The last few years have been challenging as we have had to navigate a world impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of us have endured obstacles such as social isolation, job losses in the family, choosing whether to get vaccinated, supply and demand issues, record-high inflation, and mental health struggles, to name a few. It’s safe to say that humanity has never before in modern-day history had to process so many challenges, all within a few years. The most impacted group by the Covid-19 pandemic, many experts argue, is our children. Now, like many parents, you may wonder how to help your child transition back to school and regain a sense of normalcy.
Growing up at a time that feels so bleak has taken a toll on many of our young people. UNICEF, an organization that works to protect the rights and well-being of children, reported that “the disruption to routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry, and concerned for their future”. Children will return to school after summer vacation in just a few weeks. Some will return for the first time since the pandemic, and some younger children will attend school for the first time. Now more than ever, our children need our support as they transition back to school this fall. This article shares ten tips for preparing your child for the school year.
Ten Tips to Use to Prepare Your Child for the School Year Ahead
- Pay attention to how they’re acting. If you know your child gets headaches or stomach aches when feeling nervous or anxious, practice being extra observant in the first few weeks of school. If you notice them having one of these symptoms, check-in and see if everything is okay.
- Use the “raindrop theory.” Psychologist Vanessa Jensen advises dropping little hints (raindrops) to your child, letting them know you’re always there if they need you. Teenagers can get easily annoyed at parents if they’re constantly checking in. Dr. Jensen says being more nonchalant by asking questions like: “Have you talked to your friends about school?” or statements like “You seem a little stressed. You know I’m around” can be an excellent way to let your child know you’re there without bombarding them with your worry.
- Remind them of their support system. Since some teens will never choose to talk to their parents about their problems, it can be beneficial to remind your child of other adults they can talk to. You can say something like: “Just so you know, Aunt Becky is a great person to talk with when you’re having a hard time.” It may not feel like they’re listening, but you’re letting them know they have options in their support system other than you.
- Remind your child about staying safe. It’s common for teens and tweens to challenge things, especially if their friends don’t abide by the same rules. Before school starts, sit down with your child, and go over the protocol your family has decided to follow regarding Covid. Remind them that you’ve chosen the protocol to keep everyone in your family safe, not just them. It’s bigger than any one person. Since each school and family has its rules around staying safe, ensure you’re clear on your expectations and why you have them.
- Teach your child coping strategies. Many child clinicians encourage parents to teach their children to “name it to tame it.” One coping strategy for anxiety and worry is naming the emotion so it doesn’t control you. For younger children, that can look like saying, “the worry monster is here.” For older children, it looks more like identifying the emotion as anxiety, for example. Bringing awareness to what a child is experiencing and labeling it is a simple but powerful tool. Then teach your child deep breathing exercises to help them sit with and release the intensity of their emotion. You can also introduce them to a tool called shaking, where they shake their body to move through a hard emotion and calm the nervous system.
- Teach your kids how to focus on what they can control. It’s pretty common for many of us to fixate on things out of our control. Teach your kids to notice if their fear or concern is in or out of their control. Then help them problem solve for things in their power and practice letting go of things that are not in their control. It’s also helpful to encourage your child to imagine things going well for them and focus on something they’re looking forward to about the school year.
- Listen, validate, and help problem-solve. If your child expresses that they are struggling, practice listening carefully. Put away your cell phone, so they know you’re present, and then validate how they feel. For example, “I can understand why you’re afraid of getting Covid at school.” Then help them devise ways to protect themselves or make them feel safe. Role-playing can be extremely helpful for younger children when learning how to confront a friend about an issue.
- Build a predictable routine. This routine can be simple, like having consistent time for meals, waking up, and going to bed. When a child feels like they can depend on a routine, it helps create a sense of calm and certainty which can help them feel at peace in a chaotic and often unpredictable world.
- Model calm behavior. Transitioning back to school can be stressful for parents, too. But modeling calm behavior to your children is paramount for them learning it. Research shows that children notice how their parents feel and respond to situations by picking up on cues such as facial expressions and even tone of voice. Practice taking care of your well-being so you can teach your kids to do the same. Perhaps you and your child can learn calming breathing techniques together to help regulate the nervous system and prepare you both for a smooth transition into another school year.
- Be gentle with yourself and your child. Listen, none of this is easy. Being a parent in a Covid world certainly didn’t come with a guidebook, so above all, be gentle with yourself and your child. You’re doing the best you can, as are they. Remind them that you, too, are learning how to navigate things. There is power in learning it all together. Teach them that there is no failure, only feedback. You’re both learning together; every new day is another day to try again.
Contact Us Today
It takes a village, as they say. At Advanced Behavioral Health, we are honored to be a part of that village. If you or your child need to talk to a professional for help with the transition back to school, reach out to one of our experts by calling 301-345-1022 or by sending us a message here. We offer various therapy services, including youth mentoring, clinic-based services, and off-site counseling. Our therapists treat mental health issues like ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, conduct disorder, grief and loss, OCD, stress and anxiety, and many more.