Going back to school doesn’t have to be hard
The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, including children
Any change of environment signals a fight or flight response
Watch for physical, mental, and behavioral signs of stress in your child
Bring your child back out into the world
Let them know changes are coming
Give them space
Talk about empathy
Reach out to a professional if necessary
We all want to go back to normal. COVID-19 has had a huge impact on our lives from health, financial, social, and psychological standpoints.
While we all want a return to life before COVID, jumping right back into our old lives might be difficult. For children of all ages, facing this return to normalcy after the last 20 months can be extremely difficult. COVID-19 has impacted children's social-emotional learning in ways we need to deal with moving forward.
This article will give you reasons why your child may not be ready to go back to school. We will outline solid strategies for adjusting to in-person school for you and your child.
Even good change can be stressful
When people think of what causes them stress, they usually think of bad things in life. These things include divorce, losing a job, or a friend getting sick.
Other events, like weddings, graduations, or the birth of a child normally don’t seem stressful to us. Even joyous events, however, can cause us to feel stress.
First, we need to realize that stress is a reaction to any change in our environment. Our bodies developed the stress response to cope with a constantly changing environment.
Where our stress response came from
When our ancestors roamed the Earth before modern technology gave us comforts like refrigeration, public transportation, and shopping on Amazon, humankind constantly had to be on their toes – the world was a dangerous place.
Our stress reaction (quickening of our heart rates, heavier breathing, and so on) was and is a way to get us into “battle-ready mode” in an instant. It’s called the “fight or flight response.” Its job is to keep us safe.
This response doesn’t know the difference between a good change (a wedding) or a bad change (COVID). It only kicks into gear when something in our life changes. This reaction is a form of protection.
How the coming changes may be affecting your child
Humans adapt well. We can get used to whatever life throws at us. It all becomes our new normal fairly quickly. As much as COVID has turned our lives upside down, we’ve gotten used to it. Your child’s daily routines are now their new normal.
When our children go back to school, they won’t be the same people they were 20 months ago. From physically growing to their evolving brains, hormones, and other factors, they have become a different version of themselves.
Look for changes in your child’s behavior
As the date for returning to in-person school comes closer, observe your child. Watch for mental, physical, and behavioral signs of stress. These include:
Physical– May include headaches or stomach aches
Mental – Do they seem more anxious?
Behavioral – Are they more argumentative? Do they refuse to go to school?
What you can do to help your child adjust
Once you feel your child may be having problems, it’s time to take action. Some of these actions are more subtle than others.
Child psychology experts point out that pushing medication right away isn’t the best choice. If your child is worried about school, it may actually be due to a fear of bullying or feeling left out. Medications won’t help in those situations.
Returning to in-person school is going to be a big adjustment for many. Here are six ways you can help your child adjust.
1. Provide stability in your child’s life
Change brings stress, so make your child’s home environment is as stable as possible. This will give him or her a foundation of normalcy. That stability can help your child cope with feelings of chaos at school. When a child’s home life is as stable as a rock, they will feel better knowing their days will begin and end in a familiar, predictable way.
2. Bring your child back into the world
People across the United States have seen their social lives slow to a crawl during the pandemic. Many have increasingly turned to online forums, texting, and social media to feel connected.
While these can be good tools for connection, technology will never be a substitute for live human interaction. As school draws closer, bring your child out in public more safely (with a mask and properly distanced). Have them work on their in-person social skills. Limit their screen time.
3. Let your child know changes are coming
Tell your child that things will be different this school year. They are not going back to pre-COVID routines.
Find out the school’s safety protocol. Explain the rules clearly and carefully to your child. Let them know why these rules are in place. COVID is still a threat, so preparing your child for these changes in school will help them cope better with the stress of change.
4. Give your child space
Children of all ages rebel against their parents. It’s the normal way of life. A child wants to explore the world and test boundaries.
If your child is in middle or high school, they may naturally want to withdraw from you even more. As they get older, they won’t want to show fear or what they feel is a weakness. As a parent, backing off can be difficult.
Let them know you’re there for them. Keeping those doors of communication open is crucial. There will be days you feel like your child will never open up to you again. By gently letting them know you’re there when they need you, you may be surprised when they do come to you for comfort and support.
5. Talk to your child about empathy
We are all tired of COVID. I’m sure we all would like it to go away and never come back. This frustration bubbles up in children, too.
If your child begins to rebel against the continued need for caution and protection, try these simple steps:
Sit down with your child
Ask them to explain empathy to you using their own words
Ask them to tell you why it’s important
Ask them to give you examples of what they can do to show empathy
6. Reach out to a trained professional
Even the best of us encounter situations that we don’t know how to handle. If you are at a loss of what to do, there are child psychologists and counselors you can turn to.
Some children have an easier time opening up to a professional. Since there is no emotional connection to a counselor or psychologist, many people of all ages enjoy speaking to someone they don’t have an intimate relationship with.
Take a deep breath
Moving forward during this unique time will have its challenges. There are many helpful resources to turn to. Your school is also dedicated to helping your child prepare for their future. Becoming active in your child’s education will allow you to connect with other kind, concerned parents.
Remember, you are not alone. Contact us for answers to your questions and for help adjusting to in-person school.