As a community, we are faced with a new challenge: adjusting to the upcoming transition back to the traditional school setting. This can feel both daunting and relieving after engaging in online learning over the past few months. No one knows exactly what this transition will look like in regards to our students’ mental health and adjustment, but there are a few ways in which we can help them feel better prepared:
Developing and maintaining consistent routines at home helps give your children a sense of security and normalcy. Understandably, routines may have looked a bit different in your household during online learning. It can be helpful to reestablish routines before we transition back to the school setting. This may include:
- Bedtime routines – Establishing the same sleep and wake schedule that your child has when school is in session is important. It is suggested that you allow for a time period of one to two weeks when changing a sleep schedule to allow your child’s circadian rhythm to adjust. It is also suggested, by the National Sleep Foundation, that children receive the following amount of sleep per night:
Preschoolers (ages 3-5) need 10-13 hours
School-aged children (ages 6-13) need 9-11 hours
Teens (ages 14-17) need 8-10 hours
Sleep is vital for fighting off infections and strengthening our immune systems as well as improving concentration and our overall health/wellbeing. Please see THIS article for more information on the importance of sleep and tips for creating a healthy sleep routine for your child.
- Morning routines – Mornings tend to be one of the busiest parts of the day for families, consisting of many time-dependent tasks. Your morning routines may have looked different during online learning, without the pressure of gathering items for school and leaving home by a certain time. Reestablishing morning routines and practicing morning activities such as getting dressed, brushing teeth, having breakfast, getting shoes and backpack on before the time that you would need to leave for school will be helpful in supporting your child’s transition back. Waiting for the first day of school to reintroduce wake up times and morning tasks could prove stressful for both you and your child. HERE are some tips for establishing morning routines.
- Lunchtime – Another routine that you can practice at home before returning to school is following our school’s lunch schedule. Your child may have adjusted to eating during different times of the day, this may cause them to feel hungry and subsequently struggle with concentration during class time once we return. It could be helpful to include the same snack and lunchtime that they will experience once we transition back to school. Lunchtime for elementary students on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays is from 12:15-1:15 with lower elementary students eating during the first half and upper during the second half. Lunch/recess time on Wednesdays is from 11:55-12:55 with lower eating during the first half and upper during the second half.
Talk About What To Expect:
Talking with your child about the upcoming transition and their resulting feelings can be helpful for supporting healthy adjustment. These conversations can include the following topics:
- Safety protocols – Our school will be implementing the following safety protocols:
- Temperatures will be checked at the gate – if someone enters campus with a fever, they will be escorted to the health center and possibly isolated in the conference room (adult supervision, desks, and activities provided)
- If someone is feeling sick in class – teachers will call nurse, nurse will investigate symptoms – possibility of being isolated in conference room and parents contacted if necessary
- Masks – everyone is expected to wear masks on campus at all times unless instructed otherwise
Talk to your child about telling you if they are feeling ill before coming to school in the morning and look for updates from the administration regarding our school’s safety protocols (as these are subject to change). It would be helpful for you to prepare your children for these protocols, reiterating that they are in place to keep our community safe.
- It is also important to remind your child that if they or another student gets ill at school, that there are helpers to keep them safe (nursing staff, principles, counselors) and that this does not necessarily mean that they are sick with COVID-19. Please see THIS article that was sent out previously on avoiding stigma. This may be less prevalent, as the virus has affected people from all over the world, but we want to ensure that we are not blaming others for its cause. This also ties into supporting those who are ill as mentioned above and avoiding shaming.
- Lastly, it is important to remind your child that during this time decisions can often change quickly and without much notice. It could be helpful to mention that the plan is to return to school, but that there is a possibility of this changing. During this conversation, processing their feelings related to this and possibly planning a few fun/relaxing activities to do at home together if this happens could be helpful as well as reminding them that online learning would continue in this case.
When discussing these topics, it could also be helpful to focus on what your child can control. An example is identifying the helpers at school (teachers, counselors, principles) who they can talk to if they are feeling worried.
Research shows that there are significant impacts of stress on the developing brain, particularly on the areas involved in emotion regulation and learning. This pandemic has caused worries for our kids related to safety and security. Going back to school will help to create a sense of security during this time, although returning does not mean that the threat or risk has been eliminated completely. Our kids may be left with residual effects from the stress they’ve experienced over the last few months, as well as fear of the future. Here are some ways in which you can support them in coping and learning once we return to school:
- Managing expectations: After returning to school, you might feel a desire to hold your child to the same academic standard that you did before we transitioned to online learning. While it is important that your child is progressing academically, it is also important to consider that their learning might look a bit different during this transition period. They will be faced with adjusting to learning in a classroom setting with different distractions than the home learning environment; managing their own feelings/worries; longer periods of learning; navigating social situations; and more, all while managing any stress/worries related to the pandemic. It could be helpful to:
- Reduce the number of scheduled academic activities and ensure that stress-reducing activities and rest time are part of their after school schedule.
- Process their day/feelings with them when they return home
- Help your child with organizational skills – helping them to create and maintain a planner with homework, monitoring their completion of homework and maintaining communication with their teacher
- Overall, remaining sensitive to the fact that this is a tremendous adjustment for our students
See THIS article for more information on the biology of stress and the developing brain.
- Managing emotions: As stated earlier, stress has an impact on the areas of the brain responsible for emotion regulation. It can prove helpful to have discussions with your child about how they are feeling and options for coping. To see coping skills that your children have learned in school, please visit our website HERE and scroll to September 2019. Also, see the section “coping and calming techniques (children)” HERE on our resource page. You can remind your child of what to do if they are feeling worried or upset during class – utilizing coping skills, instructing them to talk to their teacher or ask to see their counselor (Ms. Catherine). Remind them that they are in control even when they feel out of control and that there are adults who can help them at school.
This will be an adjustment period for us all – parents, students, teachers, and staff. If you have additional questions related to supporting your child’s adjustment back to the school setting please reach out to your school counselor, an administrator, and/or your child’s teacher.
Catherine Di Leo, LCSW
Elementary School Counselor