I recently spoke to Tyrah Majors of Komo 4 News about how both kids and parents are nervous about this back-to-school season with all of the unknowns lingering out there. Here is one of the questions she asked me that we both thought would be helpful to address at this time:
Many children haven’t seen their peers or teachers in over a year. For those who have first-day jitters or are feeling anxious, what should parents do or be telling them?
ONE: Get back to a predictable routine. Predictable routines provide a sense of security and safety for young children. A week or two before school starts begin to shift bedtimes earlier incrementally so that the new schedule isn’t a shock or struggle. Try to keep bedtimes and mealtimes as consistent as possible. Sleep is typically the first challenge to address and is important for kids’ and teens’ brain development and the processing of new information. If screen time had risen over the summer months begin to scale that back as well. Taking these steps will help prime the brain for learning.
TWO: Focus on the positives in returning to school. Ask your child open-ended questions about what they are looking forward to or what they are excited to return to that they missed. Your positive attitude and emotions will influence your child’s attitude and emotions. Emotions are contagious!
THREE: Exude confidence that your child will be safe. Masking, hand washing, and social distancing are being mandated and encouraged in almost all schools. (I wish I could say all) Be sure to communicate your confidence to your child knowing that the school has done months of planning to minimize risk and keep everyone safe.
FOUR: Listen, Validate & Empathize. Give your child the space to share what is on their mind without interrupting. Repeat back to them what you heard them share to allow them to feel heard and then normalize their feelings by letting them know that they are not alone. To show empathy you can say something like “You sound…” or “It’s so hard when….” to let them know you understand how they are feeling or what is concerning to them.
FIVE: Practice Without Pressure. If your child is overly anxious you can visit the school, play on the playground, and meet the teacher (even if only on zoom) before the first day of school to help alleviate some of the fear they may have. You can even pack a backpack and simulate the walk/drive to school a few times to lessen the negative emotions. The unfamiliar and unknown tend to be what makes most children anxious and uncomfortable.
SIX: Allow your child to bring a transitional object. These objects can be somethings small they can keep in their backpack or on their desk. They can be as small as a figurine, a special object from vacation (feather/rock/etc) , or a picture of the family. This may help them feel connected to you while you are apart.
And last, but not least…
SEVEN: Don’t Disregard Your Needs & Self-Care. Children will always be more relaxed and positive if you are able to stay calm & healthy. Be sure to incorporate small acts of self-care each day!
Big transitions are never easy. But if we are thoughtful and intentional about how we approach them we can make them a little less painful for both ourselves and our kiddos.