Tips to Calm Your Child’s Worries About Returning to School

A dad helps his daughter get ready to go back to school.
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This year, returning to school may look and feel a lot different. And while we may not know exactly how different school will be for kids and families, the usual mixed emotions about returning to school will undoubtedly be met with heightened concerns regarding protecting your family from COVID-19.

To ease your minds, we’re here to support you with some general tips on preparing to return to school feeling more empowered as a family.

Get Familiar Before School Starts

An introduction to their new environment, safety protocols and schedule can go a long way towards making kids comfortable when school starts. Here are a few to incorporate in your plans.

Participate in Safe Back-to-School Activities

Look into whether your child’s school organizes virtual get-togethers, such as a back-to-school night, prior to the start of the new school year. Meeting their new teacher(s), seeing their classroom and getting to know some of the other kids can go a long way to increase kids’ comfort level at school.

If your district doesn’t offer these events, connect with the school to get your questions answered, or help your child review their school’s website for information and pictures.

Establish New Routines

Setting and maintaining routine is important to kids. The structure of routine makes kids feel more comfortable and know what they should expect on a daily basis. You should make sure your child knows and understands your new expectations with the upcoming school schedule, including chores, homework, mask wearing, hand hygiene, wake-up and bedtimes and mealtimes. This structure will carry over into the school day and can help your child acclimate to the new routines.

Share Your Excitement

You can also “talk up” the benefits of your child’s school. This may mean focusing on how they can see classmates once again, play with others for recess, ride the bus to school like a “big kid” or how they can attend art or music class every week.

Acknowledge and Validate Their Emotions

It’s important to acknowledge everything your child is feeling, especially at the start of the school year since it tends to cause so much anxiety — but this same level of emotional support should last the whole year through.

Staying in close communication with your child from beginning to end of the school year can help you head off many emerging issues. Make conversation about your child’s school day an expected part of your family routine. Dinnertime is a great opportunity to ask your child about the best part of his or her day, along with the most challenging aspects. Finding out sooner rather than later that your child is experiencing challenges increases the chances you can help him or her resolve them.

Allow your child to safely experience the range of emotions that come with a new school year, new safety rules or with being the “new kid.” Allow them to talk openly and don’t dismiss any feelings, even when they may seem dramatic to you. If a child feels their feelings aren’t being respected, they may be less likely to share them with you in the future.

Help Them Face Challenges with Schoolwork

Starting back to school means moving up to the next grade level and, with that, comes a step up in the difficulty and complexity of school assignments and homework. If your child will be taking virtual courses, that may bring additional learning curves and challenges without in-person peer-to-peer and child-to-teacher support.

Some kids welcome the new challenge, while others take a little more time to adjust. You can help set them up for success by:

Organizing the Night Before

Shop with your child for school supplies online this year, and help your child to organize his or her school essentials before school starts, which includes their backpack, homework, mask (if required), packed lunch or lunch money, jacket and shoes. Having these items ready to go by the door gives you and your child less things to stress about leading up to the start of school and during the weekday morning rush.

Stay Rested and Healthy

Taking simple steps such as making sure your kids get plenty of sleep on school nights or start their day with a nutritious breakfast go a long way in fueling their bodies (and brains) for the day’s challenges.

Encourage Your Child to Get Involved

Seek out safe opportunities for your child to get involved with activities he or she enjoys. Organized or virtual activities such as sports, music groups and chess club help your child associate positive memories with school while meeting new friends with the same interests.

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