Emotionally Preparing Your Children for Back-to-School Season

Between staying at home, online learning and time away from friends, many children will need a little extra support as they head back to school late this fall. 

East Baton Rouge Parish Schools has already announced that they will be offering an all-virtual learning model for all students from August 10 through Labor Day. This unique change adds to the already different school year vibe that children are accustomed to. Not to mention, when students do in fact return to their classrooms, wearing a mask (if they have to) will be something new to get used to, too.

However, it’s important to help your child through all of these changes. It continues to be a challenging time for us all, even for the little ones. Help is here, though, and navigating through these challenging times is possible. Consider these tips from the experts at KinderCare to help you emotionally prepare your children to return to school with confidence, optimism and excitement.

Address Your Feelings (and Theirs)
Children often take cues about how to react to various situations from their parents. Think about what it takes for you to feel calm and prepared (or even excited) for the start of a new school year. That could mean talking with your child’s teacher or school about the safety precautions they’re taking when the schools open so you can feel more at ease, taking a few minutes to establish a morning routine or stepping away from news that makes you anxious. Focus instead on the positive aspects of school, like the opportunity your child will have to learn, make friends, interact with new people and grow into his or her own person.

“Children need a sense of belonging, and school provides an important connection point for them,” says Dr. Elanna Yalow, chief academic officer for KinderCare Learning Centers. “Nothing builds a sense of community like personal contact with friends and teachers. That connection is essential in supporting a child’s growth and development.” 

Set Expectations About What to Expect Before the First Day
Some children may feel ready to go back to school because they are eager to explore new friendships and learn new things, while other children can be more reserved or even fearful of new places, faces and routines due to the pandemic and the changes they have already experienced that made them uncomfortable. When your child knows what to expect, it can go a long way in soothing any worries he or she may have about leaving home and going to school. 

It’s also important to respect your child’s growing independence and empower him or her to help others, especially the students in his or her class. As you explain safety precautions to him or her like covering his or her mouth when sneezing or coughing, or proper hand washing, emphasize how your child’s actions can help to keep his or her family, friends and teachers safe. 

“Children may already be apprehensive about returning to school, let alone trying to cope with new safety practices,” says Dr. Joelle Simpson, a pediatric emergency medicine physician and medical director for emergency preparedness at Children’s National Hospital. “Explaining these precautions ahead of time can help your children see them as part of the school day routine instead of something to fear. For parents, remember that while children can get sick from this virus, it occurs less frequently than in adults and at lower rates than the flu.”

Celebrate the Start of a New School Year Together
Try to plan a special activity or some extra family time the week before school starts and encourage your child to participate in the planning.

“Remember, children didn’t have time for a clean break and celebration at the end of the last school year, and this can help your child mentally adjust to a new routine and schedule,” Dr. Yalow says.

Let your child know how proud you are to see him or her growing up, learning how to be a good friend and exploring and learning about the world. Be sure to talk with your child each school day–what was learned, funny things friends said, the things that seem little but are important to your child.

Many of us won’t know what to expect until we get back into the swing of things. The state of the pandemic is changing daily, more cases are being reported, and wearing masks is something we’re all doing now to help slow the spread. 

The best we can do right now is to be there for our family and friends and help prepare our little ones with the tools they need to protect themselves and their friends, both mentally and physically, while they head back to school, whether they attend virtually or in the classroom. ■

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