March 20: Back to School
The beautiful, cold, sunny spring weather is presenting a stark contrast to the incredibly upsetting news of increased xenophobia and racial violence in our country. If you are seeking resources for how to talk with your children about these topics, I highly recommend the website EmbraceRace.org which offers articles, webinars, and resources for parents.
Over the next few weeks, many children will be transitioning back to a more typical school schedule. While we know that attending school every day provides a myriad of benefits for students, many of the children I have spoken with are both excited and apprehensive, and some parents are also feeling uneasy about the upcoming transition. How can we best support children through the transition back to a regular school schedule?
As always, I recommend that you begin by assessing your own feelings about the upcoming changes to your child’s schedule. You might be excited for the return to a more predictable routine and worried about your child’s safety at school, or you might feel eager for your child to spend less time on screens andconcerned about how your child will manage social relationships after so much time away from friends. All of these reactions are understandable. Identify a supportive family member or friend with whom you can process your feelings about the return to school. If you have opted to have your child continue to be fully remote, it is equally important to find a supportive adult with whom you can talk about this decision, your feelings about it, and your child’s reaction.
Next, talk with your children about their feelings regarding the transition. Preview upcoming changes and ask your child what they are excited about and what feels stressful or worrisome.
Similar to adults, children are likely to experience a range of feelings about returning to school full-time. This actually provides a great opportunity to talk with your children about what it means to have mixed feelings.
“Sounds like you are excited to be at school every day and also annoyed about eating lunch at your desk instead of in the lunchroom with your friends. That’s called having mixed feelings. Let’s talk about it.”
“You have been missing school so much and now you’re feeling like you’re really going to miss sleeping later on remote days. Both those things can be true.”
“Isn’t it peculiar how you used to hate the week on-week off schedule and now you’re kind of used to it? Seems like part of you is so excited to go back and part of you is really uncertain.”
Acknowledge that transitions an uncertainty are hard, and remind them (and yourself) that they are capable of doing hard things. Messages that promote resilience during this time of transition:
“I know this feels hard, and in our family we can do hard things.”
“This is a big change. Change can be tough and we can get through tough times. Our family is in this together.”
The week before the schedule changes, consider implementing some structure at home that will mirror your new schedule. For example, if your child has been going to school in person 2 days a week and has been sleeping later on the mornings they attend school virtually, consider if it would be helpful to have everyone wake up at the in-person school wake-up time the week before the schedule change: have children get dressed, eat breakfast, pack backpacks, and follow any other key parts of your morning routine so that you all have practice following the new daily schedule. This plan will work well for some families, but if it feels too structured for you, just give some thought to a transition plan that will work well with your family’s dynamic.
For the first few weeks back to full time in person school, you might want to plan an especially delicious breakfast on Monday mornings. Similarly, I’d recommend scheduling something to look forward to on Fridays after school: perhaps a picnic dinner or family movie night with popcorn.
Keep in mind that many children, even those who are outwardly excited about returning to school full-time, will find the experience at least somewhat physically and emotionally exhausting. If possible, plan for plenty of exercise and outside time after school and be sure to support healthy sleep habits during this time of transition.