The last few months have been unprecedented. All over the world, the emergence of Covid-19 has brought about changes that we never could have anticipated, leaving everyone reeling in ways we couldn’t have imagined.  One of these changes was the shutting down of schools worldwide. Suddenly, the routine of millions of children was disrupted overnight, with parents scrambling to understand it themselves, let alone help their little ones make sense of it all!

And now, months later, we’re embarking on a new change: returning to school amidst Covid. The start of a new school year comes with many emotions, even when we’re NOT in the middle of a global pandemic! Many children will be excited about the return to school—whether it be in person, or through e-learning. However, with that excitement can come feelings of apprehension, anxiety, or even fear. And all of these feelings can be interchangeable, and vary from day to day. 

So, what can we do—as parents—to help support the many and often complicated emotions that will arise in our children as they navigate this new chapter of their lives? Here are a few tips that can help you prepare them while also nurturing their emotional needs.

EXPLAIN & REASSURE: Give them the time and space to ask questions. Reassurance is key, and with that may come the need to answer the same questions, over and over. Having open and honest conversation about what they can expect, as well as what is expected of them, can help ease the anxiety of the unknown. Stay as positive as possible, but also be truthful. Talk about the things that will be different, and place emphasis on the fun and exciting things that can come out of the changes. 

PLAN & PREPARE: Prepare them for the inevitable back and forth change that comes with going back to school. The school year will very likely be a mix of in school learning and at home learning, and it can change at a moment’s notice. Remind them what it was like last spring when schools shut down, and talk to them about how it made them feel then. Whether you are planning to return to in person classes or to do fully online, prep them for them for flexibility.  Ask them what might have made that experience better for them, and talk as a family about what you can do to prepare for schools to shut down again once they reopen. Have a plan for what will happen if kids aren’t able to return to school in person, and let your child be a part of the planning. Emphasize that, while the change is difficult, it is to keep us safe. 

KEEP THEM CONNECTED: Decide which online tools and social media platforms your child will be permitted to use during the school year. Set clear rules and boundaries about what will be allowed, and be sure to offer multiple ways they can stay in touch with friends. Combatting isolation is key to good mental health, and this is even more the case with children. Let them know that you know that you recognize how important staying connected to friends is to them, and show them that you’re making it a priority. If your child is particularly anxious about Covid-19, look for online therapy groups where they can connect with other kids their age who are also struggling with similar fears.

SET UP BOUNDARIES: Additionally, if you plan on allowing them to see friends in person, talk about what the rules and boundaries for that will be. So much of maintaining good emotional health is having realistic expectations about our reality. If social distancing playdate, sporting events, or outings will be occurring, be sure to lay out what that will look like, and remain consistent. If you’re continuing to quarantine away from people outside of your home, be sure to include plenty of physical activity in your daily routines to combat depression and keep yourselves healthy. Set physical goals as a family, whether it be steps walked together, a living room dance party, or a timed backyard obstacle course. With so much unknown right now, consistency in things like this will go a long way toward helping your child feel safe and less anxious.

CHECK INS: Check in with your child regularly. It’s important for them to know that you’re available for them, no matter what. You may be the only constant in their lives right now, and it’s important for them to know that you’re willing to listen. Even if they don’t open up every time, it can be reassuring for them just to know that you’re going to continue to ask them how they’re feeling. See if they can gauge their emotions on a scale of 1-10, and record what they say daily or every other day to see how their emotions fluctuate from day to day. Then, talk about the things that may have contributed to those emotions, good or bad. This will help them start to recognize the circumstances that may trigger them, as well as learn what activities have a positive influence on their emotions. 

Finally, be sure to take care of yourself! It’s easy to forget to maintain a balance between being the caregiver, and allowing yourself the time and resources to maintain your own positive mental health. If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed, anxious, or frustrated with the changes that come with a new school year, reach out to a therapist to help you manage those emotions. We’re here to help!

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