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August 20th, 2020

Return to School during COVID-19

Child Therapy

How to ease heightened tensions for this upcoming school year.

By Shannon Burton, MSW RSW, Registered Paediatric Social Worker

When considering the Pandemic outbreak in early 2020, school may not be the same for awhile. Parents and educators are wrestling with enormous questions regarding the 2020-2021 school year. What will it look like when children return to school during COVID-19? How will kids be with the new school rules? What will it mean for family time? What would a hybrid model look like? School is still a few weeks away, but it is never too early to begin to think about what the Fall will look like.

Despite these looming questions, there’s a lot we can do to boost our children’s feelings of confidence and security as they head into a year of uncertainty. When we take time to talk about and practice the “little things”. Such as routines and skills that support emotional, physical, social and academic growth. If we focus on these “little things” now, it will make a big difference in our child’s life, regardless of what school looks like for your family. 

Many parents and kids look forward to back-to-school. There definitely is some excitement in the air. For others, it’s a time of dread. But whether or not back-to-school time is a time of positive or negative feelings, it’s always at least a bit stressful. The stress and anxiety of starting a new school year can be overwhelming for many children and teens.  For most kids the new-school-year worries will fade and the anxious behaviors will be transient. Parents, too, can feel conflicted about the start of a new school year, especially during these uncertain times. The goal for parents is to be supportive without exacerbating your child’s worries.

Tips for helping nervous kids have a successful transition back to school.

Preparation is important, but so is remembering that things will go wrong (or at least not the way we want them to go). The best defence is often flexibility and acceptance.

  • 1. Talk to your child
    Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
  • 2. Empathize with your children
    Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling into the trap of encouraging avoidance.
  • 3. Practice the first day of school routine
    Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aid in easing the shock of waking up early. One to two weeks before commence organizing things at home. Having their backpack, binder, lunchbox, and putting out clothes the night before – will help make the first morning go smoothly. Also, visualizing walking through the building and visiting their locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown. 
  • 4. Connect with kids and families
    Familiar peers during school transitions have been proven to be helpful with academic and emotional adjustment in children. Try and set up a playdate, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.
  • 5. Get involved and ask for help
    Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school will foster support for both you and your child. If you feel the stress of the school year is too much for you and your child to handle on your own, seeking expert advice from a mental health professional, such as a registered social worker, will help you better manage and cope.

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