Five Tips to Help Students Return to School on Campus

Posted by on Apr 13, 2021 in News | 1 comment

Hathaway-Sycamores’ Ben Cone shares tips to help students return to campus.

Hathaway-Sycamores Ben ConeFor many students it has been over a year since they were at school in-person. During this time, we have faced an enormous dilemma – our immediate need for safety from the virus, versus the developmental needs of our children to learn in the presence of other children and their teachers. We also witnessed the surfacing of profound structural inequities in accessing both quality medical and educational resources. For all families, but particularly for families of color, the risk of exposure to COVID overlapped with both the risk of learning loss, and the loss of the social support that schools provide our children. As the rates of infection decline and access to vaccines increases, many parents are eager to send their children back to school; hopeful their family lives can regain healthy routines and parents can return to work. Parents are optimistic that their children can experience new opportunities to learn and develop socially even as we remain worried about the unknowns.

Here are some key points to help support your child make a successful transition from virtual learning back to the classroom:

1. Provide a space for children to express their worries. Our children have overheard our conversations about the pandemic and the many losses that have occurred as a result. Consequently, children may feel afraid to leave home, spend time apart from caregivers, and be around unfamiliar faces. Children may also observe and respond to the fears of adults around them. They will observe the body language of their parents, teachers, and other adults. It is helpful to name these fears, provide accurate information, and help our children to understand that it will take everyone time to feel comfortable with change. Remind your children of other successful experiences they have had overcoming their fears. These experiences could be their first day of kindergarten or first soccer game. Discuss courage and how we can learn together how to balance our needs for safety and exploration.

2. Practice safety behaviors. Learn what the safety protocols will be at your child’s school. Talk about what to expect and try to practice with your child the new routines like health screenings, mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing.  Practice will improve their skills and reduce the risks of infection. Practice will also help your child know what to expect and feel confident that they will blend in with other students. As adults we can forget the common fear of looking like a fool in front of your peers. It is helpful for children to feel confident knowing where to go and what to do. We can anticipate that many of our children will be more self-conscious about how they are perceived by their peers due to less frequent peer interactions over the past year.

3. Prepare for spending time apart. Children learn and explore best when they feel secure in their relationships with their parents. Typically, children have lots of practice leaving the safety of their parents’ supervision to have adventures away from home. Younger children may find it particularly challenging to say goodbye to their parents given how little practice they have had over the last year. You may also find it difficult to let them out of your sight. Prepare yourself to model love and confidence as you transition from home to school. If your child is afraid, remind them that you love them and look forward to hearing about their day. Validate their feelings and reinforce their confidence and skills. Practice keeping your goodbye routine short. Remember that the more time it takes to say goodbye, the more they will consider missing school to avoid the discomfort that comes with change.

4. Consider improving other routines. Many children have been staying up late, wearing pajamas all day, turning their camera off to play video games for a while, or opening multiple browser tabs that might interest them more than zoom school. Work with your child to reset as many routines as possible in preparation for the return to in-person school so they are set up for success. Set small goals, avoid power struggles, and encourage your child for any progress they make. We all know that it is normal for children to procrastinate and wait to make the change “when I have to,” so do not sweat it if your child has low motivation. Just be aware that you might have a rough time for those first couple of weeks if they were not willing to make small adjustments in advance.

5. Be patient and kind with yourself and your child. Remind yourself and your child that the changes brought on by the pandemic are unprecedented within our lifetimes. There will be times when we lose our temper, feel judgmental about other people’s actions, feel self-conscious, ineffective, overwhelmed, or isolated. There may be times when your child tells you that the benefits are not worth all the hassle. Give yourself permission to take breaks, ask for forgiveness, and enjoy time together no matter what happened that day. These suggestions can give the impression that returning to school “the right way” is too hard for anyone to do. The reality is that most parents will not be able to implement all these suggestions. Take hold of what is possible to implement with your child and let go of the rest. If you have chosen to have your child return to school, commit to that decision, and know that what lies ahead will be an adventure that will be well worth the effort and love you put into it.

Ben Cone is the Program Manager of Educationally Related Mental Health Services (ERMHS) at Hathaway-Sycamores.

One Comment

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  1. Craig Cotter

    Great ideas Ben, thank you!

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