How to Support your Child’s Re-Entry into School Following COVID-19 by Dr. Lisa Pennington
In my 24 years of being a school psychologist including 19 years of private practice, I never thought that I would be writing about re-entering children into school during a pandemic. Just as I’m sure in your wildest dreams, you would have never imagined reading an article about raising your child during a pandemic. But here we are, so let’s get right to it.
Communicate the School Plan
First, it is important to know that your child (regardless of age) will not be ready to learn until they feel physically and psychologically safe. Therefore, it is important to share with your child information pertaining to their school’s plan for students and staff to return following the COVID-19 year of uncertainty. As parents, we are often inundated by school emails but do not share this information with our children. Most often, this is ok but under the current circumstances, it is important to let your child know the finalized plan before starting school (e.g., you will be attending class face to face 5 days a week, you will be riding the school bus, your school is requiring you to wear a mask in the hallways but not outside, etc.).
Create a Schedule and Predictable Routine
Next, one of the most challenging aspects of COVID-19 on our children has been their loss of a predictable routine, leading to insecurities. It is time to get back on schedule and to provide some stability in our children’s lives. It may help to have a visual such as a family calendar indicating their upcoming schedule. This should include the first day of school, holidays, teacher workdays, extracurricular activity schedules, etc.
Third, childhood and adolescent anxiety has increased substantially over the past year. Therefore, it is important to know that your confidence, reassurance, and calm demeanor about beginning school helps set the tone for your child’s anxiety. I’ve been practicing long enough to know that there are children “wired to worry” despite parenting techniques. However, in general, the calmer the parent, the calmer the child. If your child’s anxiety increases significantly, interferes with them participating in activities they use to enjoy, or does not decrease after a period of transition time, it may be helpful to seek assistance from the school’s counselor or from an outside psychologist or counselor to help your child develop coping skills related to anxiety.
Anticipate Minor Academic Difficulties
You may also notice gaps in your child’s academics or academic frustration due to last year’s learning disruption. Do not panic and do not get frustrated with your child or their teacher. It is not their fault and most likely they are doing their best. In fact, I’ve noticed a sense of appreciation of school from many students. They are usually grateful to be back and don’t understand their own academic struggles. If your child’s academic difficulties continue after an adjustment period, you can ask your child’s school to complete an academic screening, seek tutoring support, and/or have a comprehensive assessment completed privately or through the school to determine your child’s educational needs.
Overall, it has been a difficult year for everyone and I’m aware that this is a huge understatement! Although most of our children have not experienced medical fears, they have spent a year worrying about their parents, grandparents, and loved ones. Now they are faced with returning to school while hearing about COVID-19 variants. Despite these concerns that should not be taken lightly, it is time for our children to return to school, social activities, and the things they enjoy. We can do this while teaching them an important lesson that I live by daily. “Life is all about how we handle plan B.” So let’s figure out how to get our children back into life and living while respecting the process that keeps us all safe.