• Dr Laura Hutchison

Back to School During a Pandemic


Transitioning back to school can be challenging any year, but this year kids are returning back to school under unprecedented conditions. They've been out of a "regular" school routine for almost 6 months and have dealt with the loss of connecting with friends and teachers in the ways they were used to. Many families have had to deal with loss of income through layoffs and cutbacks, as well as seeing loved ones and community members battle the virus. And due to keeping safe as possible, parents have been stripped of so many coping strategies we've used in the past - such as babysitters or grandparents for support and date nights or weekends away, summer camps, playdates with friends, etc.


As parents we've been forced to make decisions on what's the best way for our kids to return to school this fall - all while school boards are trying to figure out the same things. We've examined the safety protocols, thought about the social, emotional, and academic impacts on kids, and tried to figure out the logistics of getting our kids transported to/from hybrid in person programs and/or how we can proctor their at-home learning while working ourselves.


Everything is different. We're all under a lot of stress. We've experienced a variety of losses and changes. Our kids have endured their own stressors, and are also absorbing stress from the adults they are surrounded by. We're all trying to do our best and make the best decisions we can for our children and families. And those choices and answers aren't all the same. We need to be compassionate and patient with ourselves, our kids, our families, other families, teachers, school boards, everyone.


Yet, time marches on and kids need to return to school. So, here are some practical tips to help with the transition in hopes we can do it with more compassion for all:


RETURNING VIRTUALLY:

  • Work with your child in preparing their own workspace. Make sure it can be relatively quiet and that they have adequate lighting, a comfortable seat, a wifi and internet connection, access to power outlets, as well as any additional needed school supplies.

  • Help your child become comfortable and familiar with the equipment they will be using. Let them practice on the device and try out headphones to prepare for the first day.

  • Have their virtual schedules handy for them to reference, and keep a copy with you and anyone else helping with their learning. Make sure any needed links are also easily available.

  • Talk about and prepare for tech issues. Discuss what your child should do if they are experience trouble with their devices or connection. Have the school district tech support number on hand.

  • Find time to connect with your kids throughout the day. I think this is especially true for older kids that can be more independent with online school, but still need in person contact with others. These moments could be during a lunch break or little check ins throughout the day to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.


RETURNING IN-PERSON:

  • Help your child increase mask tolerance by allowing them to pick out some new masks they'll enjoy wearing (favorite colors, patterns, animal, character). You can also have them practice wearing a mask for increasingly longer periods of times. Try having them wear a mask during screen time to pair wearing the mask with an enjoyable activity.

  • Visit the school (if possible) to check out any chances and reduce anxiety. This can be especially helpful if this is the first time the child is attending that school.

  • Make sure they have their bag packed (including hand sanitizer) and ready to go the night before. This makes mornings easier. You may also want to lay out clothes the night before too.

  • Establish a plan to keep healthy upon returning home from school - such as washing hands, removing shoes, changing clothes, washing masks. Watch for and report possible COVID symptoms. Talk to your child about social distancing and maintaining their own personal safety bubble regularly.


EVERYONE:

  • If sleep and eating schedules have drifted, work on shifting back to school year schedules . From now until the first day of school, try moving them up 15 to 30 minutes to begin the transition.

  • For younger children starting a visual countdown can be very helpful for them understanding when school will be begin. This can help with incessant questions about when's the first day of school. The countdown could be crossing off days an easily visible family calendar or creative a fun countdown paper or paperclip chain.

  • Especially if this is your child's first year of school you may want to read books about school. Here are some suggestions: http://blog.playdrhutch.com/2012/09/04/back-to-school-books-for-kids/

  • Ask your child how they feel about returning to school and if they have any specific worries. Many times the things parents are concerned about aren't the same as the child's. Don't miss this opportunity to understand your child's perspective and potentially work through issues before they arise.

  • Meet the teacher (in person or virtually) before the first day (if possible). Connecting with the teacher can help ease anxiety for kids and parents alike!

  • Don't be afraid to ask for help! You may need to think outside of the box, but looking for extra help to get the kids to school or manage their school work during the day may be essential for everyone's success. Turning to friends, neighbors, and family member for support could make a big difference. And don't forget to reach out the the child's teacher, support staff, or even contact a mental health professional if you need to.

  • Have a back up plan. In the case of schedule changes, illness, or any unforeseen event have a family member, neighbor, friend or flexible work schedule that will be able to adapt when change is needed.

  • Prep healthy snacks for everyone to grab easily. That way you won't need to stop working to prep things throughout the day.

  • Recognize that we'll all have bad days. Try to take a deep breath and learn from them.

  • Create, or repeat, a family back-to-school ritual, such as special outing or meal. These types of family rituals can serve as a way to connect or mark important moments.

  • When talking about going to school, make sure you focus on the positives. Encouraging children about attending school can have a great impact … and so can dwelling on things that could possibly go wrong. Choose your words wisely; remember children hear and catch onto much more than adults realize a lot of the time.

Good luck everyone! And remember to stay compassionate and be safe!

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