A year into the pandemic, some local kids and teens have been back at school in person for a while, some have recently returned, and some are preparing to return later this month.
Since we know that many families are feeling anxious about the return to in-person school, we spoke with several people whose kids are already back at school to learn about their experiences. One interesting takeaway is that several of them reported that it was more nerve-wracking ahead of time! Now that students are back in school, things are better than they’d expected.
Here are tips and wisdom from several local parents on what helped their families to navigate the transition!
Find out what you can about the re-entry plan and review the info with kids and teens.
Families found information in a variety of ways: principal newsletters, superintendent communications, school or district forums, district websites, and other parents whom they trust. Teachers and principals also helped families by offering concrete information, such as by sending photos of classrooms and explaining specifically how things would work (for instance, that kids will keep their backpacks with them at their desks.)
Parents/caregivers and kids felt better when they found answers to questions such as:
- How will “mask breaks” work?
- What is lunch going to be like?
- Will kids be able to socialize with friends in other classes or grades?
- What will it be like to ride the bus?
Some parents are concerned about their kids getting scared or panicky being around people after being home for so long. One local mom noted that being able to envision what kids will do if they’re having a hard time can help parents feel less anxious. It can be helpful to find out ahead of time who students can talk with at school if they’re feeling upset.
Focus on things that families and kids can control.
- Let kids ask questions.
- Encourage kids to be part of planning and preparation.
- Even simple things, like making their own lunches, can make a difference.
- In one family, a child was excited to go school shopping, which hadn’t happened in the fall.
- Talk about family routines – what they will look like and what will stay the same.
- One local parent mentioned that addressing some of the social awkwardness before returning was helpful: “I talked with my daughter about reconnecting with friends. Maybe now is a good time to reach out to people you fell out of touch with during COVID…You could try asking them ‘Are you going back to in-person too?’ “
Talk with kids about their expectations.
Discussing expectations can help. Considering pros and cons gets kids thinking about problem-solving and self-care. It can be helpful to decide ahead of time what topics you want to cover. It’s okay to spread these conversations out if there’s a lot of information.
Some ideas for questions to ask:
- What are you wondering about?
- What are you looking forward to?
- What are you feeling worried or unsure about?
(Have some suggestions for kids to respond to if their answers are ‘I don’t know.’ For instance “I am wondering what recess will be like. Are you wondering about that, too?”)
Help kids prepare for wearing a mask most of the school day.
- A teacher’s recommendation to practice wearing a mask before school started in person, when in remote lessons during school hours, helped one family.
- Practice taking the mask on and off. If you are using fabric masks, make sure you have enough of them and work out your routine for washing & drying masks. Some people supplement with disposable masks as well.
- Try different masks. Some kids (and adults) prefer masks that go around the head instead of behind the ears.
- One parent also mentioned that adjusters for the elastic that goes behind the ear can help too.
Plan to debrief at the end of the first few days.
- Set aside a time and place to talk after school.
- Revisit the expectations and see if there were any surprises.
- If something did not feel good, see if there’s something that the family or school can do to address it. (e.g. Talk with the school if it was hard to hear one of the teachers talking while he was wearing a mask.)
- One parent said it was helpful to let her kids know that there might be an adjustment period. Encourage kids to keep talking about how it’s going and to notice how they feel after a few days.
Transitions can be stressful. You don’t have to do it alone.
All the parents we spoke with stressed the importance of having other people to talk with about their experiences and worries. See if you can find another parent or caregiver to connect with during the preparation period and after in-person school has started. Friends and family members who are not in the midst of the transition can also be a great support.
A huge thanks to Jennifer Webster, Ruthie Sund McDonald, and everyone else who spoke with us!