Over the past year and a half, we all had something in common: our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us were affected in some way, shape, or form: the loss of loved ones, job layoffs, business closures, and more. Even our kids flip-flopped their lives, forced to accept a new way of being educated. While our educators, parents, and administrators stepped up to teach, how are we all coping with the impending normalcy of going back to school?
Typically in July, child care centers and educational institutions everywhere are preparing for the annual back-to-school warm welcome. With mass vaccinations underway, things seem to be shaping up for an average school year. However, while we continue to take COVID-19 safety precautions and enjoy the remaining weeks of summer, life feels anything but average. What challenges can families and their children anticipate for the 2021-2022 school year?
Don’t wait until the last minute! With this major transition back to in-classroom learning, prepare your little ones with all the tools they’ll need to succeed. If you’re aware of your school’s safety precautions, go over them with your children to avoid any first-day surprises. To learn more about the current Pennsylvania state COVID-19 guidelines for Pre-K through 12 schools, click here. Prepare your kids for slip-ups! Pack extra masks, emphasize the importance of handwashing, and work together through possible mishaps.
Big transitions like these are why it’s important for families to have a dedicated space for communication. Are your kids looking forward to the school year? Is there anything they’re not looking forward to? What concerns do they have? What are they the most excited about? Instead of putting off the conversation, developing a safe space to talk can help kids get their thoughts out in the open. This communication may also help you as a parent differentiate between your child’s fears and your own.
Speaking of fears…let’s talk about anxiety. Not everyone is an extrovert, and the sudden onslaught of new faces and lack of personal space can be anxiety-inducing and even traumatic to some kids. Let’s be real – even extroverts can struggle with this sudden social shift. The more likely cause of anxiety is the worry of getting sick; that’s what we’ve all been avoiding for the last 18 months, isn’t it? As a child, it could add even more pressure to their education and socialization.
How can you help? As in all walks of life, practicing reframing negative thoughts into positive ones is an effective method of alleviating depression and anxiety. Practicing this therapy tactic with your children can help them stop their anxiety before it begins. If your child has concerns about getting themselves or others sick, remind them that while these concerns are valid, they are doing what they need to keep themselves healthy. If your child feels oncoming anxiety, deep-breathing techniques are helpful in calming their brain, lowering stress, and resting their heart rate.
Don’t Scrimp on Mental Health Awareness
Simply put, the COVID-19 pandemic was a trauma. Historically, months filled with isolation, worry, and what-ifs can produce lasting negative effects in terms of our mental health. Rates of depression and anxiety in kids and teens continue to soar as their routines are interrupted, coping mechanisms altered, and, in some cases, basic needs like food security ripped out from under them. It hasn’t been easy but doesn’t have to stay difficult. Parents should proactively check in on their child’s mental health, looking for signs and symptoms of unusual behavior, like irritability, lack of motivation, difficulty sleeping, and more.
When in doubt, ask your child’s pediatrician. While certain behaviors can indicate a bigger problem, many can also indicate a normal reaction to a stressful situation. Don’t panic, but proceed with caution; use “kid gloves” and keep a lighter touch.
Modulate Your Expectations
Kids are resilient, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. If your child isn’t immediately acclimating to their previous environment, don’t worry. Give them time to adjust! The dive back into normalcy is a big transition for all of us. Not to mention, suddenly shifting from one routine to another can be a shock to the system. The best thing you can do as a family is to prepare for the inevitable strain on yourself and your children and set realistic expectations.
While many kids are excited to return to their normal school routine, others may require extra attention. It’s important as an adult to be present for your child’s needs, remaining consistent in your support and providing flexibility for ever-changing safety protocols. This year won’t be easy, but we can get through it if we all work together and continue to support our children.
—Madeline Kelly, Digital Communications Coordinator