The coronavirus outbreak has resulted in countless changes for families as they begin school-planning with their children and teens this fall. New school policies are in place, virtual learning components are being created, and there is still a lot of ambiguity around how the school year will look for many. Going back to school this year requires families to work together more than ever before and the main challenge at hand is for children and teens to adjust to their “new normal.” Here are some tips to help your child or teen prepare to return to school this fall during COVID-19.
Talk with your child about how this school year will look differently: Keeping your child in the loop with all of the changes that are occurring is important and provides them with some sense of control in a time where they may feel like they have none. Talking with your child about how school will look different, what they can expect while they are at home learning, and how plans can change very quickly during this time, can protect them from feeling blind-sided or uninformed when changes do inevitably happen. It is also helpful to talk to your child about some of the guidelines their school will be imposing; like handwashing, social distancing, and wearing masks, so they are prepared to comply with any new rules.
If you are staying home with your child: A lot of child and adolescent development is happening at home right now and parents and caregivers have the opportunity to encourage good mental health for their children. Enforcing regular and consistent times for sleeping, eating, and exercising is helpful. Suggesting jumping jacks, a brief yoga sequence, or going on a morning walk with your child before they begin to focus on their schoolwork are all great ideas.
Creating a schedule that is similar to the schedule they would have if they were in school can be helpful but be mindful about the increased amount of screen time and attempt to build in flexibility in your child’s schedule. Every child is unique and it’s important to find out what works best for yours. Try to set some time to observe your child and see what works best for them. Some children are more engaged in the morning and some children may work better if you break down segments of the class to tackle rather than having them finish an entire lesson in one setting. Some other useful tips:
- Reduce distractions
- Provide positive feedback
- Help your kids stay in touch with their friends
- Create an open dialogue and build a relationship with your child’s teacher
Gently check in with your child or teen to see how they are doing: It’s important for children and teens to know they have someone safe to explore their emotions with during this time. Regardless of their age, ask about their feelings first, before imposing yours. Children can pick up on their parent’s emotions so being calm and proactive in your conversations with your child can help them find ways to express any difficult emotions without being influenced by any of the stress or anxiety you may be experiencing. Caregivers can engage their children with creative activities such as playing or drawing. Even carving out some time to give your child space to talk about what is coming up for them when they think about returning to school this year can be extremely helpful. The most important thing you can do for your child is to normalize what they are feeling and to provide them with an empathetic outlet.
Search for the positives: For children and teens feeling anxious about returning to school, it can be helpful to remind them of the positives. Reminding children that they will be able to see their friends and teachers again and have an opportunity to get out of the house can be helpful when your child or teen is busy ruminating on some of the negative aspects of returning to school. Consider plans to support connection between your child and their friends to ensure that they do not become isolated during any long periods of virtual learning at home.
Keep an eye out for symptoms of anxiety and depression from your child or teen: Anticipate behavior changes in your child during this time, but watch for significant changes like excessive crying, irritation, worry, difficulty concentrating, or angry outbursts. These could all be signs that your child is struggling with stress and anxiety. If you are noticing some of these changes in your child or teen, check with their school to see if they have a plan to provide school counseling, other psychological services, or peer support groups to assist you and your child.
Be a role model for your child: Children and teens often learn how to respond and react to difficult circumstances by following their caregiver’s lead. Your child or teen could be looking to you for reassurance so the best thing you can do for them is to be a role model by practicing self-care. This does not mean that you have to seem like you have everything together at all times. That’s just not realistic. But this does mean that you can show your child how to implement self-care and utilize effective coping mechanisms when the going gets tough. Getting plenty of sleep, exercising, eating a balanced diet, and finding ways to stay connected to your community and social support systems can all be useful coping mechanisms for you and your child.
Please reach out if you would like parenting support or help during these challenging times. Kayle Elliott is a UCD intern at Rocky Moutain Counseling Services.