After experiencing an entire year of distance learning, many students will be transitioning their studies to in-person classrooms for the upcoming school year. This is surely an exciting anticipation for many, but others may have mixed feelings.
It is natural for students and their parents to have some trepidation around the upcoming academic year and how children will adjust to yet another set of circumstances. Early morning routines, carpools and drop offs, reconnecting with or making new friends, enduring long hours away from home, adapting to new social norms, and mastering new academic challenges may be just some of the issues families wonder about. Parents are wise to consider how their children will adjust to being on campus. And preparing them to return to school can make all the difference in alleviating any fears they may be encountering.
With support, children and teens are capable of adapting to and managing stress and change. When students sense that their concerns are met with empathy, they become empowered to independently navigate and master life’s challenges. Parents can take a proactive stance by engaging with students before school starts, when there is ample time for families to discuss, reflect, and problem-solve any concerns students may be anticipating. Moms and dads can utilize these tips when preparing students for a safe and fun return to school in the fall:
Staying Calm is Key
Children can sense anxiety or fear in adults. Even if parents do not outwardly verbalize concerns, their non-verbal cues speak volumes to children.
You can fend off gaps in their child’s understanding of what to expect that first day of school by staying informed with up to date material communicated by your school. Administrators are working hard during the summer months to provide the details of what the return to in-person learning will entail and will be prepared to offer support to any student needing extra TLC. Getting answers ahead of time may alleviate anxiety and help set up children for success.
To maintain a safe environment for all stakeholders, many COVID protocols — such as masks — will continue to remain in place. For children, this may feel like interactions with peers are limited or difficult. Remind students not to assume the worst when communication becomes muddled; rather, encourage them to pause and problem-solve by asking for clarification.
Recognize Red Flags
While many students will give parents verbal cues as to the hardiness of the mental and emotional state, others won’t be so direct. Children tend to show signs of distress through changes in their usual behaviors. Increased irritability, sleep disturbances, or social withdrawal could be causes for concern and a sign that a student is struggling with a current or impending stressor. Monitoring your child’s behavior is always a good way to monitor your child’s mental and emotional well being.
Shifting to a new learning environment, schedule, and social interaction can be a lot to process for some students. To help limit increased anxiety, parents should feel comfortable temporarily taking a break from high expectations either academically or otherwise. Prioritizing kindness, understanding, and a sense of calm will help aid in a successful transition to the classroom and, ultimately, a much more successful year of intellectual and developmental growth.
Lastly, remember that you and your child are not in this alone. Your school’s leadership, teachers, and staff are adjusting to these new adaptations as well. By coming together with the common goal of a healthy transition to in-person learning, you can venture into the new school year primed for success and wellness.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jill Thomas is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, who has been dedicated to serving the Fairmont Schools community through mental health and wellness education, and counseling. She is an expert in social and emotional learning, and provides extensive SEL training to Fairmont Schools’ teachers so they can meet the unique needs of each student.
Jill’s experience crosses a variety of psychiatric settings, including hospitals, residential treatment facilities, and private practice. She received her Bachelor’s in Psychology from UC Berkeley and a Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. She makes a purposeful commitment to extinguish the stigma around mental health through education and experiential learning as she supports Fairmont students to live a well-balanced life.
Jill has two daughters, and she has a passion for Angels baseball and thoroughbred horse racing.