Ways to Help Kids Emotionally Prepare for School After Covid-19
It has been nearly a year since half of U.S. students have stepped foot on a school campus. While a decrease in academic performance has been one of the adverse effects of long-term distance learning, the lack of social interaction and on-campus instruction has also taken a toll on many students’ mental health. Understandably, several people feel that kids need to return to school.
Many parents and students will soon get their wish about returning to school. Now that COVID-19 cases are decreasing and vaccinations are rolling out, some schools are preparing to reopen their campuses. But school will likely not be the same as what students remember. After a year of being away due to the pandemic, returning to school will look different than starting a typical school year after a summer break. In a sense, going back to school may now feel similar to starting Kindergarten, even for older students. It may take some effort and feel uncomfortable transitioning to a more structured routine, classroom rules, and contact with others, not to mention masks, social distancing, and lost friend groups. Even students who previously thrived at school may experience some anxiety.
Here are some ways that parents can help kids of all ages ease anxiety about returning to school.
Use Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement
The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement) is a framework that I use in my therapy practice and that I recommend for all parents to use now.
Empathy – Means understanding your child’s perspective from their viewpoint. Even if you think you know how your child is feeling or what they are thinking, you should give them the chance to tell you. It’s not uncommon for a child to put on a facade to hide how their feelings because they want their parents to believe they are happy or that nothing is wrong. It’s important to ask open-ended questions to ensure you understand how your child feels. For example, to get a better idea about how your child feels about returning to school, you might ask, “What are some things that you’re most looking forward to about going back to school?” And you could follow that question with, “What are the things that you’ll miss most about attending school from home?”
Empowerment – Once you understand how your child feels, you can empower them to develop game plans to ease anxiety and address anything that may be bothering them. It can be helpful to have them role-play specific worries or concerns that they may have regarding situations that they may encounter.
Engagement – Means helping your child carry out their plans by providing support and consistently checking in.
Let your child know it’s ok to not feel ok.
It’s important to let your child know that their emotions are normal and that thoughts and feelings do not define them. By learning to accept feelings without shame or guilt, your child will more easily take steps to address any emotion that does not feel good.
Remind your child that he’s not alone.
Your child also needs to know that you care and understand and that they’re not alone. The majority of kids are likely to experience some anxiety about returning to school, even the ones that appear confident. It’s important to let your child know that you are there to listen and provide moral support.
Hang in there – this too shall pass.
For most children, school-related anxieties are normal and will eventually pass. It’s important to watch for a gradual increase in confidence and a decline of worries. This process may take a few days to several weeks. If the anxiety continues or increases, you may want to check in with a teacher, counselor or therapist for additional help so that your child can adjust.
Along with the above tips, you can help guide your child by showing kindness, teaching them to be flexible and not being too hard on themselves or others.