The summer has flown by, and it’s time for kids to return to school. Going back to school looks different this year, given the ongoing uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, more than ever, it’s important for parents and kids to communicate openly as they prepare for returning to in-person school.
It’s important to note that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that everyone, including vaccinated people, wear a mask at school. It is also recommended that anyone who can get vaccinated and is 12 years old and older get vaccinated.
As much as this an exciting time, some children will feel anxious about going back to school after a year of at-home learning. The pandemic has taken a toll on kids who have missed out on social interactions, and you might notice they’re not showing the same energy and excitement as in previous school years.
Parents should remember that even kids without social anxiety might feel nervous about going back to school and that’s because they’re out of practice. Think of it like math: If you don’t practice math over the summer, you’ll get rusty. Expect a few bumps in the road and realize it’s normal for everyone.
Here are a few ways to help children through the anxiety of returning to school:
Provide routine and structure. Sources of stability will help kids feel supported during this uncertain time. Make sure your kids have routines—now is a good time to get back to regular bedtimes that might have been more loosely structured over the summer.
Prepare children for change. Along with returning to school comes uncertainty. The school your children are returning to probably won’t look like the one they left. The more information kids have at the appropriate developmental level, the better.
Prepare them for what going back to school will be like. Let them know people will be wearing masks and physical distancing, there might be plexiglass dividers in different locations, and lunch and recess might look different. If you empower your kids with the tools they need to stay safe in school by making sure they know about these changes, when they get to school, they can use those tools to feel safe and comfortable.
Acknowledge worries. It’s important for parents and schools to frame this back-to-school time not as getting back to normal, but as a new opportunity to get out of the house, learn new things, and see their friends in person in a safe way.
Find opportunities to connect and get comfortable as a family to encourage open communication. If sitting down together as a family for regular mealtimes is something that has fallen by the wayside, consider bringing it back. Or try starting a conversation during a routine drive—that’s a time when kids often open up. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of “Did you have a good day?” try questions like “What’s going on today? What happened in school today?” You’ll be opening the door for conversation if your child wants to share. If they’re not ready to share, that’s okay. They know you’re there.