will die from Covid while he is at school. There is a wide variety of fears, anxieties, worries, concerns that children and parents are experiencing. Maybe we have done too good a job teaching our children to be cautious and mindful, about the dangers of Covid. Have we created a monster?
Not only is it essential to tune into how the change to in-person school will affect our children, but we need also to consider ourselves. For some parents, it will be a tremendous relief. The burden of having to care for children 24/7 (in addition to everything else) will at last be lifted. Others may feel out of sorts and out of control. From being ever-present, they have come to know their children in new ways, seeing behaviors, habits, and styles previously unobserved. Having grown accustomed to being the engine, to being an integral of the child’s school life, it may be unnerving and difficult to let go, giving up control. These parents will have to regain their trust of their child and of the system.
Parents will be full of feelings that can easily leak. Whether great glee or overflowing anxiety, our emotions unchecked ooze out, and our children pick them up. Young children, in particular, look to their parents as mirrors of how they should feel. Anxiety is contagious, and I am sure you don’t want to add to the load your child himself is experiencing.
Just like starting school in the fall warrants consideration and preparation, so does re entering in-person school. This transition could take time. You need to be patient and allow it to evolve. It is not unlike getting into a very cold pool, one toe at a time. Pretty soon, your whole body is in, and off you go.
With the re entry here for some and coming into focus for others, it’s time to think about how we can smooth the transition for our children. Below is a list of transition tips that I hope will be helpful.
Transition tips for school re entry:
- Begin the transition back into school at least a full week before school starts. Remember going to school is not a choice.
- Gradually adjust your child’s bed times and waking times to the times needed for in-person school. This time adjustment itself will take time.
- Rope in your meal times, cutting back on the constant kitchen visits all day long.
- Make sure that your child’s school clothes fit…especially his shoes!
- Have fun getting his backpack ready as if it were September. Perhaps some school supply shopping is in order.
- Have conversations with excitement in your voice about what is happening, but do not discount any worries your child may have. Validate her feelings.
- Share that it his old school might feel different at first, but reassure him that it won’t always feel that way. She will grow more comfortable (like getting into a cold pool)).
- Join your child in making a list of what might be the same and what might be different in her school. Then visit the list after school.
- Make a video of your child expressing his questions out loud. After school play the video and let him answer himself.
- For the child who has not attended school in person, drive by the school a lot!
- If possible, visit the classroom and walk around the site in advance.
- Try to arrange to meet your child’s teacher. Knowing a teacher virtually is different familiarity from being in-person.
- Try to connect with a peer or two who will be in her class. It feels so good to have a friend.
- If your child is returning to in-school after others, connect her with someone who has been there already. Her friend can provide reassurance about what it is like.
When School Resumes
- Remember to put notes in your younger child’s lunch box. (Truth be told, the older ones won’t hate them!)
- Do more listening than talking both before and after your child goes back to school.
- Try not ask too many questions nor interview for pain. The news will dribble out if you give it a chance.
- In the car and especially with your older children, ask, “Do you want to talk or just listen to music?” or maybe just share your own day.
- With your older child be sure to revisit your “house rules” to see if they are still applicable. Adjustments will likely need to be made. (free range screen time?) Go slowly and be reasonable.
Know that the transition and adjustment may take time…or not. It depends upon your child
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